Tim is based in Key Largo, Florida. He wrote the scuba diving column for the local newspaper, The Reporter, for over three years, and also served as a Working Group member and Alternate Representative on the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. His ebooks are all based on his newspaper columns. Each ebook has a collection of underwater images shot by Tim. The ebooks cover a wide range of marine life species and ocean conservation topics.
When did you first start writing?
I wrote many, many business pieces throughout my entire professional career. I wrote newsletters, research reports, product development proposals and monthly executive management reports. I also had many marketing projects as a small business owner (some did well, others... not so good!). When I moved the the Florida Keys, my thoughts ran mainly to getting my images published. After I won the photo contest here, I wrote a piece about diving in December in the Keys [it's winter to us :)], and the experience of getting the most significant shot on the last dive on the last day of the contest (it's the shot of the reef with the Christ of the Abyss statue in the background, which has since been used by the Tourist Development Council for ads promoting the Florida Keys). When I circulated the piece to the local newspapers, I got a call from David Goodhue, the editor of The Reporter, a weekly paper in the Upper Keys. He gave me a chance to write the column, and I will always be grateful to him for having the confidence in me to publish my words and images.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, it was in January 2011. I had just won the John Pennekamp 50th Anniversary Photo Contest, and was told that my images would be published. I waited for several weeks, and never saw anything. So I wrote about the contest and sent it to the local newspapers. As a result of that article, I got the gig as the scuba diving columnist for The Reporter, for which I wrote 84 columns in a little over 3 years.
All in all, snook demonstrate a great comeback for an iconic species with some protection in place, the positive effect of spillover from protection as a fishery management technique, and the importance of protecting diverse habitats to ensure the transition of juveniles to the adult population.
One of the most popular charismatic mega fauna in our waters is the spotted eagle ray. Kim Bassos-Hull, from Mote Marine Laboratory, has been collecting data in the Florida Keys to enhance and expand her studies, but as of today, no critical habitats for feeding, mating and pupping have been found. Kim and the Mote crew have captured, documented and tagged over 300 rays in the last 4 years.
I want to spend more time watching redlip blennies. They mate beginning at first light in two week cycles that start ten days before the full moon. The mating sessions last about three hours each morning, and males generally have female visitors every day. Sometimes the same females come back, but usually there are different mixes among males and females.
How aggressive are damselfish, pound for pound? As it turns out, divers invading their space is not the only thing damselfish exhibit aggression over. I don’t blame them for defending their territory when I’m trying to get a shot. That’s common, and can be comical. The species in our waters vary in size, color and behavior. There is an excellent, detailed chapter on all the damselfish species.
Spadefish are the only species of its family that reside in the Western Atlantic. In the Pacific there are at least six species, where they are commonly known as batfish. While they are common in the Keys, in other parts of the Caribbean they are not as prevalent. I’ve seen schools numbering in the hundreds from Molasses up to Carysfort. One of the largest schools I’ve seen was on Deep French.
Wrasses are a large and diverse family, and seem to be everywhere. They are quick and colorful. Perhaps some of the most vibrant colors on our reefs belong to the family of wrasses. Worldwide there are over five hundred species of wrasse. Here we have about twenty. Most species are carnivorous, feeding on small crustaceans.
Classified as a “nuclear” species, goatfish truly play a leadership role. Other species are attracted to the substratum-disturbing foraging. And when several goatfish are involved in the fray, the groupies increase in number and diversity. Goatfish groups attract up to six follower species. While many of the follower species eat the same food, the goatfish don’t seem to mind.
Puffers are a group of fish I like to shoot, especially the big ones. They have a shy, jovial personality. At least they always look like they are smiling. Puffers are related to boxfish, and are also toxic, but in a different way. I found references to two toxins, tetrodotoxin (TTX) and saxitoxin (STX), which are nerve agents. They are chemically distinct, but act on the nervous system similarly.
As I stood on the boat with my morning coffee and watched the people pile in the boats and head out to the whale sharks, my immediate reaction was “we are in a whale shark theme park”. I believe it’s become more about the peso than the whale shark. I can’t blame them for developing the tourism business, but is there a balance that can be reached? This has spawned a great deal of controversy.
While the majority of observations during the day are while eels are resting or on a cleaning station, a few times I have seen an eel coupled with a grouper. The first time I saw it was on the Winch Hole. A graysby came to a stop on a pile of rubble, and a goldentail came out from its lair. At first they just sort of looked at each other, then came cheek to cheek, touched, and took off together.
Hogfish got their name because they root around the sea floor, like a hog roots around the barnyard. I have been following the size limit discussions for the last several years, and to me the essential point is this: if we don’t increase the size limit and let them grow another year or two, the chances of maintaining a sustainable fishery may be a huge issue in the future.
The variability of salinity levels in Florida Bay is important to the food chain. What does this have to do with glass minnows? Well, everything. He examined the relationship between mesozooplankton, salinity and bay anchovies. The ecological implications center on the the relationship between salinity, mesozooplankton and bay anchovies. Future changes in salinity could have significant effects.
Orange cup coral is an invasive species. So far it has specialized on artificial reefs, dock pilings and oil rigs. On vertical surfaces, water movement, distance above the sea floor and less sedimentation than horizontal surfaces favor orange cup coral growth. Since most of our local reef structure does not have significant vertical wall structure, artificial reefs will be prime targets.
Trumpet fish are part of the Syngnathiformes family. Don’t fret, I can’t pronounce it either. It’s actually quite a large group. Cousins include seahorses, pipefish, sea dragons, shrimpfish, and sea moths. Bony exteriors and small tube-like mouths are characteristics of syngnathids. Like seahorses, trumpetfish males carry the eggs. The scientific name actually translates as “flute mouth”.
Filefish have a protruding mouth with some very sharp teeth, similar to a triggerfish. They have narrow, compressed bodies with rough spiny scales and a front dorsal fin that can be raised or lowered. When the fin is raised, it resembles a file, which some reference sources say is the inspiration for the name. Filefish are another group of highly entertaining critters on the reef.
When I want a chuckle, I look for a fish in a box. Not a cardboard box of fish like you get in a bait shop, but a body box that fits perfectly and is color matched to its occupant. I’m referring to a group of animals called boxfish. They look like little robots scooting around the reef in search of a new power source. The Energizer bunny with fins and armor - and in some cases, horns.
Many reasons are given for schooling activity. Schooling occurs in up to eighty percent of species at some point in their life. Protection from predators, breeding and searching for food are top reasons cited for schooling behavior. There is also an advantage in riding the vortices created by the swimming motion of the fishes themselves - like a race car drafting behind the car in front of him.
There’s one thing I can guarantee I’ll see on every dive. Some sort of butterflyfish will be wherever I’m going. The REEF fish identification book has six species listed in the Caribbean. I have five of them in my image inventory, and most likely will never see the other one. In the Pacific there are well over 100 species.
There has been a debate on the number of hamlet species. The original classification was for one species, and color variations didn’t matter. Research is now shedding light on color differences. For example, the indigo hamlet is different in two ways. Another interesting study shows areas of concentration by color pattern, with blue hamlets being the dominant species in the Florida Keys.
If you are new to underwater photography, I applaud your entry into the submerged imaging realm. It’s your efforts that help spread the wonder and splendor of marine life found on reefs and wrecks. Your time, stories and photos are important. More than likely you will get better results shooting macro photography. Set yourself up for success by practicing and mastering macro photography first.
Coming home to the Florida Keys is an exotic destination in itself. When I got home from the Philippines, it was like coming home to a vacation that was interrupted by another vacation. On our trip we did not come close to seeing a vast array of fish we see routinely on Snapper Ledge or the south end of Molasses Reef. There are not many places in America that hold that distinction.
The mandarin fish mating dance, a pregnant mantis shrimp, a blue ribbon eel and sea snakes are the most memorable to me. Lots of pipefish, sea horses and nudibranchs live in the seagrass, which made the hang time quite enjoyable. We also dove Apo Island two of the days we were there, then spent a week on the Atlantis Azores liveaboard at Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea.
Itʼs common knowledge that Goliath groupers were nearly wiped out by overfishing up through the 1980s. Even though Goliath groupers have staged a comeback - estimates are about 35 percent compared to earlier populations - the benchmark figures are inaccurate. The stock is nowhere near historical levels, based on research. Another comment I saw berated Goliath groupers for decimating other fish pop
Angelfish are the most colorful and beautiful animals on the reef, in my opinion. Some are very shy, like Rock Beauties. Others have varying degrees of aloofness, depending on the conditions and circumstances. The best spots for angels I’ve seen are the deeper parts of Molasses and French reefs, since that is also the place we find the highest population and variety of sponges.
The Mooring Buoy System started with an idea, was implemented on a small scale, and grew to become a world dominating practice. John Halas got permission to set 6 experimental mooring buoys on French Reef, which are still in use today. In a modern era where most of the world’s reefs are in trouble, the implications for reef conservation from the mooring buoy system are incalculable.
There are a few places in the outer edges of the Florida Keys reef tract that are a whole different world. Deep French, Deep Elbow and Deep Molasses are quite different than the shallower namesakes. The contours begin around 50 feet, and usually bottom out in the 80 to 90 foot range. Nitrox is the preferred gas on these dives.
Cleaning stations are an essential element in reef ecology. All three parties - cleaners, clients and parasites - are part of a big matrix that runs the gamut from mutually beneficial to intrusive or harmful.
One topic that caught my eye was a study about the changes in the population of yellow stingrays in various parts of the Caribbean. The Florida Keys had the largest decline, while Jamaica had an increase. Why is that significant? Why should we care about yellow stingrays?
There literally is no other place like this on earth. As a dive site, it’s sensational since the animals that live underneath and around the habitat are used to divers. But more important things take place there than being an incredible dive site. Everything from testing the newest technology to training astronauts is within the purview of Aquarius Reef Base.
There is good news and bad news about coral reefs. Bad news: reefs are in trouble. Many factors contribute to reef decline. Good news: there is a wholehearted effort to combat reef degradation. The Coral Restoration Foundation, in Key Largo, Florida, is a pioneer in growing and transplanting coral the reefs in the Florida Keys. Experience it with underwater photographer and writer Tim Grollimund.