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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Sandscript

Seahorses covered by CITES, fire ants revolt

It's clean-out-the-desk time again here at Sandscript. It is hoped that some of these eco-news nuggets are of as much interest to you as they are to me.

Seahorse harvest restricted
As a kid, I recall seahorses were pretty common in the bays. Today, you're pretty hard-pressed to find any. New regulations may make the tiny creatures more common again.

Federal regulations took effect May 15 to limit the harvest of seahorses, with the United States joining 160 other nations in strict permit restrictions for the critters.

The effort is through the auspices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora, or CITES. The agreement regulates and monitors trade in animals and plants through a system of permits.

Apparently, global seahorse trade involves the harvest of millions of fish each year. Most are dried and used whole or in compounds as traditional medicine to treat a variety of disorders. Hundreds of thousands of seahorses are also collected live for sale in the aquarium trade.

Under the new rules, shipments of seahorses that are traded live for home aquariums and dead as curios and for traditional medicine, must be accompanied by a permit from the country of origin or re-export. Such permits confirm that the seahorses were legally acquired and that the trade being authorized does not represent a threat to the species' survival in the wild.

You can still buy seahorses if you travel abroad under the new rulings, but you're limited to about eight.

Seahorses are found in shallow coastal tropical and temperate waters worldwide. By the way, there are more than 30 species, and they range in size from three inches to more than a foot long.

Ouch! It's fire ant season
Jane Morse, University of Florida/IFAS Manatee County extension agent, warns us it is again fire ant season in Florida. As she puts it, "There they are in all their painful glory. White pustules or pimples are caused by the painful, burning sting of the fire ant. When we innocently step on their mounds, not even aware of their existence, we pay a painful price. They climb up our legs and then in unison they all start stinging.

"Ouch, ouch, ouch! We do the fire ant dance, trying madly to brush them off our whatevers."

Morse said that four strategies are used to control fire ants: broadcast bait applications, individual mound treatments, a combination of broadcast baiting and individual mound treatments, and barrier and spot treatments.

"Broadcasting" bait is best when treating large areas, and involves spreading the fire ant killer over a large area. Morse said it's best to apply bait when it's dry and hot, with late afternoon being a good time.

Mound treatments are time-consuming and labor-intensive, but may eliminate colonies faster than treating with broadcast applications, she said, and there are a bunch of different poisons that work.

A really good mix is hitting the mounds and spreading the bait around your yard. Remember that fire ants can travel up to 100 feet in search of food, or you, so your neighbor's ants may be foraging in your yard.

Barrier and spot treatments are to keep your neighbors' ants from you. Again, there are several different types of toxic chemicals that can set up a perimeter "fence" around your property.

And don't use any of those old-fashioned remedies like gasoline or battery acid or bleach or other household cleaners. They don't work all that well.

And remember that everything flows downhill, even on the Island, and whatever you put on your yard will probably end up in the Gulf of Mexico or the bays.

Collective noun redux
Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch's Suzi Fox sent me this note after last week's mention of collective nouns - you know, like an exaltation of larks or a pride of lions.

"I once used the term 'buttload' to describe an exceptionally large group of hatchlings as they scuttled for the water. 'Wow, what a buttload of hatchlings!' Perhaps it wasn't exactly the most tasteful choice of words, but it was 3 a.m., we were beat, and it got us through the rest of the night with a laugh."

Another turtle friend says she prefers the word "flotilla."

And another turtle friend said that "bale" is also used, although he agrees that a flotilla of sea turtles sounds better.

There you go.

Perhaps a raft of messages in bottles?
Scientists at the Florida Marine Research Institute are trying a relatively low-tech approach to gauge water patterns and determine fish and conch migrations.

Researchers dumped a whole slew - raft? volley? fleet? gaggle? - of glass vials from five locations in Florida Bay earlier this week. Each bottle has a message in it asking the finder to contact FMRI and let them know where they found it.

A similar effort is taking place in Mexico.

Researchers need people to report the following information if they find a bottle: The drift vial number, date it was found, and location where the vial was found.

As a come-on to report, names of the folks who find the bottles will be entered into a raffle, and more than 50 prizes will be awarded.

We'll add to the prize, too. If any Islander readers find a vial, stop by our office with it, or send us a picture or a note, and we'll get you a "More than a mullet-wrapper" T-shirt. We're at 5404 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach FL 34217, or e-mail at roat@islander.org.

Good hunting!

Sandscript factoid
I spent a few days in Connecticut last year and, as a fan of things nautical and maritime, went to a lot of aquariums and museums, where I saw my first beluga whale. Figure a marine mammal that's about three or four times the size of a dolphin, pure white, with an almost human forehead, and that's a beluga.

So it was a little disconcerting to see that the International Game and Fish Association has said that the beluga whale population in 1994 was only 653, and even more startling that the census in 2002 was 313. According to my rudimentary math, that means that half the beluga population has died in the past eight years.

These are big, fast, really smart critters, and half their number has been killed in only eight years. And we want to ease the "endangered" ranking for our smaller, slower and maybe not-as-bright manatees?

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