Exciting News for Smalltooth Sawfish!

Say What!?

Here’s some new and exciting news for Smalltooth Sawfish!

Remember those Smalltooth Sawfish that were sighted on our technical trip a couple weeks ago? Word got around that we saw so many of the same endangered species, and now we’ve been informed that because of diver observations, a NOAA researcher by the name of Dr. Dean Grubbs at FSU has decided to do some additional research at the Queen of Nassau just off Alligator Reef in Islamorada. I contacted Dr. Grubbs not only for my own peeked interest but also so that maybe we can understand the Smalltooth Sawfish and what is being done to protect it!

As a reminder if you missed our Queen of Nassau BLOG, the Smalltooth sawfish are quite a rare sight to see! According to NOAA fisheries (Office of Protected Resources), the Smalltooth Sawfish was listed on the Endangered Spiecies list in 2003. Even though they mostly look like a shark they are actually modified rays that have a shark-looking body! Divers who were diving on the Queen of Nassau on January 20th reported seeing 7-8 smalltooth sawfish on one dive! One of which had to have been 15′ long!


Dr. Grubbs and his team from FSU took their 26’ Calcutta out to the Queen of Nassau a couple weeks ago to try to catch and tag the sawfish.   During 2 one-hour sets, they caught 7 Smalltooth Sawfish! They caught 1 adult male on the first set then 5 females and 1 male on the second.  Most of the sampling is done either in Florida Bay or in areas on the edge of the shelf such as the Queen of Nassau and deeper reefs around the Florida Keys.  Researchers believe that the Queen of Nassau may be an aggregation site for the Smalltooth Sawfish!


Scientists are trying to figure out what habitats are important to adult sawfish for feeding, pupping, mating, etc. When they catch a sawfish they will attach a satellite tag that will give some idea on where the sawfish go over a 4-month period before the tags eventually release from the sawfish. A dart tag is also attached so that if anyone catches one they can contact NOAA.  They take a small fin clipping for genetic analysis and a blood sample to determine if the females could be pregnant.  According to Dr. Grubbs there has only been a few times when they have been able to catch adult males and females together. He says, “ This past trip to the Queen of Nassau was definitely one of our most successful trips – the seven sawfish we caught is the most we have caught in a single day”.


Also, Dr. Grubbs kindly shared a documentary on their sawfish work last March in Florida Bay. Check it out!


Divers, fisherman, and anyone else who spots a sawfish, report your sightings to the sawfish encounter database at http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/sawfish/form.html

How To Prepare For A Dive

If you’re a beginner diver or an experienced diver you may wonder sometimes what steps to take to prepare for a dive. Whether it is a simple shallow reef dive out to Molasses Reef or a technical dive out to the Northern Light, you may wonder what step you might be missing. We’ve all done it… left our wetsuit at the dock, forgot your dive light or computer on the charger or even just before your giant stride you find that your fin strap has just snapped! Oh NO! Preparation may have been your saving grace!   Here are some steps you can follow on how to prepare for a dive:


You’ve already planned your destination! You’re looking out of your back door to the crystal clear waters of the Florida Keys! The sun is shinning and you are ready to dive! You’ve got your water bottle so you can stay hydrated and you’ve maintained a healthy lifestyle so you can do what you do best, Dive!


Step 1:

Do you have your certification card?

Open Water Certification Key Largo, FL

Every dive shop (if they are a good one) will ask to see your certification card. You remember the card; you were so excited to receive it in the mail! That’s the one! It’s not hard to keep that in your wallet or at the very least snap a photo of it and keep it in the photo library on your phone (you’ll never forget your phone). Being prepared and having this card will make your check-in process very smooth. Without this card you may come across some problems. Yes, most dive shops have access to “look you up in the system” but, what if Internet is down? What then? No card, no dive! Long story short…. Keep your card in your wallet.


Step 2:

When did you dive last? Do you feel your skills are up to date? Do you feel comfortable handling any diving situation that may arise? Will you be a good buddy?

Scuba Lessons Key Largo, FL

Sometimes after long periods of not doing something, you may forget key steps to making sure that experience is memorable and safe. If you do feel you could use a review then think about enrolling in a SCUBA Refresher course. You can do this at Horizon Divers with us or most local dive shops offer a pool refresher! If you can’t remember how to put your gear together, you are not ready to dive!


Step 3:

Do you have all of your gear from head to foot?

Preparing for a Scuba Dive in Key Largo, FL

Take a mental checklist of everything you could possibly need for your dive from head to foot. Do you have your mask, snorkel, BCD, regulator, wetsuit, booties, fins, dive computer, SMB, reel, light, etc.? Check your inventory before the boat leaves the dock!  Maybe consider building a “Save-a-Dive” kit that includes spare parts; fins straps, tools, mouthpieces, etc.  You don’t want to be the diver shivering underwater because your wetsuit is hanging in the sun at the dock drying for your next dive! BURR!



Step 4:

LISTEN to the dive and safety briefings!

Guided Scuba Diving in Key Largo, FL

As a diver, snorkeler or rider on the boat, you will learn valuable information from these briefings. Don’t assume you know what the captain, crew and divemaster will tell you.  Many questions can be answered by just listening. Where are the weights and weight belts? Is there a bathroom onboard? What to do in case of an emergency? What are the entry and exit procedures? ETC.


Step 5:

You always hear, “Communication is key to life!” Communicate with your buddy on the dive plan.

Key Largo Scuba Diving School

What IS the plan? Depth? Who’s leading? Once you’re underwater, communication can be a little tricky. Yes, it’s easy to say, “OMG look at that giant shark behind you!” I mean, I’m practically screaming through my regulator in that situation.  The point I’m trying to make is make sure you and your buddy know the scoop? Are you swimming outside the wreck only, or do you plan to penetrate the wreck? These things are better-discussed topside then underwater. As a technical diver, be sure to keep your captain in the loop too! They need to know your run time and when to expect you back!


Step 6:

Be safe and have FUN!

Scuba Diving Vacation Package in Key Largo, FL

Diving is supposed to be fun! If you’re not having fun then something probably isn’t quite right. See what you can do to change that; consider continuing your education or fine-tuning what you already know by taking a specialty course to feel more confident with your skills! I don’t know about you, but when I’m underwater with a school of hammerheads or my favorite teeny-weeny juvenile trunkfish I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders! Ironic, as I am several atmospheres under pressure!


The Queen of Nassau

What is the Queen of Nassau?

According to Florida-Keys-Vacation.com, The Queen of Nassau is a 111-year-old Canadian Steamer. She is 200’ in length and lays 230’ beneath the surface of the water. She is located just 3 miles off Alligator Lighthouse and 5 miles off Islamorada.

She was powered by two large triple expansion engines and could cruise at a top speed of 22 knots. She was part of a small fleet of ships responsible for protecting Canada’s fishing interests. She was considered the fastest vessel in the Canadian Fisheries Protection Service (CFPS). She was called the CGS Canada (Canadian Government Ship).

In 1915, she was christened HMCS Canada and used to survey for mines and protect troop convoys headed to England in the Royal Canadian Navy. She was returned to the Canadian Fisheries Protection when WWI ended in 1919.

Her time had come and the Canadian Fisheries opted to sell her. It wasn’t until 1924 that Barron Collier, a land developer in southwest Florida, bought her. He renamed her the Queen of Nassau. He had intended to turn his new purchase into a passenger vessel providing service from Miami to Nassau, Bahamas. This plan fell though as she was not designed as a full passenger, luxury ship and lacked the fundamental necessities.

She ended up docked at Biscayne Bay for 18 months with one caretaker to watch over her when she was finally sold to a buyer from Mexico. Disaster struck while en route from Miami to Tampa. She began taking on water on July 2 1926. Realizing the ship could not be saved the 18 person crew  abandoned ship and shortly after 7pm the Queen of Nassau slipped below the waves stern-first to it’s watery grave.

Now, after nearly 89 years, she has become a spectacular dive site for technical divers who are trained to dive to her depths. She lays upright and is mostly intact and has more coral growth then you can imagine!

Goliath Grouper on the Queen of Nassau
Goliath Grouper on the Queen of Nassau
Hollis Prism2 Rebreather Diver on the bow of the Queen of Nassau
Hollis Prism2 Rebreather Diver on the bow of the Queen of Nassau
Queen of Nassau Ship Wreck in Key Largo, FL
Queen of Nassau

It’s not only the wreck that draws us to the site, but also the creatures that you can encounter….    

The Endangered Smalltooth Sawfish- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries say that Sawfish belong to a group of fish called elasmobranchs, whose skeletons are made of cartilage. Sharks, skates and rays also belong to this group. They are called sawfish because of their long, flat snouts edged with pairs of teeth, which are used to locate, stun, and kill prey. They resemble a “saw”. Unfortunately, sawfish have become a critically endangered spices due to loss of juvenile habitat and bycatch in various fisheries, especially in gill nets.

The Scalloped Hammerhead: Scalloped hammerheads can be found all around the world in coastal warm temperate and tropical seas. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species they can be found from just beneath the surface of the water to 900 feet in depth! Often times this shark can be found in big schools, sometimes hundreds of them together. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced in September 2014 that scalloped hammerheads along with other sharks and rays were listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Spices (CITES).  This means that any international trade of spices listed in Appendix II of CITES must apply for and obtain appropriate documents.  This is a step in the right direction for our beloved sea creatures!

Schooling Scalloped Hammerheads in Key Largo, FL
Schooling Scalloped Hammerheads

Not only may you have the opportunity to see these amazingly beautiful threatened and endangered spices but the size and schools of amberjack are jaw dropping as well as the the mere size of the goliath groupers and lobsters that can be found at those depths are unheard of!

With another day of diving behind us, I think it’s safe to say that Horizon Divers will be running more trips to the Queen of Nassau as long as we have the folks interested! How could you not be!


We will be at TEKDiveUSA 2014 this weekend, May 17th and 18th. For those of you who are interested in Technical Diving, either open circuit or closed circuit please stop at the Horizon Divers booth (#116). There is going to be some amazing speakers throughout the whole weekend. Hope to see everyone at TecDiveUsa 2014 for some good times and education. TEKDiveUSA.2014 will take place at:
Roz & Cal Kovens Conference Center, 3000 NE 151 Street, North Miami, Florida, FL 33181, USA

Tec Dive USA