For The Love Of Blenny Fish: One Man's Plea For Marine Habitat In Lauderdale-By-The-Sea

May 14, 2019

Anglins Fishing Pier in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea has been open since 1941, and many consider it to be a town staple. However, it has been only partially open for fishing and sightseeing since Hurricane Irma damaged part of it in 2017. 

Underwater workers first began to repair the historic structure this spring. But a small group of divers is now concerned that a tiny fish that lives among barnacles there - the Tessellated Blenny - may have had its marine habitat damaged in the process. 

"You read articles about plastic in the ocean and then you read about all the other problems there are in marine habitat, with global warming and that kind of thing - this is in my own backyard, these little fish," said Jack Israe, who has been diving for 25 years. 

Israel retired close to Lauderdale-By-The-Sea and likes to dive regularly underneath the pier (even though diving is technically not allowed there). Over time, he said he's fallen in love with photographing the Tessellated Blenny's colors and expressions. 

"The orange dots on his me that's just priceless," Israel said."They pop in and out of their barnacles...They're just extremely adorable."

The Tessellated Blennies live in barnacles that are attached to the pilings that support the pier. This is one of the few pilings left that hasn't been pressure washed.
Credit Caitie Switalski / WLRN

Israel may hold the Blenny Fish’s beauty in high regard, but it's a fish that does not often get appreciated.  

For starters, it's a pretty common fish, harvested for aquariums.

Matthew DiMaggio, an assistant professor at the University of Florida's Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory, said there are hundreds of different species of Blenny fish globally. However, the Tessellated Blenny is best known for two things: living inside of barnacle shells, and its mysterious beginnings. 

"It's what's called a cryptogenic species. That means it's a species whose origin we're not really sure about,” DiMaggio said. "There's some research out there that's shown these Tessellated Blennies have actually moved around the northern part of South America and through the Caribbean on oil rig equipment."

Israel noticed the barnacles attached to some of the concrete pilings, or poles that hold the pier up, had been pressure-washed off in mid-March.

These are some of the pier pilings that have already had most of the barnacles on them pressure-washed off.
Credit Caitie Switalski / WLRN

"I wanted to do something about it if I could, or at least put them on notice that, 'hey, there is a whole eco-environment down there, underneath this pier,'" Israel said. "Let's try to protect it while we're going through the construction phase.''

The pier sustained significant structural damage from Hurricane Irma. The pilings that support the pier need to be reinforced with new concrete in order to be safe for visitors, according to town authorities.

"The Blenny fish won't have a pier to attach to if it has to be removed," said Linda Connors, Development Services Director for Lauderdale-By-The-Sea. "Once the new concrete adheres, the Blenny fish...will have another habitat to attach to."

Anglins Fishing Pier entrance, Lauderdale-By-The-Sea.
Credit Caitie Switalski / WLRN

The pier, though open for public use, is not publicly owned. A private company called Fisherman's Pier Inc., currently owns the lease. They could not be reached for comment. 

Construction on the pier was paused shortly after construction started because Fisherman's Pier Inc. was missing some of the permits it needed. The town had issued construction permits for the repairs. Now, according to the Broward County's Environmental Engineering and Permitting Division, the company has been approved for an Environmental Resource License for the job, pending payment by the owner. Then, repairs are set to continue.

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It's unclear when the pier will be fully open again. The town said much of the repairs are contingent on the weather and the conditions underwater on any given day. 

Israel said he, too, wants the pier repaired. But that's not stopping him from wanting to be a voice for the ecosystem underneath it. 

"It'll make for a better fishing environment if you don't destroy the food chain that lives under there," Israel said.

Underwater photographer Jack Israel looking at pier pilings and barnacles on Anglins Fishing Pier.
Credit Caitie Switalski / WLRN