One Man’s Trash Another Man’s Treasure

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By Phil Colarusso

A shelf in my home holds old bottles, pieces of broken china and a porcelain imported mustard jug, treasures I found while diving. If I had found any of these objects on the street, I would not have bothered to pick them up. The fact that they were underwater added mystery and value to each of them.

In the sea, sunken vessels, railway cars, surplus army tanks, airplanes and a whole host of other things very quickly turn into artificial reefs. The sea and the life in it quickly claim as their own just about anything that humans have placed in it. I do not advocate dumping trash in the sea, but the ocean does seem to possess a remarkable redemptive quality.

The Atlantic Ocean has more than its share of discarded tires, which eventually become home to a variety of creatures. Lobsters, crabs, sea stars, sea urchins and a variety of small fish will happily live in the steel belted radial. The tire no doubt provides refuge from predators, waves and currents.

The most unique use of a tire I‘ve seen was by a male lumpfish (Cyclopterus lumpus). The cartoonish lumpfish is about the size of a football. With seemingly undersized tails and pectoral fins, they resemble miniature Goodyear blimps. Large suction disks on the belly allows them to adhere to surfaces. They are awkward, slow swimmers, and come in a variety of colors. Lumpfish, predominantly found among large rocks that support macroalgal and kelp growth, spend days moving as little as possible among the kelp looking for worms, crustaceans, mollusks and small jellyfish. On occasion they actively forage, but generally prefer to ambush prey. They will remain motionless, securely attached to a surface until some unsuspecting creature comes within range.

While collecting samples in an eelgrass bed, I saw a tire in the meadow. On the edge of the tire sat an adult lumpfish, a surprise since adult lumpfish aren’t normally associated with eelgrass. The greater surprise was the large clutch of eggs found inside the tire. Female lumpfish lay up to 150,000 eggs, then leave them with the male until they hatch. The male guards the nest and blows water over the eggs to aerate them. We backed away and allowed the male to maintain his vigil undisturbed.

Back in my office, I Iearned scientists have not identified the preferred spawning habitat of lumpfish in the Gulf of Maine. I envisioned my next scientific paper: “Goodyear blimp fish found to spawn in Goodyear tires”. I decided the lumpfish’s secret was safe with me.

About the Author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA New England, and is an avid diver. He’s living the dream in Wenham with wife JoAnn, two kids, dog and white picket fence.

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