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Story Tools

Date of Issue: March 19, 2008

Sandscript

Boat tales, and great tales from Jim Hall

From boats to fish to good quotes, there is definitely some weirdness going on out there. First, let's do the boats.

From the New York Times comes a report that the Suntory Mermaid II is purported to be the first wave-driven boat. It is planning to make its maiden voyage from Hawaii to Japan any day now. It is the creation of the ocean engineering and naval architectural department of Tokyo University School of Marine Science and Technology.

The report didn't state just how big the vessel is, but it must be substantial to go that distance in the Pacific Ocean.

The propulsion system apparently consists of a pair of horizontal fins located in the bow that move up and down as the boat moves, essentially pulling the boat through the water.

According to the Times, the craft is eco-friendly but not real zippy. Average speed is 3 knots. That pretty much translates to a fast walk. The trip is expected to take more than two months.

Stay tuned for final reports.

 

Wrap this up

Ohio's boaters are getting environmentally friendly in an unusual way - recycling the shrink-wrap that covers boats in the winter.

It seems that with harsh winters, storms and snow, boat owners in the frozen north like to wrap their vessels in plastic to protect them during the cold times. Come spring, the shrink-wrap comes off and gets tossed in the trash.

But at weights of up to 50 pounds for big boats, that means a lot of plastic winds up in the landfills.

Ohio officials have instigated a recycling program for the plastic which has collected 230 tons of the stuff. And it's been converted into almost 38,000 highway guardrail blocks.

According to Coastal Services, a publication of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the recyclable material translates into the same weight as nine school buses. Taken another way, it would cover all of Lake Erie's coastline to a depth of more than 8 feet.

A company goes to marinas and picks up the plastic, then does the conversion. Ohio officials call it a "win-win-win" for all, since the boat owners don't have to haul the stuff home, the marinas don't have to pay to dispose of it, the landfills are freed of extremely slow decomposing stuff and the company makes some money off the recycling.

Actually, it's more of a "win-win-win-win" situation.

 

More plastic

FYI, apparently the Whole Foods store in Sarasota will stop offering plastic bags to customers in the next few weeks as more of a "green" experience. Plastic is a problem for a lot of reasons as it takes something like a gazillion years to decompose in a landfill.

Paper is the order of the day there. Let's hope that others follow suit or, better yet, get some of those nifty cloth bags and use that to haul your goodies home from the store.

 

Fish, anyone?

For years now scientists have teased consumers regarding food and drink - good news, bad news for some products.

This week we're told that milk is good for you. Next week, it's bad for you.

This week we're encouraged to drink red wine for our hearts. Next week, it's not so good and discouraged.

Now, we're being told to eat more fish due to the good omega-3 fatty acids. The problem is that a lot of fish also have a lot of bad mercury in them.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates that bluefin tuna is an excellent source of omega-3. It also has something like 13 times the amount of mercury as a farm-raised catfish.

If you can figure out what is good and what is bad this week, let me know.

 

Book talk

James W. Hall has a new book out, one of his best.

"Hell's Bay" is reminiscent of "Cape Fear," by John D. MacDonald. Our hero, Thorn, is cast adrift aboard a houseboat in Florida's 10,000 Island area. There are murders, intrigue and all sorts of nastiness.

But what is interesting is the focus on the environment, written by perhaps the best wordsmith in Florida mystery fiction. Here's an example.

"Mangrove leaves were the cornerstone of the food chain for the region. An acre of mangrove forest shed around 4 tons of leaves per year. Because the tree is an evergreen, its leaves fell steadily through the 12-month cycle. That constant supply of decomposing vegetation was broken down by protozoan and bacteria in the brackish water, and the nutrients released became an organic stew of minerals, carbon dioxide and nitrogenous waste, which, in turn, provided the food source for worms, snails, crabs and finger mullet. Those creatures were born and developed to adolescence back in the safe nursery within the mangrove mangle. When they left the protection of the forest they became the prey for the larger game fish we were seeking that day - tarpon, snook, redfish and sea trout. Ospreys, bald eagles, sharks and even dolphins also depended on those same crabs and schools of mullet that were a step up the food chain from mangrove leaves.

"Mangrove roots acted as filters. Without them skimming out the sediment runoff created by heavy rains inland, the turbidity of the water in the Gulf and around the coral reefs of the Keys would grow so milky that marine life of various kinds, including the reefs themselves, would be in even greater peril than they already were.

"Those simple trees, with salt-filtering roots and salt-excreting leaves, were a crucial resource, buffering the land from storms, year by year setting out new roots and expanding the boundaries of the islands and coastlines they protected. To the untrained eye they seemed humble, barely more than weeds, no bright flowers, no towering branches. Simply a dense tangle of slick brown limbs and shiny green leaves.

"Mangroves were the forests of my youth. They were my sequoias and my hemlocks and my giant sugar maples. Scrubby vegetation, unlovely, nothing awe-inspiring about them, mangrove forests were frequently thought to be dismal wetlands, mosquito-breeding habitats with no useful purpose. As with much of the Everglades, a sensitive eye was required. Any fool could stand at the rim of the Grand Canyon and experience awe. But the majesty of those low-lying, unvarying mangrove-lined estuaries and bays was far quieter and harder to grasp, which was one of the many reasons why the ever-growing legions of newcomers to the state were so dangerous.

"To have an unobstructed view of blue waters, those idiots were eager to raze the lowly mangroves, to call in the bulldozers and dredges and hack them away. Though it was illegal to destroy those crucial trees, in the rare instances a developer was actually caught and fined a few thousand dollars, most of them considered the penalty simply part of the cost of providing their clients a $1 million vista."

So true. We see much evidence of the wreckless past removal of mangroves on our shores. Unfortunately.

 

Sandscript factoid

Jim Hall - actually, it's Dr. Hall - teaches writing at Florida International University. Among his students are Christine Kling, also a Florida mystery writer, and Dennis Lehane, who also teaches. His novel, "Mystic River," was made into a film by Clint Eastwood.

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