A scientist is busy assembling an amphibious army on Stock Island.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I have seen things in the ocean going in the wrong direction,” he winced.
“Now I am developing an army of environment stewards to go out there and help me,” said Dr. Patrick Rice, Dean of Marine Science and Technology at Florida Keys Community College.
His minions are FKCC marine biology students and his plan is simple: “to have the Keys be back to historical values with corals, sharks, fish, and everything else before I die.”
This Saturday, Rice will host the first annual Sharkfest at FKCC’s Tennessee Williams Theater for an enlightening sharkapalooza to help fund his scientific splinter-cell.
Unlike the stereotypical gawky scientists clad in white lab coats and horn-rimmed glasses, Rice is a solid swimmer who sports a goatee and shark tooth necklace.
He has swam with dozens of species and took Mike Rowe diving during the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week to demonstrate the potency of shark repellent.
This Saturday’s event, “Sharks & Humans,” will showcase some of the latest advances in shark repellents mixed with a cultural feast for marine activists and art enthusiasts.
Celebrated marine artist Wyland will paint in the theater as guests devour music, drink, food, while soaking in an art auction featuring a one-of-a-kind collaborative piece by Wyland and Guy Harvey. Rice also plans to paralyze temporarily a bonnethead using a repellent technique called, tonic mobility.
Rice conjured the idea for Sharkfest at a recent DEMA convention as experts jibber-jabbed on about “shark conservation” without really tackling the issue of “saving sharks.”
Rice is the first one to admit, “I was really pissed off,” Rice said. “Because we have the technology to do it.” Rice, along with countless other shark experts have deduced that the world’s shark population has dwindled to 10 percent of historic numbers and accidental catches during commercial fishing is a major problem affecting the earth’s marine eco-system. “We have technology that can be used in commercial fishing to save sharks.
Raising awareness is only one part. Let’s actually do something to stop it, minimize it or reduce it.”
Rice did exactly that when he partnered with a “shark repellent think tank” in 2001 called Shark Defense. The names imply a defense against sharks, but to Rice the idea is to defend sharks against man. Since the company’s launch, the scientists have used stalled Navy research to produce their own line of shark repellants.
Like a aerosol can filled with shark carcass juice that is as appealing to sharks as it is to humans.
Rice and his partners also patented a selectively magnetized and rare earth treated, or S.M.A.R.T. hook. When researching the effect of magnets on sharks, Rice and his fellow chemists/scientists discovered rare earth metals and shark tissue form an electrical circuit.
In fact, just the small clipping of a shark fin connected to the rare earth metal will produce 1.7 volts or the same amount of power as a D battery.
“When we put the rare earth metals in the water, they just freaked out, worse than the magnets,” Rice added.
Dr. Rice has swam with dozens of shark species including Caribbean reef, blacknose, blacktips, lemons, nurse and greater hammerheads, like this 12’ (pictured). “The bull sharks scare me,” he confessed. ”Most sharks are like a big dog and there is this weird dynamic if you don’t show fear, but bull sharks just don’t care. They are pretty bold.”
Dr. Patrick Rice is the Dean of Marine Science and Technology at FKCC. This weekend he is hosting Sharkfest at the Tennessee Williams Theater and all proceeds go to supporting the college’s marine science foundation.