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Date of Issue: March 09, 2006

Sandscript

2005 manatee counts in: Less sea cows, or poor counting?

Manatee census counts have been completed for 2006 and, if you can imagine a sea cow cat fight, something similar to that event has indeed evolved regarding the totals.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's annual census of the endangered - or is it threatened this week? - manatees came up with 3,116 marine mammals in Florida. The count is what the agency calls a "synoptic" survey, which "provide researchers a minimum number of manatees in Florida waters. In addition, the surveys provide a snapshot of manatee distribution around the state. The survey results are not used directly to evaluate the manatee population."

But the various groups arguing for or against manatee protection or deregulation are using the numbers to vent. Loudly.

Pro-manatee protection advocates state that the numbers are down from previous years, deaths from red tide and boat strikes are up into alarming numbers, and the endangered status should be maintained at the very least.

The marine mammals must be further protected, in other words.

No-need-to-protect-manatee folks state that the count is bogus and should not be considered as anything more than a snapshot of what's out there in manatee land: Everyone knows there are at least 3,600 manatees, more than enough to maintain the critters in a sustainable population base.

No need to protect the marine mammals any more, in other words.

OK, so here's the skinny on the count. There's a bunch of gals and guys in airplanes that go up one day, fly along the shore, and basically count what they think are manatees in places where manatees usually hang out.

The day of the count is usually calm, clear, good water quality, bright sunny skies.

The counters, one would hope, are experienced in differentiating between manatees and logs, the sun isn't in anybody's eyes, and there isn't any chop in the water to mess up the count.

But the counts are not an accurate census of manatees, as all the pro- and con-manatee folks readily admit. Hey, there's a sun flare, you miss a pod of 20 manatees, multiplied by all the planes out there, you've got a serious oopsie.

Probably more to the point in the whole manatee issue is the fact that 396 recorded deaths last year, 81 from red tide, 80 from boat-sea cow interactions.

And there are reports that 60 have died so far this year, and we're barely into March.

Maybe the 3,116 number, and not the estimated 3,600 figure, is more accurate? And how many will we count next year?

Egmont, Passage keys plans begin

If you've got a thought about what should be done to preserve and protect Passage and/or Egmont Key, now's the time to put forth your thoughts.

Comprehensive conservation plans for those islands north of Anna Maria Island are being solicited by the feds, in a 15-year cycle to upgrade the guidelines for the refuges. Public comment is being solicited through April 1, based in part on public comment gleaned from some public hearings in February.

"The Pinellas Refuges, Egmont Key, and Passage Key, were created for the benefit of nesting and resting birds," according to the basic U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dictates. New thoughts include:

Acquire submerged land leases around refuges, especially Egmont, to give refuge law enforcement authority to stop "visitors" who may be getting too close to sensitive closed bird areas. This means that visitors now can walk right up to the shoreline on Egmont or Little Bird where birds are nesting a few feet away and officers cannot issue a citation if needed.

Erosion issues on Egmont, Passage and some of the Pinellas Refuges:

Public use on Egmont Key. Is there too much public use, just enough, too little?

Eradication of exotic plants and continued control. Should fire be used on Egmont to reduce the threat of wildfires and bring the ecosystem back to the way it historically was?

Does the refuge have a specific plan to implement immediately in the event of an oil spill in the Gulf or Tampa Bay that may affect the refuges and the foraging grounds of the birds that frequent them.

How can disturbances to the birds in the sanctuary areas and in public-use areas be eliminated?

Your comments are welcomed via e-mail to Chassahowitzka@fws.gov with Tampa Bay CCP in the title line or mail comments to USFWS, in care of Tampa Bay CCP, 1502 S.E. Kings Bay Drive, Crystal River FL 34429.

El Nino, La Nina … whatever, it's bad news

You've probably seen the pictures and heard of the devastating landslide in the Philippines last month that killed more than 1,800 people.

Scientists are now starting to realize that the weather event that spurred the mud was the result of La Nina, a Pacific Ocean weather event that can cause global climate changes.

According to the journal Nature, "some 50 centimeters of rain fell in this area in the first two weeks of February - more than twice the average for the entire month. It would certainly have left the soil completely sodden and prone to sliding."

Cause of the rainfall "was linked to a periodic weather pattern known as La Nina, which usually leads to a shift in jet-stream winds that delivers more rain to the Philippines. The weather system of the Pacific Ocean oscillates between La Nina and El Nino, which sees a warmer surface temperature every three to five years."

The mudslide was similar to what one would see during a tsunami, or tidal wave, except it was in the mountains and not along the shore. According to scientists who study such events, "the landslide saw millions of cubic meters of mud flowing from near the top of a large mountain. The mass would have been moving at tens of meters per second when it reached the village, and people would have had little chance of getting away."

Just as an FYI: La Nina is bad for us regarding hurricanes, since the condition seems to heighten Atlantic storms, although it's bad - obviously - for the folks in the Pacific rim area, which get more wet weather. El Nino is good for us, since it seems to sheer wind tops and stifle Atlantic hurricanes.

 

Sonar strife

There seems to be a bit of a dispute between two federal agencies regarding underwater noise. Who shouts the loudest is still in doubt, and the eventual outcome is yet to be determined.

Seems the U.S. Navy wants to install an underwater sonar training range in the Atlantic Ocean, a necessary feature to protect our shores from foreign submarines attempting to enter our waters.

Sonar is basically underwater sound waves that can target all sorts of things.

Enter the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That federal agency has blasted, literally, the Navy's proposal, stating that the Navy has jacked up the volume at least 100 times more than what it recommends, with potentially dire results to whales and other marine mammals.

Right whales, the most endangered of all marine mammals, do an annual migration down the east coast of the United States, passing right through the Navy's proposed sonar field off North Carolina.

"CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?" NOAA says to the Navy, in other words.

 

Sandscript factoid

"Singing" humpback whales, the most "vocal" of the sea's marine mammals, have been detected by humans up to 15 miles away. Other whales have been recorded at distances of 100 miles by humans.

And these whales aren't talking to us. Are they can "shouting" to one another?

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