The last Wednesday and Thursday of this month traditionally means two things: boiled crustaceans with lots of melted butter, and drowned divers, capsized boats and bouts with the bends. That's because the official Florida lobster miniseason (July 28/29) brings out all sorts of incompetent fools looking for live lobsters to coax out with their "tickle sticks."
"How can I say this nicely?" asks Branon A. Edwards, a dive expert who publishes a blog called Florida Diving. "Most stories you see every year about diving deaths during the miniseason are people who haven't been in the water in years and are also, uh, grossly overweight and out-of-shape. You can't just sit on the couch for eight months and then go diving. It's too much stress on the system. This isn't all fun and games."
A read-through of news stories from the past several seasons shows that drownings (some in only ten feet of water) and capsized boats are common.
Edwards urges divers to hook up with an experienced D.M. for a cheap refresher course, especially if it's been a while since they've gone under. "Too many people don't plan their dive, then dive their plan. And if you just jump in with the idea of 'whatever happens, happens,' there's a good chance you're gonna freak out."
Those those underwater panic attacks are what spells trouble. "Make sure you're prepared," says Edwards. "Make sure your gear is in good shape. And there's no substitute for common sense. If your stuff's been sitting in a closet for over a year, get your regulators checked out -- those seals can get brittle and crack. If it has been a while, maybe just jump in the pool and play around -- make sure you can do what you're supposed to do."
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Edwards knows plenty of divers in the Keys (the miniseason hot spot), and he reports that they haven't seen evidence of the Gulf oil spill having any effect.
Likewise, Christina Baez with the Key West Convention and Tourism Bureau explains that the Gulf slick is still 500 miles from Key West. "There's no oil in the Florida Keys," she says.
Edwards hopes so: "If it does make it there, it'll be devastating. The ecosystem is on the brink of disaster as it is. It'll be trashed. Every organism associated with the reef will all be dead."
Pass the butter -- while you still can.