Lionfish Shortage Spurs Blacktip Island Fish Farm

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Local aquaculture enthusiasts hope their plan to raise lionfish in inland ponds will solve the lionfish shortage at island restaurants. (photo courtesy of George Graysby)


A shortage of invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish on Blacktip Island reefs has prompted local aquaculturists to launch a captive-breeding program this week to supply lionfish to island restaurants.

“We’re victims of our own success, really,” Blacktip Haven chef Jessie Catahoula said. “We put lionfish on the menu to encourage scuba divers to cull them off the reefs. The cullers did such a good job, there’s no lionfish left.

“Problem is, we’ve marketed the hell out of fresh lionfish tacos, ceviche, medallions, you name it,” Catahoula said. “Tourists come here expecting lionfish, and boy, do they get hacked off when we don’t have any. Flying the meat in from the big island’s killing our bottom line. Thankfully the fish nerds stepped in.”

Resident aquarium enthusiasts floated the idea of a fish farm.

“The restaurants tried substituting other types of fish, but customers caught on,” George Graysby said. “Captive breeding was the only viable solution. We have lots of aquariums, so this isn’t really that big of a jump.

“We still push culling and conservation and all, but going forward all the lionfish served on Blacktip will be farm raised,” Graysby said. “Farm-to-table lionfish, if you will. And we’re working on genetically modifying them, too, to make them venom-less. And bigger.”

Experts say the plan will boost the small Caribbean island’s economy.

“Lionfish is set to be the new tilapia,” Tiperon University-Blacktip economics professor Sally Port said. “Digging the ponds is already keeping two people employed full time. And once the place is up and running, it’ll need a full-time staff to maintain it.

“It’ll be six months before the first fish are ready for harvesting, but at that point, the process will be self sustaining,” Port said. “George and Belinda are starting the fry in aquariums this week and will transfer them to the ponds as soon as, well, as soon as the ponds are completed.”

Island environmentalists cautioned about the project’s potential downside.

“We’ve spent so much time and energy getting rid of these invasive pests, now George’s actively breeding as many of them as he can?” Harry Pickett said. “What happens when a big storm washes thousands of lionfish onto the reefs?

“They’ll wipe out the native reef fish in no time,” Pickett said. “We’ll be worse off than before,” Pickett said. “This is an ecological disaster waiting to happen, never mind the stink a farm like that’ll create.”

Farm backers brushed aside such worries.

“We’re digging the farm way inland where it’s safe from any storm surge,” Belinda Graysby said. “And it’s up by the Tailspinner bar where it won’t bother anyone. And even if it does, if the booby pond stink doesn’t scare people away the smell of a fish farm won’t, either.

“Worst case, if a big hurricane does flood the ponds, well, we’ve got an island full of trained cullers who can clear the reefs in no time,” she said. “Either way, the restaurants’ll get their fish.”

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Caribbean-Themed Medieval Dinner Theater Comes To Blacktip Island

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Detail from the marquee at Blacktip Island’s new medieval-style dinner theater, which opened this week at the Caribbean island’s public pier. (image courtesy of Piers Planck)

Blacktip Island entrepreneurs this week launched a tropical-themed Medieval dinner theater to celebrate the Caribbean island’s history and broaden its tourist appeal.

“On Blacktip the focus is on scuba diving, fishing and bird watching, and rightfully so,” said show impresario Piers ‘Doc’ Planck. “But the island has so much more to offer. That’s what we’re tapping into with this Middle Ages-style dinner-and-tournament.

“Most people don’t know Blacktip Island was a Knights Templar outpost in the 11th Century,” Planck said. “It was the Order’s sole naval base in the Western Hemisphere, and the survivors of the Friday the 13th massacre escaped to Blacktip with what was left of the Templar treasury.”

Show organizers are still fine tuning many of its details.

“We’re still feeling our way with staging and choreography,” Rosie Blenny said. “It’s mostly James Conlee and Dermott Bottoms in second-hand Aquaman costumes and pool floaties whacking each other with bamboo poles and yelling ‘thee’ and ‘thou.’ But tourists love it.

“We made it aquatic-themed so it was more relevant to island visitors,” Blenny said. “Marketing’s tough, but that’ll change as word spreads. Knights in tights jousting with inflatable seahorses? That’s something people’ll tell their friends and neighbors about.”

The island’s business community is upbeat about the venture.

“Anything that gets people to the island is good, no matter how goofy it is,” Chamber of Commerce president Christina Mojarra said. “They’re staging it at Diddley’s Landing for now, and the audience brings its own chairs, but if this thing takes off, we’re looking at building a permanent stadium that can be used for other events, too.”

Not all island residents support the new show.

“The idea of the Knights Templar having a presence on Blacktip Island is ahistorical hooey,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “It was the Hospitallers. Tourism income is all well and good, but not at the expense of historical fact.

“And Antonio Fletcher dressed as King Neptune presiding over the affair undercuts any Society for Creative Anachronism-style educational value it might have,” Altschul said. “It is hard to look away from, though. Like an auto accident or a boat wreck.”

Island visitors were generally positive about the show.

“I didn’t really get what was going on, or what the point of it was, but it was fun to watch . . . whatever it was,” Eagle Ray Cove guest Otto Korrecht said. “Honestly, if I understood it I may not have liked it as much.

“The food was, well, the ‘Templar Conch Chowder’ and ‘Hospitaller Halibut’ were dodgy, and the ‘Holy Land Ale’ was just warm beer with limeade in it,” Korrecht said. “But you didn’t really notice during the jousting, though. I’m guessing that’s a big part of the business model.”

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Mutant Sand Fleas Nip Blacktip Island’s New Year’s Fireworks

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An uptick in the population of a previously-unknown variety of sand fleas has forced organizers to cancel Monday’s New Year’s Ever fireworks displays on Blacktip Island. (Blacktip Times file photo)

Blacktip Island’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display, scheduled for Monday night, has been canceled due to an unprecedented sand flea infestation on the small Caribbean island, event organizers said.

“The sand fleas and no-see-ums are so bad right now, you can’t go outside anytime after dark,” Rosie Blenny said. “Go to any island resort and all you’ll see are welted-up tourists. The clinic’s out of any kind of cortisone.

“Usually the fleas are bad at dusk, then go away once it’s full dark, but these suckers are different,” Blenny said. “We tried setting up the mortars last night and the crew was eaten alive in five minutes. There’s no way we can set up fireworks in these conditions, much less set them off.”

Experts say the pests are a genetically-modified strain of sand fleas.

“Tests we’ve run on collected subjects show a slightly-altered DNA,” island public health chief Herring Frye said. “Whether that alteration is natural or human-induces has yet to be determined.

“At first we thought the mutation was due to cyanide gas from all the decaying sargassum seaweed washed up in the beaches,” Frye said. “Sand fleas love that sargassum, and we’ve been up to our knees in it lately. But new data suggests the change is more likely from some sort of genetics experiment gone wrong.”

Island entomologists downplayed that possibility.

“We run genetics experiments on insects and crustaceans all the time, sure,” said Tiperon University-Blacktip biology chair Goby Graysby. “But our labs are secure and nothing, I mean nothing, escapes them. Lately, anyway. And James Conlee’s not allowed within 100 yards of the TU-B campus.”

Other island residents suspected a more sinister source.

“A few homeowners have complained for years about the noise from the fireworks,” resident Lucille Ray said. “Not to mention any names, we’ve all overheard someone with the initials Cyrus DeCamp talking about how nice it’d be if something made it impossible to set off New Year’s fireworks.

“He has the know-how, And he’s just crazy enough to do it,” Ray said. “People’ve called him the New Year’s Grinch before now. My bet is he kicked his game up a notch.”

DeCamp could not be reached for comment, all phone calls to him were unanswered and reporters’ visits to his house were met with a hail of thrown rocks.

In place of a fireworks show, island residents and guests are making alternate plans.

“The Sand Spit’s organized a midnight flashlight war inside the bar,” bartender Cori Anders said. “And down at the Ballyhoo, it sounds like people are going to just drink until they see fireworks in their heads.”

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Singing Coral Head Highlights Blacktip Island Holiday Festivities

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Gage Hoase and Alison Diesel wear Christmas tree worm caps Thursday night during the dress rehearsal of the Blacktip Island Acapella Society’s underwater Singing Coral Head. (photo courtesy of Nick Hobgood)

The Blacktip Island Acapella Society will eschew its traditional Singing Christmas Tree choral performance this Sunday night in favor of an underwater Singing Coral Head, with singers dressed as Christmas tree worms instead of ornaments, to celebrate the Caribbean island’s bond with its coral reefs.

“Instead of a choir in a giant tree, we’re doing a choir in a coral head,” director Donna Requin said. “We wanted to do something traditional, yet scuba themed, given the importance of scuba diving to the island.

“We’ll be giving Christmas favorites an aquatic twist,” Requin said. “The singers will wear big, bushy bonnets that mimic actual Christmas tree worms. It’s not some tacky holiday stunt, though. We’re being fully respectful of the holiday and the reef. We’re calling it A Merry Fishmas Choral Head.”

Songs include:

  • God Rest Ye Merry Jawfish
  • It Came Upon The Viz So Clear
  • Snapping Shrimp We Have Heard On High
  • Have Yourself A Merry Little Night Dive
  • Fishmastime Is Here

Singers will perform in full-face masks, with songs played on underwater speakers.

“The masks muffle our voices a bit, and the hydrophones distort them, but that adds to the effect,” tenor Gage Hoase said. “The idea is to get people to see Christmas, and the reef, in a new light.

“Singing on scuba actually solved one of our problems,” Hoase said. “We needed a soprano, but no one could hit those high notes. Then Alison Diesel switched from air to heliox and BAM! She sounds like Maria Callas. In that range, anyway.”

Some in the community were critical of the concept.

“It’s another cheesy holiday train wreck,” Blacktip Haven resort owner Elena Havens said. “Last year’s underwater Nativity scene made from old tires was an absolute embarrassment. We’re still getting trashed on Trip Advisor for it.

“‘Different’ doesn’t always mean ‘creative,’ especially when it trivializes the holiday,” Havens said. “People singing underwater wearing silly hats? That’s not Christmas. And what about people who don’t dive? Our church caroling is inclusive of everyone. Who celebrates Christmas.”

Requin brushed aside the criticism.

“The ‘caroling at the church’ audience has been dwindling for years,” she said. “Our choral head will be a breath of fresh air. Or freshly-compressed air.

“For those who don’t dive, or don’t care to dive, the singing can be heard quite clearly from a boat,” Requin said. “It’s quite ethereal. And non divers can also enjoy the performance via a live feed in the Sand Spit bar, where they’re welcome to sing along.”

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Blacktip Island Thespians Bring Norwegian Christmas Tale To Life

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Holiday lights were raised over Blacktip Haven’s amphitheater Thursday in preparation for the Blacktip Island Community Players’ annual Christmas performance. (photo courtesy of Doris Blenny/BICP)

The Blacktip Island Community Players will kick off the holiday season Friday night with their performance of the classic Norwegian Christmas story, “The Cat on the Dovrefjell” at the Blacktip Haven outdoor amphitheater.

“Blacktip theater-goers are a savvy lot, and tired of the usual holiday fare,” director Doris Blenny said. “This is also a hat tip to the Norse raiders who sacked the island back in 650 A.D. or so.”

The story centers on a hunter, bringing a white bear to the king, who stops at a woodcutter’s house by the Dovrefjell mountain on Christmas Eve, Blenny said.

“The woodcutter, Halvor, was abandoning the house for the night because every Christmas Eve trolls came down, ate all his food and trashed his house,” Blenny said. “The hunter decided to stay anyway. That night the trolls came down and partied hard.

“They thought the bear was a giant cat and teased it,” Blenny said. “Things went south when one of them burned the bear’s nose with a hot sausage, and the angry bear chased the trolls back up the mountain. The next year at Christmastime, when a troll asked Halvor if he still had his white cat, Halvor said his cat now had seven kittens. The trolls never bothered him again. It’s a lovely holiday message, really.”

The cast includes:

  • Dermott Bottoms as the Bear
  • Jerrod Ephesians as the Hunter
  • Marina DeLow as Halvor the Woodcutter
  • Alison Diesel, Hugh Calloway, Jessie Catahoula and Finn Kiick as Assorted Trolls
  • The Blacktip Island bluff as the Dovrefjell

The rehearsals have already resulted in one injury, cast members said.

“Casting Dermott as the bear and wrapping him in that white flokati rug was brilliant, but telling him to attack people? That’s mental!” former troll Lee Helm said. “The first time I said, ‘Kitty, would you like some sausage,’ he knocked me unconscious and flung me out the window.

“They’ve barred him from rehearsals, but the damage was done. To me, anyway,” Helm said. “For Christmas this year I got 124 stitches, a concussion and a broken arm.”

Other cast members say Bottoms’ unpredictability will add realism to the performances.

“No one has a clue what Dermott’ll do when he gets his cue, not even Dermott,” replacement troll Alison Diesel said. “All we know is when I say ‘sausage,’ we’re all gonna be running like hell away from him.

“I’ve been practicing my tuck-and-roll,” Diesel said. “Dermott’s totally in character now. He won’t take off that rug, and he growls at anyone who talks to him. We told people in the first three rows to wear motorcycle helmets and any body armor they might have.”

BICP officials say the play will run through the holiday season.

“Performances will be every Friday and Saturday through New Year’s, cast injuries permitting,” Blenny said. “And it’s wonderful we can actually use the, ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’ stage direction.’”

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Community Christmas Tree Lights Shock Blacktip Islanders

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A stampede at Blacktip Island’s Community Holiday Tree lighting ceremony Thursday night injured five residents. All were treated at the island medical clinic and released. (photo courtesy of KTNV)

Five people sustained minor injuries at the Blacktip Island Community Holiday Tree lighting ceremony Thursday evening after many attendees claimed the lighted palm tree resembled male sexual anatomy.

“We didn’t think it through, obviously,” event organizer Jay Valve said. “We used a palm tree this year instead of the usual sea grape tree, and on paper the lights looked lovely, with the trunk all bright, and oversized blue Christmas balls around the base. We should have put more lights on the fronds so you could tell it was a tree.

“Someone told us never to put holiday lights on a palm tree,” Valve said. “I guess we found out why the hard way.”

Witnesses described a chaotic scene following the lighting.

“We’d finished singing The Chipmunk Song, Jay flipped on the lights and all hell broke loose,” Gage Hoase said. “Most of us were laughing, but a bunch of people started screaming and running every which way.

“They were trampling each other, trying to get away, trying not to look,” Hoase said. “The people who fell down laughing got the worst of that. They’re the ones got hauled off to the clinic. We all needed a good, stiff drink afterward.”

The display shocked many attendees.

“The kids were excited about seeing the new tree, so we made sure we were in the front row,” resident Glenda Goby said. “Then the lights came on, and Christmas turned into a nightmare.

“I covered the little ones’ eyes quick as I could, but I have three kiddos and only two hands,” Goby said. “My youngest is still screaming. I’m still answering awkward questions. We expected a nice, family-friendly tree. That shouldn’t have been so hard.”

Some defended the decorations.

“It’s Christmas. There’s supposed to be surprises,” Wendy Beaufort said. “I mean it was awkward, happening in front of God and everyone, but it’s still quite festive. I wouldn’t accept any presents from under that thing, but, in a way, it sums up Blacktip Island life.”

The display has caused others to rethink all holiday decorations.

“Now people are imagining sex organs in every decoration on the island,” the Rev. Pierre Grunt said. “Icicle lights, angels, you name it, they’ve been dragged into the gutter. Jay and them really should have done some lighting test runs instead of going off all half-cocked.

“We even took the wreaths on the church doors, for decency’s sake,” Grunt said. “There were way too many people pointing and snickering. And taking rude selfies.”

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Messages-In-Bottles Flood Blacktip Island Beaches

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Blacktip Island beaches have been inundated with messages-filled bottles this week, sparking numerous rescue missions. (photo courtesy of Edwin Chub/Marine Parks Department)

Blacktip Island beaches this week were flooded with hundreds of message-filled bottles from around the globe, sending island officials scrambling to find the cause and stretching the island’s emergency services thin.

“Message bottles started washing up over the weekend,” marine parks spokesperson Edwin Chub said. “Mostly on the windward east coast, but some came ashore on the west side, too. Resort guests were running up and down the beaches collecting the damn things.

“We never guessed there were so many castaways so many places,” Chub said. “Now, some are probably jokes, but they all ask for actual rescues and we can’t ignore any of them.”

Experts are uncertain what caused the sudden influx.

“Out of nowhere there’s 80, 90 bottles washing ashore every day, so something significant changed,” Tiperon University-Blacktip oceanography professor Grady Snapper said. “The leading theory’s warming sea water’s creating new convection patterns in the open ocean. The North Atlantic Gyre probably trapped a bunch of these bottles, and now shifting currents are shooting them all our way.”

Others suspect the bottles are an elaborate hoax.

“All these bottles showing up at the same time? That’s not natural,” resident Marcia Seagroves said. “Someone’s out dumping bottles off a boat. Or chucking them in at the beach so they wash back onshore.

“I’d bet it’s Antonio Fletcher or Jerrod Ephesians pulling our collective leg,” Seagroves said. “Like those guys who made crop circles for years to cause a kerfuffle while they laughed among themselves.”

Fletcher denied the accusations.

“Got no time for that kind of nonsense,” he said. “Ain’t got that many bottles, either. People’re pointing fingers at me when folks out there need rescuing.”

Observers say the messages are too varied to be the work of one person or group.

“We’re finding notes in all kinds of languages. That’s way beyond anything ‘Tonio’s capable of,” Donna Requin said. “I found one yesterday in Norwegian. Some kid tossed it in off Stavanger as a joke in 2009 and it took that long to get to us.”

Island emergency personnel are taking a sterner view.

“We have to take every rescue request seriously,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “We’ve been contacting the appropriate authorities worldwide all week. Some have stopped taking my calls.

“If any of these notes do turn out to be jokes, the culprits will face the full brunt of the law,” Marquette said. “I’ve had no sleep for days, tracking down all these places. I still can’t find ‘Wanna-Hocka-Loogie’ on any nautical chart, but I do hope that Nigerian prince gets rescued safely.”

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