Florida Keys News
Sunday, December 28, 2008
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Live ocean cams at Bahia Honda now online

The waters below the Bahia Honda Bridge are one of the Florida Keys' more under-utilized dive spots.

The channel is home to sharks, Goliath groupers and other large species of snapper year-round. In the summer, pods of hundreds of large migrating tarpon take up residence, moving in and out of the bridge pylons.

The currents make the dive challenging. However, those not holding advanced diving certificates now have a front-row seat to the action. Students, teachers and scientists have installed two high-tech Web cameras at the base of the bridge, and live feeds are available on the Internet and on a screen at the Bahia Honda State Park visitor center.

A group of high school students from Colorado and the Keys partnered with some of the country's leading marine biologists and conservation groups to install and maintain the cameras. The cameras, which were installed this month, are powered by the sun and can be operated remotely by students across the country. In underwater housings and fitted with microphones, they stream live sound and video across the Internet.

"I could not be more delighted that the equipment has finally been deployed," said Trevor Mendelow, a science teacher with Kent Denver School in Colorado. "It will be so exciting to get school kids involved in marine science, and we hope to do more projects like this one in the future."

The project was proposed by Teens4Oceans, a nonprofit group of students, teachers and scientists whose mission is to increase students' understanding of oceans. Organizers want to expand the program to as many schools as they can, they said.

"It is so important to put kids in front of the world they live in, and they will develop a love for their natural heritage," Mendelow said. "It is an irrefutable fact that our marine ecosystems are in peril, but everyday people can do their part and make a huge difference to preserve nearshore habitats."

Teens4Oceans' goal is to empower teens and students to become good stewards for oceans through science research and philanthropic initiatives. Students at Kent Denver School raised about $34,000 for the high-tech camera and lighting equipment.

The students and organizers had to work with the Florida Department of Transportation for permits to put solar panels on the bridge and fit the cameras to the pylons.

"The kids really have picked up the ball and are running with it," said Rich Andrews, a board member with the conservation group Billfish Foundation. "Every single obstacle that was put in front of them, they got around. The way everyone pulled together to make this happen was really great."

The live feeds from the Web cameras can be viewed on the Web at http://teens4oceans.org.

tohara@keysnews.com

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