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Date of Issue: November 10, 2005

Sandscript

Long-term eco damage forecast, thanks to Wilma

Miami-Dade County residents are only now beginning to recover from the impacts of Hurricane Wilma's passage Oct. 24. Electric power to more than 3 million people was disrupted, and the juice is expected to be back on for most folks by the week's end.

Environmental damage caused by Wilma could take much, much longer to correct itself.

"Impacts stretch from Central Florida to the Florida Keys, but the areas of most concern are Lake Okeechobee and the stormwater treatment areas which remove excess nutrients from surface water flowing into the Everglades," according to the South Florida Water Management District.

"Just like last year when Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne moved across South Florida, hurricane-force winds stirred up sediments in Lake Okeechobee, turning its waters an unappealing shade of brown," district officials said. "These sediments do not settle quickly, and they contain nutrients that have accumulated for decades due to stormwater runoff into the lake. When flood control requires discharge of lake waters into the St. Lucie River to the east and Caloosahatchee River to the west, the estuaries of these waterways can be harmed by the high-nutrient discharges."

Water district officials have found "floating vegetation pushed onto shore, submerged aquatic vegetation ripped loose and pushed ashore, and emergent vegetation bent over."

The stormwater treatment areas were also hard hit. They're basically manmade wetlands that filter the excess nutrients from agricultural areas before reaching Florida Bay. Many plants there were uprooted by Wilma's strong winds

It'll take at least three weeks to fully assess the damages.

So what? you may ask.

Well, if similar damage occurred last fall in the passage of the three hurricanes - Charley, Frances and Jeanne - through the same area, and the nutrient-sucking plants were damaged then, all that fertilizer and pesticide flowed into Florida Bay and Southwest Florida Gulf of Mexico waters.

Assume that the fertilizer started to "cook" out in the Gulf for a few months.

Red tide started to show up off Southwest Florida in December.

A pair of scientists from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute tentatively pointed to excess nutrient runoff as a possible "trigger" for red tide.

We've had a 10-month red tide outbreak off Florida's coast which has only now started to abate.

Gee, do you think there may be a connection here?

It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few months.

Wow!

Speaking of interesting subjects, Florida Sea Grant Agent John Stevely provided a followup on a hit-and-run case that killed our old friend Dr. Gus Antonini and his stepson last year. Gus had been a tireless advocate for anchorages and mooring fields along Southwest Florida, and had begun the task of helping Bradenton Beach develop its burgeoning boater storage site just south of the city pier when he and his stepson were struck and killed by a drunk driver while bicycling near their Gainesville home.

Police were able to catch the guy that killed them. The case came to trial not too long ago, and a judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison. From what Stevely told me, he was looking at a much stiffer sentence, but Gus's widow Victorina testified on the guy's behalf.

"I assume she feels like nothing will bring Gus back and enough lives have been destroyed," Stevely told me. "This is probably true, but I have a hard time feeling comfortable that he will ever be back on the streets"

I agree.

Shameless plug

My buddy Tom Cross is holding a "Tom Cross Chronic Survival Tour" beginning Nov. 11, with proceeds of the sale of his artwork and books to go in part to lung cancer research.

The tour starts with a Friday reception from 5-8 p.m. at the JABU Center, 1915 Ivanhoe St., Sarasota.

Tom had never smoked, yet was diagnosed with Stage IV, inoperable lung cancer in January 2004 and given less than a year to live. He started researching the disease and found a round of drugs that seemed to work for a "never-smoker" group, and he started treatment.

It was far from the traditional chemotherapy or radiation that cancer victims undergo. There was acupuncture, Chinese herbs, exercise and a lot of support from his friends. Seven months later a checkup revealed no active cancer.

The good news didn't last long. Less than a year later, the cancer was back, but there were some new drugs on the market by then and Tom started another round of therapy. It too worked, and as of September his cancer had been reduced by 75 percent. As he puts it, "all involved are happily befuddled."

I met Tom about 30 years ago when he was offering nature tours to bayfront and mangrove locales. He taught me more in a morning than I'd ever learned about estuarine ecosystems, and we've been friends ever since, collaborating on eight books and countless other projects where his artwork and my words have combined. In fact, Tom did the "Sandscript" turtle hatchling drawing in The Islander.

Hope to see you Friday, and if not, keep him in your thoughts.

History lesson

The following is one of those Internet factoid lists. The validity of these things is always suspect, but I did check a few of the facts and found them accurate, so maybe it's all true. It makes for interesting reading, anyway.

The year is 1905. One hundred years ago. What a difference a century makes. Here are some of the U.S. statistics for 1905:

The average life expectancy in the United States was 47 years.

Only 14 percent of the homes in the United States had a bathtub.

Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone.

A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost $11, adjusted to today's price levels.

There were only 8,000 cars in the United States, and only 144 miles of paved roads. The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.

Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California. With a mere 1.4 million people, California was only the 21st most-populous state in the Union.

The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.

The average wage in the United States was 22 cents per hour.

The average U.S. worker made between $200 and $400 per year. A competent accountant could expect to earn $2,000 per year, a dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.

More than 95 percent of all births in the United States took place at home.

Ninety percent of all U.S. doctors had no college education. Instead, they attended so-called medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by the government as "substandard."

Sugar cost 4 cents a pound. Eggs were 14 cents a dozen. Coffee was 15 cents a pound.

Most women only washed their hair only once a month, and used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo.

Canada passed a law that prohibited poor Americans from entering into their country for any reason.

The American flag had 45 stars. Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska had not yet been admitted to the Union.

The population of Las Vegas, Nev., was 30.

Crossword puzzles, canned beer and iced tea had not been invented yet.

There was no Mother's Day or Father's Day.

Two out of every 10 U.S. adults could not read or write.

Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.

Marijuana, heroin and morphine were all available over the counter at the local corner drug store. Back then, pharmacists said "heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health."

Eighteen percent of households in the United States had at least one full-time servant or domestic helper.

There were about 230 reported murders in the entire United States.

Imagine what we'll see in the next 100 years.

Sandscript factoid

In 1905, the five leading causes of death in the United States were:

  1. pneumonia and influenza;
  2. tuberculosis;
  3. diarrhea;
  4. heart disease; and
  5. stroke.

Notice what's not on that list - no cancer and no car crashes. Maybe we haven't evolved all that far in 100 years after all.

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