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Date of Issue: December 21, 2006

Sandscript

Red tide smacks down fish in Southwest Florida

Red tide struck Southwest Florida for most of 2005. The naturally occurring algae bloom cost an estimated $20 million in lost revenue to waterfront restaurants, resorts and other businesses that depend on the tourist dollar to flourish.

It also "significantly impacted the juvenile spotted sea trout fishery," according to state biologists.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission received a report from biologists with the agency's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg last week on the environmental impacts of the red tide bloom. The results were mixed.

Sea trout were hit hard by the algae, which releases a toxin that can kill fish. The scientists found that "juvenile red drum fared better and juvenile snook suffered little impact from the severe red tide."

The biologists did samplings of the three sport fish based on an ongoing, long-term juvenile fish monitoring program.

"Biologists attribute the juvenile snook population's resiliency to the species' use of low-salinity nursery habitats," according to the report. "The red tide organism does not thrive in low-salinity areas or brackish water, so juvenile snook were able to avoid the bloom.

"In Tampa Bay, red tide hit the sea trout population at a popular spawning site particularly hard. Biologists monitoring the site, using ultrasonic transmitters implanted in fish, consistently heard sounds of spawning trout - until red tide hit the area. Although spawning season continues through September, researchers never heard the fish with implants after July 12, 2005, something they attribute to red tide. Preliminary 2006 data show the spawning fish have not returned to the area. However juvenile recruitment data for 2006 show the species is making a very slow recovery in other areas."

Remember the "dead zone" that was discovered off the coast, an area where the bottom dwellers all appeared to perish when the red tide toxin pushed down to the bottom? The biologists looked at that problem, too.

"The 2005 red tide bloom also affected bottom communities offshore from Tarpon Springs to Sarasota," according to the study. "Bottom-dwelling organisms like sponges, corals, mollusks, crabs and fish died due to the effects of red tide and hypoxic and anoxic (oxygen-depleted) conditions resulting from decomposition of dead organisms. Survey results from the area indicated the red tide impacted some reef communities heavily while other reefs appeared to be unaffected."

The marine impacts of red tide, in other words, are similar to what we humans deal with - the throat-scratching, nose-itching, coughing associated with the bloom can be bad on one stretch of beach and non-existent at another location, and the same is true with our finny friends and their reef homes.

 

Can you hear me now?

In another one of those human-nature similarities, it appears that birds that live in cities are louder and sing in a different pitch than birds of the same species that live in the woods.

According to a study published in "Current Biology," researchers have found that "birds living in urban areas sing a faster tune than their slower country counterparts. The changes in birdsong may help their calls to be heard over the howl of traffic and the wind."

The study included the songs of Parus major, commonly known as great tits, living in 10 major European cities compared with the tunes from those living in nearby forests. "All of the city slickers were found to make shorter, faster and more high-pitched sounds. Quick, repetitious trills pass better through high wind and the low frequencies of traffic noise, whereas low, slower sounds transmit better through dense vegetation."

Sound is a big deal to the birds. Male birds use sound to establish their territorial boundaries and also to attract females. If they can't be heard, they can be overrun by other birds or go around in feathered frustration without a mate.

However, not all birds can match the adaptability of the great tits. "Zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, "crystallize their melody in their first months, and so would not be expected to adapt to a new soundscape later in life."

 

Cruising (with) Class starting up again

Here's something you can mark on your new 2007 calendar: The Sarasota Sailing Squadron "reluctantly" announces the annual "Cruising (with) Class" series of lectures will begin Jan. 11.

Instructor Stan Zimmerman will again try to teach students the rudiments of cruising in a small sailboat along the finest coastline in the world, which is to say, Southwest Florida. The class is free and open to the public.

Zimmerman will present the rudiments of local weather and currents, navigation and hazards, anchoring and other perils, cooking, cooling, bug-fighting, self-steering, mal de mer and, most perilous of all, docking. In his 30 years of sailing this coast, Zimmerman remains a primitive and seeks others in similar straits, he said.

Hundreds of folks have graduated from this class, followed the instruction (mixed with their own best judgment) and successfully explored not only this coast, but many others. Somehow it works.

The course is designed for folks new to sailboat cruising, or new to this area. It assumes students already know how to sail. It also assumes students will bring a pencil and paper to take notes. Zimmerman fancies himself a journalist, and knows if you don't write it down, you'll forget it immediately. He also asks students bring a short hank of line, because he will attempt to teach a useful knot in each class.

Few finish the eight weeks of instruction. It's an unheated, seemingly endless two-hour lecture (with a break) on a porch in the winter, but it does come with the best view in Sarasota. For those desiring a warmer shortcut, the lectures are available as a book.

Classes will be held at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, located in Ken Thompson Park on City Island, just down the road from Mote Marine Laboratory between Lido and Longboat Key. Classes start at 7 p.m. sharp every Thursday. Go to the end of the road, around the circle and take a right into the squadron.

 

Siesta Key beach renourishment update

Environmental regulators have denied hearing a petition by a Siesta Key Gulffront homeowner who attempted to block a beach renourishment project on the southern part of the Sarasota County barrier island.

Beachfront property owner Nancy Burns Stratton had argued that an erosion control line had been incorrectly drawn and requested an administrative hearing to make her case. Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials denied her petition, issued permits for the project and sand should start to move onto the beach later this month.

Ironically, her house was demolished after erosion sucked all the sand away from the front of her home, causing waves and water to so damage the house that it was deemed to be unsafe for occupancy.

The renourishment plan calls for about 900,000 cubic yards of sand to cover more than two miles of beach in the Midnight Pass area of Siesta Key.

Still pending is a plan to re-open the pass, closed more than 20 years ago due to severe erosion. Permits are still pending on the inlet creation effort.

 

Sandscript factoid

To quote the immortal words of former Miami Herald humorist Dave Barry, "I am not making this up."

Last year, a guy from England caught the world's heaviest carp in a lake in France. The fish weighed a bit more than 83 pounds.

For winning the prize for the biggest fish, he got a vacation back to France this year. As fishers are wont to do, he went fishing. In the same lake. And caught the same fish - this time, it tipped the scales at better than 87 pounds.

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