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A story on octocorals
Marine life forms a significant part of environmental issues here in Florida, and by extension the United States. That is one of the things I have come to understand as part of environmental reporting here. In Nigeria, environmental issues rarely involve aquatic life like whales, not to talk of sea animals deep down in the ocean like octocorals.
Though I have a science background, I never really heard of octocorals, until I got the press release from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or FWC, stating that the commission was considering creating an octocoral harvest quota that would include landings from state and federal waters.
The press release was the starting point of talking to sources, especially divers who not only dive deep down into the sea bed to harvest octocorals, but whom the trade in octocorals actually form their businesses and means of livelihood. Octocorals are also referred to as gorgonians, and they are a group of colonial marine animals shaped like flowers, feathers and fans, with prices ranging from $15 to $69.99. They are a major feature of aquariums.
My starting point was to get a contact at the FWC to whom I sent a list of questions to. The contact was Martha Bademan, at the FWC’s division of marine fisheries management. Through her I was able to get the contact of a diver to whom I sent another list of questions to, requesting for contacts of other divers.
In working on the story, I got a little surprised and sometimes irritated, whenever I called a diver’s phone number, and the voice from the other end says, “…you’ve reached …please drop a message as I’m unable to pick your call now…”
Thankfully, they always called back. All one needed to do was drop an explanatory message. I learnt also that persistence and patience pays – even if they don’t return your call, call back. I also learnt the importance of a well-structured questionnaire. It was very good that I always ended the list of questions with a request for a recommendation for other people that could be of help. This helped me to get more contacts.
The editing process again brought to fore the need to always tighten up a piece. Put in just the necessary amount of information needed.
Initially, it was as if one wasn’t going to make any headway working on the story, especially when the voice at the other end on the phone was always that of the machine and not the person. But the efforts eventually paid off. It resulted in the story - “Florida may limit soft coral harvest”.
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