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Date of Issue: June 21, 2007

Sandscript

Beach expert yet again bypasses Anna Maria Island shores

The good doctor, Dr. Beach, has yet again bypassed Anna Maria Island in his annual assessment of the best beaches of the world. Maybe that’s a good thing for "our little secret."

Dr. Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University’s hurricane research center picked Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach in North Carolina as his top pick last week. He’s been doing his annual "best of the beach" list since 1991.

There could be a bit of nepotism, or something akin to that, in the 2007 choice, since he grew up in Charlotte, N.C.

According to the Associated Press, "Leatherman’s family owned the biggest backyard sand box in Charlotte. He went to North Carolina State University and earned a Ph.D. in environmental coastal sciences from the University of Virginia."

In addition to his hurricane and beach-ranking duties, the AP said Leatherman "has counseled billionaires in selecting the perfect island properties and tracked down the origin of a certain beach sand for detectives. He's been called a beach-ologist, but that's not quite right." His title is actually something more bizarre: coastal geomorphologist, or one who studies coastlines.

The beach ranking began in an unofficial way in 1989, became more scientific in 1991, and eventually got into a scoring regime that included something like 250 points. He’s visited more than 650 beaches.

Anna Maria Island has never made the top 10, although we saw Fort DeSoto Park, just to our north across Tampa Bay, in the No. 1 spot not too long ago.

There’s criteria for judging sand, amenities, swimming and all the rest of what makes a good beach involved in his rankings.

For beachgoers, his 2007 list of the best beaches is, in order:

Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, Outer Banks, North Carolina.

Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater, Fla.

Coopers Beach, Southampton, N.Y.

Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii.

Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.

Hamoa Beach, Maui, Hawaii.

Main Beach, East Hampton, N.Y.

Coronado Beach, San Diego, Calif.

Lighthouse Point Park, Daytona Beach, Fla.

Siesta Beach, Sarasota, Fla.

 

Be afraid. Be very afraid

We’ve had a reprieve from skeeters so far this year, thanks to the drought that has plagued the state. Don’t expect the dearth of bites to last, warns the state’s top expert on such things.

Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson is urging residents to prepare for that to change. "As soon as the normal rain patterns return, Florida is likely to see a mosquito population explosion," he said in a press release.

"The lack of water has prevented eggs from hatching," he said.

That’s the good news. The bad part - "mosquito eggs from certain species can be very resilient, lying in wait for the next heavy rain for up to several years. When the wet weather arrives, all the eggs hatch at once, creating a huge increase in the number of pesky pests."

Here are some of his tips to avoid getting eaten alive, taken from the release.

  • Limit time outside during dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active. 
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants to cover skin and reduce the chance of being bitten.  
  • Eliminate standing water in yards, such as in birdbaths, kiddie pools, old tires and other receptacles. Stagnant water is an excellent breeding ground for mosquitoes.
  • Use insect repellent that contains DEET, which is an effective repellent.

As one of those people who seem to be a mosquito magnet, I’ve got tons of bug goo scattered everywhere, which is applied liberally and I still get bites.

Several years ago, on a trip to Cabbage Key, I foolishly agreed to go to the island’s water tower to watch the sun set without a shirt.

My "yips!" as I sprinted into the resort from outside caused management to reprimand me for not having a shirt on, which only added to the anguish of the 50-plus bites I’d gotten in the 50-foot sprint from the tower to the porch.

My favorite mosquito story, though, comes from an old buddy of mine who used to work at Mote Marine Laboratory doing research on impacts of aerial spraying to control skeeters in the deepest mangrove forests of Lee County.

Lee and Collier counties, by the way, have some of the worst bug problems I’ve ever encountered, akin I guess to the heart of the Everglades.

Anyway, Scott was a good environmentalist who was studying the impacts of the spray on fish larvae. He’d spend days and days out in the muck counting little fishies and such as the big planes would swoop overhead, dumping, er spraying, their poison.

He also spent days serving as a blood donor to the nasty little biters. Insect repellant works, but when it’s 100 degrees and you’re sweating constantly, it tends to flow off with your perspiration, and then the bugs swarm on you.

At the end of his week-long hell, he told me, "Break out the Agent Orange or napalm or DDT and kill them all."

I keep bug goop with me at all times now. House, vehicle, beach bag, back pocket … you get the idea.

Watch for the swarm.

 

Another invasive tale

Although some Islanders have been lamenting the loss of Australian pine trees in Bradenton Beach of late, nobody seems upset about getting rid of kudzu in the rest of the south.

Kudzu is an Asian vine that was brought to this country in 1876, according to the U.S. Forrest Service in a New York Times article. It’s original purpose was to slow or stop erosion of rivers and streams and serve as an ornamental vine, since it is kinda pretty as well as prolific. In fact, the federal government once paid farmers to plant kudzu.

And then everybody found out that the stuff grows like crazy here, and it pretty much took over the countryside. We’ve got railroad vine at the beach that can grow up to a foot a day. Ditto, kudzu.

A friend once told me the best way to grow kudzu is to take a cutting and put it in the middle of a parking lot, then move your car. In a week, the asphalt will be covered with the green stuff.

But the wiley Tennesseans have come up with a wicked way to beat back the advance of the evil green menace.

Goats.

It seems that chemicals and other manmade products don’t work as well as the lowly goat, which just munches, and munches, and munches his way through the kudzu forests. He - or she - is happy, the landowners are happy, and the kudzu is gone.

And no, I’m not suggesting we import some weird Australian beast on the Island to eat the pines. It would probably take to the water and devour the mullet. Or manatees.

 

That must have hurt

Again from the Associated Press comes this missive: A 50-ton bowhead whale killed off the coast of Alaska last month had a "bomb lance" in its neck that was manufactured more than 100 years ago.

The whale, killed as part of an agreement with Eskimos which allows 255 whales to be harvested every five years, had the thing in its blubber.

The 3-inch-long lance was made around 1890. It was propelled from a kind of gun, and was used by New Bedford, Mass., whalers back in the day.

 

Sandscript factoid

So here’s the real deal with the above mention, and what’s fascinating to me, at least.

The bowhead whale that was killed was estimated at being between 115 and 130 years old. It was shot about 1890. Average age for these big guys and gals is 130 years, but they have been estimated to live to 200 years of age.

Some whales live to be 200? How’s that for a factoid!

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