Sargassum Invasion

Sargassum seaweed litters the beach at San Pedro on Ambergris Caye in Belize. Photo by Deirdre Hamill/Quest Imagery

There’s an invasion going on causing chaos at some of the most pristine beaches of the Caribbean, Mexico, Florida and Belize. The culprit is Sargassum seaweed.

Sargassum seaweed comes from the Sargasso Sea, a huge patch of ocean that has no land boundaries in the North Atlantic Ocean. It’s a body of water I’ve never heard of until writing this blog.

When I planned this particular trip to Belize, it included five days in the town of San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye, an island off of the mainland of Belize. Ambergris Caye is known for having some of the best snorkeling and diving spots in the world. It includes world famous Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The reserve is separated into four parts: the mangroves, the coral reef, the sea-grass beds and Shark Ray Alley. The coral reef part includes green Moray Eels, Nurse Sharks, barracudas, Spotted Eagle Rays along with an assortment of other fish.

My main concern was finding a hotel in a decent location. Some of the beach hotels were unusually cheap and I found several that were within our budget. I didn’t care about swimming conditions and didn’t pay much attention to the negative reviews from past costumers complaining about beach conditions because I was there for the snorkeling and a side trip to Caulker Caye, a sleepy island near Ambergris Caye.

The first day in San Pedro was decompressing after 12 hours of travel. We wandered the streets and looked for places to eat. On the second day, we spent the day walking around town and taking photos of the locals in their every day lives. On the third day we took a ferry to Caulker Caye which was close to us.

Caulker Cay is a quiet island. There are no paved roads just packed sand. Not as many tourists visit this island. We decided to walk a sandy street one direction for a mile and walked back to the dock by the beach. And it was at that moment I noticed the seaweed and how dense it was choking the crystal clear water.

When we returned to San Pedro, I noticed the seaweed along the beach, where I took the above photo. Out of curiosity I did some research on various websites and was horrified at the scope of the problem. This is is a widespread problem hurting tourism all over the Belize, the Caribbean, Mexico and Florida.

The locals in San Pedro told me they believed it was the result of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 where an estimated 210 million gallons of oil leaked and 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersant was used during the cleanup process. The theory was that it had something to do with the dispersant used. Others suggest it came from massive amounts of chemicals and fertilizing being dumped in the ocean causing the seaweed to grow at a record pace. Others theories include climate change.

This particular seaweed is so dense it affects turtles, various fish and at some point it may threaten Belizes’ barrier reef, choking the ocean life to its death.

The people who are complaining are the same people who contributed to the problem in the first pace, we all did.

Various fish and Nurse Sharks swim around bits of Sarggusm seaweed at “Shark Alley” in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Photo the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Photo by Deirdre Hamill

Cuba no more

Cruise ships docked at the main terminal in Havana, Cuba. Photo by Mike Rynearson/Quest Imagery

June 10, 2019–On June 4, 2019 all cruises, including active cruises, were notified by the Trump Administration that they cease all ports of entry to Cuba by the following day, June 5, 2019.

Unfortunately, I predicted this a year ago and was nervous about booking one of these cruises scheduled back in January of 2019. All my friends and family thought that was crazy talk and I should “stop being so paranoid” and buy the tickets. That there was “no way in hell” that our government would make a decision like this within 24 hours.

So my partner Mike Rynearson and I flew to Miami, spent a few nights there and then embarked on a 7 night journey on the MSC Armonia. Stops included Montego Bay, Jamaica, Grand Cayman Islands, Cozumel, Mexico and two nights in Havana, Cuba. Havana was the only reason we took this cruise since we’d been at those other Ports before.

On June 5th, I searched various cruise websites and news stories about the immediate aftermath of this decision. The consensus was approximately 800,000 people who were already on or booked cruises are affected.

Instead of Havana, Cuba, for two nights, the MSC Armonia (the ship we sailed on) would be going to Costa Maya, Mexico and returning to Miami on its scheduled arrival.

Once again the Cubans and American people were the ones who got screwed and not the government. They can no longer rely on Cruise ship passengers for tourism. At least 2,000 per ship. Not only do they lose out on American passengers but non-Americans as well who are allowed to travel to Cuba freely.

When we visited Havana in January, it reminded me of many other Spanish Colonial cities only very run down. The Malecon, for example, is in a beautiful location. At this moment, every single building is vacant and run down. That and the antique American cars are the only signs separating Havana from many other cities in Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Most Americans go to Havana because of the mystery of its being just 90 miles from Florida. And being able to smoke Cuban cigars and bring some home legally. There was a store on a prominent street selling cigars and rum. Hundreds of people flowed into this store daily. When I entered the store it was pure chaos. People yelling out questions about the cigars, this one that one and the other. All I wanted was friggin cigar for a souvenir. The rum area was equally chaotic. Just a huge buzz of noise.

As we strolled the streets, while many people shot selfies we shot street scenes and the people who reside on the island. We walked outside of the “tourist zone” and met a man sitting alone on the Malecon making jewelry out of some sort of wood. He wanted one Euro for an amazing necklace and bracelet we gave him five. His eyes started to well up.

All these people want is a good life for them and their families and sadly they are once again victims of political warfare.

Lucky for them the Europeans, Asians, Middle Easterners, Russians, Africans, North and South Americans (minus the United States of America) are untouched by entering the island. And just like that, the whole world can visit this island now except for the country closest to it.

Click for our Cuba Gallery

On January 4, 2019, this was published in its entirety on the United States government website.

“The United States took strong action to prevent U.S. travel to Cuba from enriching the Cuban military, security, and intelligence services by announcing new restrictions on authorized travel and vessels to the island.

Going forward, the United States will prohibit U.S. travelers from going to Cuba under the previous ‘group people-to-people educational’ travel authorization. In addition, the United States will no longer permit visits to Cuba via passenger and recreational vessels, including cruise ships and yachts, and private and corporate aircraft.

The United States holds the Cuban regime accountable for its repression of the Cuban people, its interference in Venezuela, and its direct role in the man-made crisis led by Nicolas Maduro. Despite widespread international condemnation, Maduro continues to undermine his country’s institutions and subvert the Venezuelan people’s right to self-determination. Empowered by Cuba, he has created a humanitarian disaster that destabilizes the region.

These actions are directly linked to the tourism industry, which has strong economic ties to the Cuban security, military, and intelligence sectors in Cuba. Veiled tourism has served to line the pockets of the Cuban military, the very same people supporting Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and repressing the Cuban people on the island. In Cuba, the regime continues to harass, intimidate, and jail Cubans who dare to voice an opinion different from the one the regime wants them to have. The United States calls on the regime to abandon its repression of Cubans, cease its interference in Venezuela, and work toward building a stable, prosperous, and free country for the Cuban people.”

Media requesting your social media photos or videos in exchange for “credit”

Is it ok to let media outlets use photos or videos from your social media posts? 

Whenever I see a news story with a video or photo crediting your “handle” from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, I cringe. I start thinking about that poor kitty stuck behind the third rail in a New York City subway station. 

I was visiting family and had plans to lunch at the Carnagie Deli and the rest of the day in Central Park.  Take the uptown E train from Canal street station to 5th Ave.  

When I reached the uptown platform I saw a huge crowd gathered around the first car of an E train that stopped while approaching the platform. Dozens of Smartphones video taping something.  I had no idea what it was just that it was clear my trip would be delayed.  For the first time ever, I decided to join the crowd and video. It was either that or Candy Crush.

Growing up in New York during the 70’s and 80’s it was a different time.  Rats, bums, the smell of urine and the constant lookout for pick pockets or getting mugged. How times have changed, no rats, security camera, cops everywhere. There’s no chance anyone would take out a smartphone, if there was such a thing, and film this unknown event. But here we were.

I walked slowly maneuvering  through the crowd to get the “scoop”.  When I got closer, I could hear people asking for info. I and kept hearing “there’s a cat over there”and “no f-ing way” “get the f-outta here” “aww, poor kitty”.  Sure enough there was a terrified black kitty cat frozen behind the third rail. 

Passengers were evacuated and after 45 minutes the third rail was shut down. Finally, I videotaped the rescue with a happy ending.  

I uploaded a 30 second clip and posted it on my Facebook and Twitter pages. The caption read  “#NYPD are awesome.  A cat rescue from the third rail at Canal st.E train within 20 feet. 45 min later Fluffy was saved!” 

3 hours later I got a phone call from a reporter with a news website who saw the video on Twitter and asked if they could use it “we don’t have a budget for videos or photos but we can give you credit”. I was a bit apprehensive but if Quest Imagery would be in the byline, I’d agree.

The reporter gave me credit but at the end of his story and not with the video that they uploaded to their YouTube account. 

But because the byline was on his copy and not embedded on the video, each time it was shared, there was no credit. And then some newspapers just took the video with permission from that organization and not me. 

I called the reporter to explain my concern and he acted like he had no idea what I was talking about. I told him it was copyright infringement and to delete the video immediately. His response was “I don’t know how to do that” and “what’s the big deal anyway”and added “nobody else complains”.  I asked to speak to his boss.

An hour went by and his boss called me and begged. I explained that sharing my video on their YouTube account was not agreed and is copyright infringement. I agreed to let them keep the video on their site if they delete theirs and re-upload  it from my YouTube account. Every website that shared the video from their account also disappeared.  

I thought this was such a stupid feel good animal video until I started to get phone calls from television stations asking to use the video for their evening newscasts. The phone calls always began with “we don’t have a budget for photos or videos but we can give you a HUGE credit.” I was skeptical about the “HUGE credit” but I thought why not, my website being promoted in prime time would be kind of cool.

The whole thing was totally bizarre,aggravating but best of all, a learning experience on how to not get ripped off unless you want something out of it. 

Here’s a link to the New York Post, one of the news organizations that used the video without a credit or permission.  NY cat rescue video 

Here’s the link from my YouTube account Cat Rescue

Below is a framegrab from one of the TV stations newscast.