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Date of Issue: May 04, 2006

Sandscript

Boat death statistics not good at all in Florida last year

The numbers are in for boating accidents last year, and the statistics aren't good.

"Florida saw boating deaths rise in 2005 to the highest number reported in 10 years," according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Our neighbor to the north, Pinellas County, saw the largest number of fatalities in the state.

Thankfully, no deaths were reported in Manatee County waters in 2005.

"The majority of the increase in deaths was victims falling overboard," FWC officials said, with 80 people dead in 69 incidents last year, a 15 percent increase from 2004.

And we're not talking about someone tumbling overboard in rough seas during a storm offshore. The FWC has determined that 69 percent of fatal falls overboard occurred on calm, inland waters; 93 percent of the victims drowned (63 percent of whom reportedly could swim); none of the drowning victims were wearing or using a life jacket; and 53 percent were at least 51 years old.

"We are very concerned about the upward trend in boating fatalities, said FWC Capt. Richard Moore, "especially given the fact the vast majority of these are easily preventable.

"The simple act of wearing a life jacket is your best insurance on the water," according to Capt. Moore.

 

More danger moving through

As the bay and Gulf water temperatures approach 80 degrees, manatees in Florida are moving away from the springs and warm-water power plant outfalls to journey to distant vistas. As they migrate through the bays and nearshore areas of the Gulf of Mexico, they often journey into the path of boats, with disastrous results.

FWC officials are warning boaters to be watchful near seagrass beds and other popular manatee haunts.

Simply wearing polarized sunglasses and posting a lookout to watch for manatees is often about all it takes to avoid a fatal boat-manatee interaction. The glasses let you see better in the water; the lookout adds another set of eyes in the search.

Please, be careful.

 

Baby, it's dry out there

My yard is dry. Your yard is dry. All Florida's yards are dry, and with the rain forecast only a smidgen of a chance for the next few weeks, no improvements are in store for our parched landscape any time soon.

 Jane Morse is a Manatee County extension agent with the University of Florida. She offers these tips on dealing with drought conditions, and starts with a good one: "The best way to cope with this yearly dry season is to practice water conservation all year long. To do this right, you need to know when to water and how much to water."

Basically, Morse advocates letting your landscape talk to you. "Most landscape plants show their need for water by wilting," she said. "If they continue to wilt during the evening, they need water. If the soil is wet from watering, stop watering. The plant may have root rot. When plants show wilt, it is best to water them the following morning by giving them a good soaking. A good soaking means that you apply 1/2  to 3/4 inch of water. Watering in this way will promote strong, deep root systems that are capable of withstanding drought, whereas if you frequently apply light sprinklings of water, the root system will be shallow, weak and unable to withstand drought."

As your plants suffer, weeds prosper, and it's a good time to yank them out, since they're competing with your prized landscaping for water and food. Morse is a staunch advocate of using mulch, which "suppresses weeds, prevents water loss from the soil, provides a more uniform soil temperature, and adds organic matter to the soil as it decomposes, thus improving the quality of the soil. Also, mulched plants grow additional roots in the mulch and therefore have more roots than un-mulched plants."

Hold off on fertilizing now, too. Morse said fed plants are thirsty plants, and now is not the time to foster extra watering. Wait until the rains start before you start feeding the landscape.

St. Augustine lawn grass, she said, "can be the largest consumer of water in the landscape. Try to minimize areas using this grass. Determine how much grass is actually needed for children, pets and recreation, and replace the rest of the turf areas with low-maintenance ground covers, shrubs and trees suited to the area."

And if the dry keeps on? Morse offers these drastic landscape plant tips which can save the garden.

Water plants only when they start to wilt.

Prune plants severely to reduce leaf area.

Remove weak plants.

Thin dense beds of plants to reduce competition among plants, pull out weeds.

For Bahia grass lawns, stop watering and allow the grass to go dormant. Bahia grass will turn brown, but will recover well once the rains resume.

 

From wet to dry

As hard as it may be to believe, we're only a little more than a month away from the start of hurricane season. Reports indicate we're in for another "above average" number of storms, too, and now is definitely the time to start to prepare.

You should know the drill by now: check your insurance, order the storm shutters you've been putting off, start stocking up on supplies.

We'll offer all the hints and tips in the annual Islander hurricane guide, due out in late May, as well as a tracking map and potential evacuation sites.

But here's a few thoughts for you to start to ponder early on.

Whack the trees around your house now, especially those near the power lines. Tree limbs = missiles in a storm. Broken tree branches = no power in a storm. Trim them now.

Dust off those old photo albums you hardly ever look at but know you can't live without, and put them in one or more of those big plastic tubs and stash them somewhere safe where you can grab them in a hurry if you've got to leave the Island.

Emergency managers are now saying that you're probably going to have to be on your own for at least seven days. Be prepared for that event: No food, no water, no electricity. Think ahead.

And speaking of thinking ahead, it appears that we're going to get another one of those "hurricane tax holidays" next month. Make a list of all those things you're going to need - batteries, flashlights, all that stuff - and shop until you drop that week and save a few bucks.

And, of course, keep up the hope that we weather another bad weather season.

 

Sandscript factoid

Here's one of those hurricane survival stories that makes a huge amount of sense, with a storm tip thrown in.

If you have a gas grill or propane stove, make sure you've got lots of fuel. If you don't have such an item, buy a lot of charcoal and lighter fluid for your outside barbecue grill. Lots and lots of charcoal - it could be your main cooking medium for a long time.

When the power goes out, take everything out of your fridge and freezer and cook it all. Cooked food lasts longer in coolers than uncooked.

Eat like crazy while you can, then start to munch on the cold canned goods you've stockpiled.

Oh, and forget the diets. Twinkies, chips all that other awful stuff is awfully comfortable to eat after a storm. You know you're going to want to do it anyway - why not plan ahead?

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