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Date of Issue: January 25, 2007

Sandscript

Sad history recorded last year for our manatee friends

History was made last year for manatees - grim history.

A total of 416 manatees died last year in Florida waters, one more than the previous record of 415 set in 1996. Of the 2006 figure, 86 were attributed to fatal manatee-boat "interactions," the second-highest rate since recordkeeping began more than 30 years ago, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

As with all things scientific, FWC waffled in its announcement, stating that "scientists are unsure as to whether the increase [in deaths] reflects manatee population growth, increased mortality or better detection of carcasses."

Significant numbers within the breakdown on manatee deaths had 131 listed as "undetermined," 86 from watercraft accidents, 74 from natural causes, 71 from perinatal issues and 21 from cold stress.

Actual population of the gentle marine mammal in Florida's nearshore waters is always controversial. FWC officials have said that the first census of manatees in 1991 placed their numbers at 1,268. The counts have mostly risen during the last few years to a high of 3,300 in 2001. Experts estimate there are actually about 3,100 manatees off our coasts or in Florida's rivers and streams.

But the counts are mostly conducted through aerial surveying on one day of the year. A few years ago, only 1,200 or so were counted on what turned out to be a cloudy day with relatively poor water clarity.

Factor in the skill level of those doing the counting, and you've got not much more than a snapshot of how many sea cows are out there, rather than a real census.

But the death toll is real, and the watercraft count is a hard fact.

And all the data are coming out just as the FWC commissioners are considering changing the status of manatees from "endangered" to the lesser-protected category of "threatened."

Consider the comment of Helen Spivey, co-chair of the Save the Manatee organization in Florida.

As reported in the St. Petersburg Times, she said of the FWC comments on the death count, "I think it's a professional spin as good as the Democrats and Republicans put out. I think it's just spin, and I really hate to see a state agency spin something that means so much to an imperiled species."

 

Boating love is all in the family

My old buddy Capt. Jonnie Walker likes to advise us all to "take a kid fishing, and one day he'll take you." It seems that adage holds true for boating among women, girls, and probably everyone else.

According to a survey conducted by BoatU.S., "parents play an important role in teaching their daughters recreational boating skills. But when girls grow up, many women believe there aren't enough boating educational opportunities, especially those that are tailored for women."

The "Boating Learning and Education Survey for Women" by the national boating organization "showed that nearly half of all women respondents, 47 percent, said it was a parent who they first remember teaching them boating skills, and 47 percent also said they had first gone boating before age 10."

As BoatU.S. put it, "What the survey essentially tells us is that families play an important part in introducing boating to young girls, but as adults they want to learn more in relaxed settings, perhaps away from a well-meaning spouse."

More than two-thirds of women surveyed said they had taken some type of formal classroom boating training, 73 percent had some hands-on instruction, and 59 percent agreed there was clear support for more all-women courses. A whopping 80 percent of the 400 women surveyed said more hands-on events for women are needed.

Boating courses requested by the survey respondents went far beyond the usual line handling and which-side-of-a-marker-do-I-pass category, too. Women want some serious motor-head skills offered. Instruction in boat systems such as engines or electrical systems was requested by 71 percent; navigation, 62 percent; and upgrading boat-handling skills, 52 percent.

"The respondents to the survey were not just first mates," according to the survey. "More than three-quarters currently own either a powerboat or sailboat."

Years ago I realized that communication is the most important aspect of any boating maneuver. Explain what you plan to do well before you do it, especially during a docking exercise. On a little boat, sometimes it's easier to politely ask someone to just get out of the way. On larger vessels, explain what's coming up, who should take which line and affix it to which cleat or piling, and what precautions should be taken during the operation.

It's all pretty simple. Don't yell at your female friends while boating - or anyone else, for that matter - and let anyone take the helm as much as they desire. Explain what's going on and why it's happening, and listen to any suggestions.

It makes for a much more pleasant day on the water.

 

More boating thoughts

Winter is traditionally the nadir of boating season in Florida. Face it: It's a lot more pleasant to go out on the water when that water is 85 degrees and the sun is warm, than it is to face those cold northers with what feels like freezing spray coming over the bow.

But this winter is shaping up to be anything but normal, with 85-degree afternoons and water temperatures that hit 72 last week.

If you're going out on the water, take a few minutes to check out all your gear.

Mooring lines chaffed? Replace them. Ditto for your anchor line, and when you do replace it, add another 100 feet or so. That extra length could spell the difference between safety and disaster if something bad happens when you're trying to hunker down in a safe harbor during a blow.

It may sound silly, but also be sure that your anchor line is affixed to something on the boat before you drop the hook. There are far too many stories floating around of someone inadvertently tossing out an anchor in water deeper than expected and watching the whole apparatus sink to the bottom because - oops! - who forgot to tie it off?

And don't toss the anchor. It needs to be lowered gently over the side so the Danforth flukes on the anchors common in our part of the world can catch on the bottom. I went for a long, long swim once to retrieve a runaway boat where someone tossed the anchor and I didn't double-check to see if it was set before we all went ashore.

There are few things worse to hear than the comment, "Hey, isn't that our boat floating away?"

And don't forget to wear some kind of polarized sunglasses. Not only do they keep your eyes from frying in the sun, they also help you see through the glare on the water, allow you to judge bottom depths better and let you see any critters in the water, like manatees.

Check flares, compressed air horns and life jackets now, too. Replace what is outdated, and add to what you've got stocked up as needed. Get some fresh sunscreen, too.

And be careful out there!

 

Sandscript factoid

We've had history past with manatee mortality. Now we've got "history" 250 million years in the future on a global scale.

In something called geopredictions, scientists are looking at land-mass shift in the future, based on what's happened in the past.

The background on all this is based on what a lot of geologists figure was once a huge mob of all the continents that has been dubbed Gondwana. As time passed, the continents drifted apart, and we saw Africa, Europe, Russia, North and South America, Antarctica and Australia form.

Fast-forward a bit - well, if 250 million years from now is a bit - and everything smashes into each other again. The Mediterranean Sea is gone, merged with Europe and Africa. Atlantic Ocean? Schmooshed against Africa. Australia and Antarctica are one big island.

The new global continent is called Pangea Ultima.

It would appear that Florida would be located somewhere close to what is today's South Africa based on the computer models.

Check out the Web site at www.scotese.com. Pass it on to your great-great … whatever grandchildren.

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