Dennis teaches us new lessons, at cost of our northern neighbors
Dennis hammered the Florida Panhandle last weekend as a major hurricane, making landfall just east of Pensacola.
"But some of the worst damage took place about 200 miles to the east, and the impact should serve as a lesson for Islanders.
"Alligator Point and St. Marks are some of the most beautiful and yet rustic areas of North Florida. Located about 30 miles south of Tallahassee, Alligator Point is a barrier island that separates Ochlochnee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. There are mostly summer houses, a wide white-sand beach and dunes that are upwards of a dozen feet high.
"St. Marks is on the river of the same name, a small community of about 350 residences. There is a good-size marina, an old-style country store and a couple of bars including the venerable Posey's, which has some of the best oysters and coldest beer in that part of the state.
"Dennis pretty much wiped both of them out.
"The Gulf is very, very shallow for a long, long distance from shore up there. The hurricane's storm surge just piled up water like you wouldn't believe and then pushed it ashore.
"All ground-level houses on Alligator Point were destroyed. Elevated structures fared pretty well, but any stairs of structure on the ground were lost. The road is pretty much gone, and the utilities are out still and probably will be for quite a while.
"Angelo's, a restaurant on the bay just before the bridge to the Point, was damaged to the point that the owners figure it will be at least two years before they can reopen. With an employment roster of about 80 people, it's the biggest employer in the area, so the impact is significant not only to restaurant patrons looking for a good seafood dinner, but also to wait staff looking to put some food on their own dinner tables.
"St. Marks was hit even harder with an estimated 12-foot storm surge that drenched the already-low-lying area. About 80 percent of the houses sustained flooding. There were pictures of residents walking down the road in neck-deep water.
"Posey's, which is on the river, had more than 5 feet of water inside the structure. The owners hope to reopen within a few weeks, once everything dries out and all the restaurant equipment and stock is replaced.
"What's startling is that Hurricane Dennis passed Anna Maria Island out in the Gulf at a distance of about 150 miles. We lost a little beach, had some water in the streets, had a few docks damaged - one severely - and lost a few tree limbs. That was it.
"At a 200-mile distance, the same storm pretty much wiped out two communities, all due to a storm surge that piled up in a large, shallow bay - a bay not all that different than Anna Maria Sound or Sarasota Bay or even Tampa Bay.
"There does indeed seem to be some kind of lesson there.
Dennis quashes another myth?
"The following is from a National Hurricane Center discussion last week regarding Hurricane Emily.
"While we often talk about the cold wake that hurricanes leave behind, it appears that Hurricane Dennis has actually made portions of the Caribbean Sea warmer and hence more favorable for the potential development of Emily. Heat content analyses from the University of Miami indicate that westerly winds on the south side of Dennis have spread warm waters from the northwestern Caribbean eastward to the south and southeast of Jamaica, an area that could be traversed by Emily in three days or so."
"Sure enough, Emily did strengthen over the warmer waters and hit just south of Cancun Sunday.
"Won't this fun every stop?
More north-south connections
"Speaking of lessons learned from our friends to the north, it seems that they may be learning something - something bad - from us in the form of toxic algae.
"A tropical algae has bloomed in some lakes in Michigan, an algae that has killed alligators in Florida and sickened visitors who inadvertently drank the water.
"Cylindrospermopsis can be toxic to humans and animals, according to Michigan scientists studying the outbreak and reported in the Grand Rapids Press. The algae bloom isn't a red-tide-like outbreak - it's only found in freshwater - and it is invisible to the eye, but is just as nasty.
"Researchers are puzzled as to why the algae has found its way all the way to Michigan from its usual South Florida lake climate. There is some speculation that global warming has heated the water up there enough to allow the tiny plants to flourish. Other thoughts follow the vein that the stuff thrives in phosphate-rich water, and there are elevated levels of phosphorous in the lakes in which it's been reported.
"Algae blooms: The tiny plant that keeps on giving and giving everybody a pain.
... and you can help
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is collecting data, both anecdotal and scientific, on "the biological status of the bald eagle, gopher tortoise, manatee and Panama City crayfish," with the information to be used during the beginning phases of its review of listing petitions for the four species.
"Right now we are looking to gather scientific data and observations about the biology of these species," said Dan Sullivan, who is coordinating the FWC's review of the species. "We will be seeking broad public input during phase two, after we complete the biological assessments, but before the commission makes decisions about each species."
The FWC is "specifically seeking information on population size and trends, distribution and range, threats to the species, published population viability models and specific aspects of the species' life history that may influence the status of the species," according to the agency.
With the exception of Panama City crawfish, we've got all of the listed species in our area. Gopher tortoises, by the way, thrive on Egmont Key and, we're told, on Perico Island.
To submit info on the critters in our area, write to the following by Aug. 31.
Bald eagle: Dan Sullivan, FWC, 620 S. Meridian St., Mail station 2A, Tallahassee FL 32399-1600. Gopher tortoise: Kevin Enge, FWC, 5300 High Bridge Road, Quincy FL 32351. Manatee: Dr. Elsa Haubold, FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, 100 8th Ave. S.E., St. Petersburg FL 33701.
"FWC noted that, "The manatee is currently listed as endangered. The bald eagle is listed as threatened. The gopher tortoise and Panama City crayfish are species of special concern."
"Speaking of our backyard, the St. Pete Times had a pretty neat set of photos taken by a woman on a dock in Tampa Bay at Egmont Key.
"The woman, Mary Mathias, was dangling her legs over a dock on the island just north of Anna Maria when she got bored with fishing and grabbed a camera to take some pictures of pelicans.
"She saw a fin, a big fin, and snapped a shot. The fin got closer, and she took another picture, then another, then realized the fin was coming right toward her dangling tootsies. Mary scrambled up on the dock, finger still pushing the shutter on the camera, as the 6-foot-long blacktip jumped about halfway out of the water, rolled over and died.
"Shark experts believe the shark's odd behavior - blacktips don't do a "Jaws" act and lunge out of the water to grab people - was caused by its death throes as it succumbed to red tide. Mary just happened to be too close to the action.
"But she got the shots, bless her heart.
"Dennis did do one good deed as it passed: It straightened an offshore reef in the Florida Keys.
"The USS Spiegel Grove was a 510-foot-long cargo and amphibious landing craft that was decommissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1989. It was gutted and towed to just off Key Largo, where it was sunk in 2002 to become an artificial reef.
"The sinking was bungled, though, and the ship turned turtle and left about a quarter of its bow sticking out of the water. Artificial reef-sinking experts - yes, I guess there are such people - were eventually able to get the ship to the bottom in about 130 feet of water, but rested on its starboard side, not straight on its keel as all had hoped.
"Hope for a straight ship was lost until Dennis came loping through last week, and the heavy seas and altered currents tipped the Speigel Grove up on its keel.
"I was flabbergasted," one of the reef organizers told the Associated Press. "Nature took its course and put it where it belongs."