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Date of Issue: October 19, 2006

Sandscript

Red tide thoughts, environmental successes or sorts?

Sometimes, acceptance of an idea can take an unconventional form of communication.

The Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County hosted a discussion of economic impacts of red tide to the area last week. The panel of experts included scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory, the Florida Marine Research Institute and North Carolina State University.

But it was Islander Ed Chiles who got the round of applause from the 80 or so business types in the audience. Besides running three waterfront restaurants, he is also chair of the local group Solutions To Avoid Red Tide.

After the scientists all agreed that, yes, nutrients like excessive fertilizer and other chemicals flowing from the land into the bays and Gulf of Mexico did appear to exacerbate red tide, and that, yes, red tide did appear to be of greater intensity and frequency in the last few years, Chiles offered a thought.

Since nobody seems to think that stormwater runoff and all its accompanying chemicals is any good for the water or the environment, why don't we start to pressure the policy makers to reduce the flow of stormwater?

His question was greeted with a round of applause from the business people in attendance.

Is anybody listening?

 

Clean is not such a good thing?

Remember that familiar proverb that goes something like being careful of what you wish for because you just might get it?

Seems that the folks in New York City are having their wish come true with some unusual results.

The New York Harbor has basically been a cesspool for hundreds of years. Everything from the city ended up in the harbor - sewage, chemicals from plants, the works. Everything percolated to the bottom, causing methane gas to rise. The harbor has at times caught fire because of all the toxic and combustible muck.

After the hue and cry from environmentalists finally reached someone's ears, the harbor and rivers abutting it became the focus of a massive cleanup effort. The flow of yuck was lessened, the toxic stew of the bottom dug up, and things started to improve in the 30 or so years since the cleanup began.

Now, with the waters cleaner than they have been in almost forever, there's another problem that has arisen: stuff is starting to grow in the water. Specifically, wood-eating critters called gribbles.

Historically, gribbles were found in the harbor and rivers, but the pollutants killed them off. Now they're back, and they're hungry. Very hungry, and looking for wood in the form of boat hulls, docks and pilings. Shipworms are also present and chowing down on whatever wood they can find.

Piers are collapsing as these underwater woodpecker-like crustaceans happily munch their way through the pilings.

It's good news for the environment that marine life is starting to flourish again, and good news for pier builders, who have a burgeoning new business of replacing the old wood with new concrete and steel.

Back many years ago, a buddy lived in a modest house on the shores of Whitaker Bayou in Sarasota. The city of Sarasota used the bayou as its outfall for its treated effluent - treated sewage - and millions of gallons of the mostly fresh water entered the waterway and then Sarasota Bay every day.

My buddy rented out three or four slips on his waterfront property to boaters, at extraordinary prices, because all the fresh water kept marine life from growing on the bottom of the boats. Boaters could go years without having to have their boats hauled and scraped if they could rent one of his boat slips. In fact, his boat slip rental pretty much paid for his house expenses and let him pretty much live there free.

He was probably the only person in Sarasota who objected to the discontinuation of Whitaker Bayou as the treated effluent outfall site and, for him at least, a huge loss of revenue.

 

Winterize thoughts

Although we don't have to worry too much about the ravages of ice and snow for our Florida boats, there are some good tips offered by the Boat Owners Association of the United States for the upcoming winter months when trips out on the water are few and far between.

In fact, some of the most common problems associated with boats in winter arise in the South. 

"Surprisingly, it's the balmy states of California, Florida, Texas, Alabama and Georgia where boaters are most likely to have freeze-related damage to engine blocks - and it routinely occurs to boats stored ashore," BOAT/U.S. reports. Because water retains heat longer than air, boats left in the slip are less susceptible to sudden freezing.

Another problem is failure to drain water from the sea strainer. "Like an engine, the seawater strainer must be winterized or residual water could freeze and rupture the watertight seal," according to the organization. "Sometimes you don't know it's damaged until spring launching and water begins to trickle in.

"For boats left in the water, leaving seacocks open during the winter is like going on extended vacation without locking the house. If a thru-hull cannot be closed, the vessel must be stored ashore - the sole exception is cockpit drains.

"Engine cooling system petcocks clogged by rust or other debris can prevent water from fully draining. If it's plugged, try using a coat hanger to clear the blockage or use the engine's intake hose to flush anti-freeze through the system."

It's hard to think about winter when the temperatures are in the 80s, but plan ahead. It could get chilly out there.

 

Techno Sarasota

Here's another bit of technological wonderment that I've been envious of for a while now.

Seems the city of Sarasota has come up a nifty computer program that lets you go to a meeting agenda, find the item or items which interest you, click on the topic, and not only get a view of all the backup material available to the commissioners, but you can "go to the video" of whatever action took place through the cameras in the meeting room.

Audio tapes of meetings are generally available for people to listen to, and in some of the bigger venues you can even get a copy of a video tape of the meeting. Now, Sarasota's gone one step further and lets you scroll to the topic you want and then watch the action on your computer. Free, of course.

OK, so only some computer nerd or a real political wonk would want to do this, but it's been surprising how many people I run into mention something about watching the county commission meetings on TV. And don't forget the popularity of what's usually one of the most mundane of all events, the weather, via the Weather Channel.

And OK, so call me lazy, but it sure would be nice to be able to sit at home and watch the antics of the various Island city commission meetings without having to sit through the whole meeting, but just scroll through to the "good parts."

Maybe some day soon ....

 

Sandscript factoid

One of the worst red tide outbreaks in Southwest Florida occurred from 1995-96. The dead fish kept piling up, airborne toxins caused coughing and sneezing, and manatees and dolphins died from the tide.

"It lasted 11 months and 21 days," Island restaurateur Ed Chiles pointed out.

Approximately, of course, not that he would have tracked something that he said almost put him out of business.

Is there any kind of insurance businesses can get to offset the impacts of red tide? he was asked last week.

No, he said with some emotion, or at least as much emotion as you can get in a one-word answer.

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