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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Sandscript

Tsunami tale, reef found, safety tips, too

2004 ended on a horrifying note with the earthquake-spawned tsunami in the Indian Ocean. The death toll was approaching 150,000 and property loss is beyond description.

It makes our four hurricanes this summer seem moot.

The following from "Editor & Publisher" brings the devastation home to this reporter.

"All 80 journalists from Serambi, the only daily newspaper based in hard-hit Banda Aceh, Indonesia, are missing and feared dead, according to the Jakarta Post.

"Along with the newspaper's other staff members, the missing journalists are among 230 employees based in Banda Aceh and other areas, who work for the Jakarta-based publishing group Gramedia.

  "'We fear the worst,' Gramedia public relations chief Agus Parengkuan told the Jakarta Post. 'As the main paper covering Aceh, the journalists have become accustomed to threats, intimidation and violence amid the conflict in the province that began in 1989 when the military started operations to root out the Free Aceh Movement,' the Post observed. 'Despite those risks, nothing could have prepared them for what is being called the Boxing Day debacle.

"The Kompas bureau chief in Aceh checked the homes of many of the missing employees, including that of Najmuddin Umar, who also reports for Kompas.   Like the others, 'his house was no longer there,' an executive at Kompas said.

"The Serambi office and printing press were among the buildings in downtown Banda Aceh that were totally destroyed by the massive 9.0-earthquake and the tsunami that followed in its wake on Sunday."

New reef

Scientists have discovered something interesting off the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico: The deepest coral reef in the United States.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, a group of University of South Florida scientists set off in 1989 to look into the benthic condition of the Gulf. About 50 miles west of the Tortugas - about 50 miles west of Key West - they dropped a bucket overboard, let it bounce along the bottom for a while, then pulled it up filled with purple coral and algae.

It eventually became mapped as the Pulley Ridge Reef, 20 miles long, up to 3 miles wide in places, all in 200 to 300 feet of water.

The reef is a remnant barrier island that became covered with water about 13,000 years ago. Remember, Florida at one time was much, much wider than it is today, with "beachfront" property along the West Coast running about 150 miles from where the shore is today, compliments of the end of the last ice age.

Anyway, the reef is in a spot that has very clear, relatively warm water year-round. The coral itself is also remarkably healthy, with researchers estimating that up to 70 percent of the reef is living. In the Florida Keys, about 5 percent of the coral is alive.

Pretty neat, huh? And almost right in our back yard. Wonder what other wonders are out in the Gulf?

Resolutions to make, keep

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary has offered two New Year's resolutions to boaters that are pretty simple and yet could save your life.

Resolution No. 1: Never go boating without making sure everyone on board is wearing a personal flotation device.

Hey, they're making life jackets smaller and lighter than ever these days, and if a passenger happens to flip over the side and conk a head on the way, it would save their life. Get them and wear them.

Resolution No. 2: Get a Coast Guard Auxiliary courtesy vessel examination.

The auxiliary members offer these checks free at a lot of the boat ramps around the Island most weekends. There are some goofy - well, not so goofy I guess, but things you probably don't think of all that much - requirements for boats.

Do you have a whistle on board?

Have your flares expired?

Got a fire extinguisher?

Auxiliary folks will check all that and more, tell you in writing if you've missed something, and if you pass they'll give you a pretty nifty sticker you can put on a windshield to say you're a safe boater.

Back when I had my little boat I always made it a point to get the checkup every year. I remember going through one of the passes many years ago which was obviously a checkpoint for marine law enforcement officers, since we counted eight vessels pulled over for routine checks.

I slowed down as we passed one of the water cops, figuring he would want to pull me over if for no other reason than to check out the young women in bikinis I had on board, but just got a wave - after the guy had checked out my nifty little safety inspection sticker.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary, by the way, was founded in 1939 through an act of Congress as the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, renamed the auxiliary in 1941. It has 35,000 members nationwide.

Grants, anyone?

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program is offering grants up to $2,000 for "Florida-friendly neighborhood projects proposed by communities located in Sarasota and Manatee counties and within the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program's watersheds," according to program officials.  

"The Florida Yards & Neighborhood Grants are intended to enhance the environmental value of public land, such as community parks, gardens, playgrounds and recreational trails," and deadline is Feb. 1.

Grant applications are available online at www.sarasotabay.org.

Eligible are "neighborhood associations, homeowner associations, civic associations, schools, religious organizations and ad-hoc community groups."

There is a "general information session" at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 5 at Selby Public Library in Sarasota or at 6 p.m. Jan. 6 in the Manatee Central Library.

Grants will be awarded based on "how well the proposed projects address the focus of 'preserving the character and value' of public land," according to the program. "Using Florida native landscaping practices, creating or enhancing recreational trails and creating a more attractive environment for the community are among the criteria the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program's Grant Review Committee will use to assess grant applications."

More information is available through Brie Willett at 955-8085 or brie@sarasotabay.org.

Sandscript factoid

There is no record of a tsunami ever occurring in the Gulf of Mexico. Florida has had its share of earthquakes, though, 18 of them since 1780. The last, in Escambia County in 1997, registered 4.9 on the Richter Scale.

The capitol of Escambia County, by the way, is Pensacola.

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