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Date of Issue: June 09, 2005

Sandscript

The oily truth about Florida's nearshore waters

The Florida Cabinet has finally flinched in the oil and natural gas fight off the state's west coast and ponied up $12.5 million to Coastal Petroleum Co. to buy up the rights to any oil under the waters of the Gulf of Mexico from St. George Island to Naples.

The decision last week ends almost 60 years worth of dispute, arguably one of the longest staring matches in history.

Coastal bought out the right to explore for and develop oil and natural gas rights in coastal waters in 1947. Periodically, the company - it's pretty much a storefront office in Apalachicola with a bunch of other companies involved as the board of directors - threatened to start the petroleum production game, forcing the state to go to court to block its attempts.

Lawsuits have been ongoing for at least 18 years as state officials tried to block the proceedings. Last week, the state bought out Coastal with the vow that no oil rigs will ever be off our shores.

"That chapter of Florida's history is over. It's a great day for our state," Gov. Jeb Bush was reported as stating in the Tampa Tribune.

Could Coastal ever had been permitted to start pumping oil or gas offshore? Probably not, but that pesky threat was always looming over our heads.

Would oil coming from the western Gulf have been all that bad? Yep. The threat of oil spills is great, and all it would take would be a little oil to pollute a whole lot of our beaches.

Besides, it isn't real certain just how much oil or gas there would be out there in the first place.

So is the $12.5 million "bluff" the state agreed to a good deal? Probably - at one point, Coastal officials had said the rights were worth at least $1 billion. Aren't our pristine beaches worth protecting for $12.5 million?

Cannons kudos

Cannons Marina received a special state designation last week, becoming the first marina and boatyard in Manatee County to receive a "clean" designation from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

"The designation of Clean Boatyard and Clean Marina is a testament to the commitment of this marina to meet the highest standards of environmental protection," according to DEP Southwest District Restoration Manager Rose Poyner.

The designation is the result of a partnership between federal, state and private businesses. The thrust of the program is to keep pollutants - gas, glass, oil, and other material - out of the water.

David Miller and his family have run the Longboat Key marina for 50 years.

"We encourage every boatyard and marina within the state of Florida to achieve this designation to preserve what we can for the future of Florida's marine environment and wildlife," Miller said. "This is our commitment to protect the fragile ecosystems while ensuring the enjoyment of boating and of our waters."

Out of 2,000 marinas or boatyards in the state, Cannons is the 104th marina and 18th boatyard to receive the state designation of being "clean."

... now, if the beaches could just get cleaner

Texas marine experts are facing a quandary with their beaches.

Sure, they would like nice, white, pristine beaches for visitors and residents to enjoy, just like everybody else - despite the problem with all the oil spills they've got to contend with over there from the offshore rigs.

But their springtime issue of having lots of wide clean beaches is tempered with an influx of sargassum seaweed, which tends to wash ashore this time of year. The stuff is stinky, unsightly and a general turnoff for tourists who don't want to deal with the stuff.

Sargassum is also a good thing for the beach, helping accumulate sand and serving as a food source for birds and other shoreline critters.

And every spring the stuff just rolls in. And in. And in.

As one guy told the Knight Ridder newspaper group, "It almost looks like the Gulf of Mexico threw up and it landed on our beaches. I was standing on a pier the other day and you could look out and just see acre-size pieces of it as far as the eye could see."

Yuck.

Sargassum is generally a deepwater seaweed that forms huge floating mats that serve kind of like reefs in the deep Gulf of Mexico. Fishers know of the weed and use it as a spot to fish for all sorts of species. Baby turtles use the stuff as a place of refuge as well.

The brownish-red stuff is definitely a good thing in the deep Gulf, but not a very nice issue to deal with on shore.

We're lucky that prevailing winds and currents keep most of the sargassum off our shores on the Island, but we occasionally do get a patch on the beach - but not in the "throw-up" quantities that Texas is dealing with these days.

New hurricane forecast now 'very active'

Dr. William Gray and his team of meteorologists at Colorado State University have come out with a revised forecast for hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin for 2005.

In short, we're looking at a "very active" season - again.

"We estimate that 2005 will have about 15 named storms, the average is 9.6, with eight hurricanes (average is 5.9), 75 named storm days (average is 49.1), 45 hurricane days (average is 24.5), four intense storms of Category 3 or higher (average is 2.3) and 11 intense hurricane days (average is five)," Gray said May 31.

"We expect this year to continue the past-decade trend of above-average hurricane seasons."

Great.

Gray bases his predictions on a host of data including Pacific Ocean temperatures, wind shear off Africa, water temperature in the northern Atlantic and many other factors. He and his crew also look at historical models of weather from 1949 to today, where similar weather patterns then can be pushed forward to what the weather is doing now to aid in their forecasts.

The late-May prediction is higher than earlier ones Gray had proffered "due to continued Atlantic Ocean warming and a decreased likelihood of the development of an El Niño this summer and fall. Conditions in the Atlantic are very favorable for an active hurricane season."

Sandscript factoid

Sargassum seaweed inhabits all of the world's oceans except the Antarctic.

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