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Date of Issue: May 25, 2006

Sandscript

Bay waters doing quite well, thank you

The state of the bay is actually pretty good.

The "State Of the Bay 2006: Celebrating Our Greatest Natural Asset" report by the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program has just been released. The findings on water quality, habitat and community involvement to preserve and protect the waters of the region indicate that, although not perfect, we're making pretty good strides in keeping things clean out there.

There are some dark spots in the Sarasota Bay Program's reach, which stretches from the north end of Anna Maria Island south to Venice. Palma Sola Bay doesn't meet Florida Department of Environmental Protection standards for water quality due to high levels of bacteria and chlorophyll.

There are also some tributaries - Bowlees Creek, Clower Creek, Phillippi Creek - that have problems with similar contaminants.

However, seagrass beds have been increased significantly in the past few years, due in large part to increased water quality. Remember that seagrass is a plant that needs light to grow; the more clear the water is, the more light that can reach the seagrass leaves and the better the plant can process the light.

The report found that there were almost 600 acres of new seagrass beds, and more than 3,400 acres of seagrass meadows that have been altered from "patchy" to "lush" thanks to water-clarity improvements.

Wetlands have also improved along the fringe of the bays. Both mangrove forest and salt marsh improvements have added significant acreage to the bay system in the past few years, with more action anticipated in the next few years.

And then there are the artificial reef systems, with something like 2,500 reef modules added to the bay and near-shore Gulf of Mexico waters in the past few years. There has also been work done on adding oyster beds in the bays.

 

Red tide, too

In what could become a controversial stance, the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program has come out with statements linking stormwater runoff to increased red tide outbreaks off Southwest Florida and beyond.

Scientists have been debating the linkage for years. The program states in the report that it "sponsored research ... that established linkages between river flow (as a surrogate for nitrogen loading) and red tide.... In May 2005, an international scientific panel first recognized that pollution inputs contribute to certain types of harmful algal blooms. More recent data suggest that red tide utilizes different forms of nutrients for growth, preferably urea, dissolved organic nitrogen and ammonium."

The bay program has stated that red tide is its "top research priority."

 

And it's up to us to help, too

And then there is what we can do to help.

Nitrogen entering the bay system is the principal problem with bay waters. The chemical that we dump on our yards to make the grass grow ends up in the bay waters, where it causes the algae to bloom, which blocks the sunlight to underwater plants and can kill fish and ... well, you get the idea.

Nitrogen also enters the waters through wastewater discharge and, to a small degree, air deposition.

Bay program numbers indicate that nitrogen loading is about twice what it was in the pre-development period.

Work has been ongoing to drop that load. Wastewater plant discharge into the bays has dropped a lot in the past 16 years, but it's still a big problem, primarily coming from sewage treatment plants in Sarasota County. Nonetheless, the numbers are good: "Fifty percent of the wastewater generated in the Sarasota Bay area is now reclaimed for alternative uses ... and Sarasota Bay Estuary Program partners have reduced nitrogen loading from wastewater to the bay by approximately 85 percent," according to the report.

 

Wanna buy that fish?

The Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commission is charged with watchdogging more than cows and chickens - the agency also has the task of making sure that the fish we buy as grouper or snapper actually is grouper or snapper.

So it may be of some interest to see that the Ag boys and girls made a big bust last week, popping a Hialeah-based company for "trying to sell 8,000 pounds of farm-raised Vietnamese broadhead filets that were packaged and labeled as grouper," according to a release.

According to the agency head, Charles Bronson, "When residents of and visitors to this state pay a premium price to purchase a highly desirable fish such as grouper, they are entitled to receive it."

Whatever the heck is termed "farm-raised broadhead filets," probably some kind of tilapia, it is sold in the $3-per-pound range. Grouper goes for up to $6 a pound, "meaning that the substitution detected could have netted the company an additional $15,000 to $28,000," according to the release.

But get this: The company that was allegedly working the sale was named Shifco Inc.

Wouldn't you think a shifty company trying to work a shifty deal would come up with a better name for itself?

 

More weirdness ...

I'm feeling kinda like author and former Miami Herald reporter Dave Barry here, because as he frequently put in his columns, the following is absolutely true.

"The Protect Florida Whales specialty license plate program, administered by Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Fort Pierce, is awarding the grand prize in its ‘Whale Tail' Sweepstakes. The winner, a resident of Lake Placid, Fla., will receive a Bombardier GTX Sea Doo personal watercraft during a brief ceremony."

Personal watercraft, often linked to the bane of existence of marine mammals, is the grand prize for a whale contest?

 

On the bottom, maybe

As you're sitting in your chair reading this, the world's largest artificial reef is supposed to be sinking to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico off Pensacola.

The USS Oriskany is scheduled to be sunk off the Panhandle May 17 in about 200 feet of water and become an artificial reef. The 900-foot-long-plus aircraft carrier has been part of an ongoing struggle with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials, who had problems with toxins within the hulk, and storms, which kept it away from its final resting place on the Gulf bottom.

Divers, fishers and others have been lobbying for years to get the huge ship settled in the Gulf.

The Oriskany was launched in 1945, served in the Korean War and off the coast of Vietnam and was removed from U.S. Navy service in 1989.

Cost of sinking the ship is estimated at more than $13 million.

 

Sandscript factoid

The USS Oriskany served as the backdrop for the 1953 movie "The Bridges Of Toko-Ri," which starred William Holden and Grace Kelly.

Sen. John McClain flew off the ship in 1967 and was shot down over Vietnam, where he was held prisoner for more than five years.

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