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Date of Issue: August 18, 2005

Sandscript

Pilot oyster planting project hits the water next week

Coming soon to a bay near you - more oyster beds.

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program will attempt to seed oysters in Little Sarasota Bay early next week. The attempt will involve placing 500 oyster "sausages" - net bags containing about 40 pounds of fossilized oyster shells - in the northern part of the bay abutting Siesta Key near the closed Midnight Pass area.

Sarasota Bay Program officials have said that the area once was home to a thriving oyster industry, but declining water quality and overfishing reduced the quantity of the beds. There are still beds there, but some additional help should expand the oyster population.

"Oyster spat are expected to attach to the oyster sausages within a month of placement and grow to maturity within two years," said program senior environmental scientist Gary Raulerson. "The enhancement of oysters in Sarasota Bay continues the restoration process started by citizens and local municipalities two decades ago."

Oysters do more than provide a tasty treat on a dinner table. As filter feeders, oysters actually improve water quality by cleaning the water as they suck in and spit out water. Oyster beds also serve as a home for all sorts of other little critters and act as a means to keep sediments on the bottom and not floating around in the water, blocking sunlight that seagrass beds need to grow.

The four-year project, including monitoring and all the design and permit work, will cost $100,000. Similar pilot projects have been successful in Tampa Bay, Charlotte Harbor and Chesapeake Bay.

Yuck

Summer is definitely here. The Gulf of Mexico and bay waters are warm, the afternoon thunderstorms are plentiful, and blue-green algae is starting to burst into bloom.

Yuck.

Blue-green algae is that nasty-looking stuff that prompts lots of calls to the sewer departments by people who are convinced that there is a break in a pipe somewhere and raw sewage is pouring into the bays. It looks like that.

The algae, Microcystis aeruginosa, can produce a toxin that can kill fish and irritate the skin of anyone who brushes against it. It forms huge mats that can cover lots of territory and shade seagrass beds, blocking out needed sunlight.

The bad news is that one of the worst outbreaks of the algae is occurring. The good news is that it's in the Caloosahatchee River near Fort Myers.

The mat stretches for at least 20 miles, according to an article in the Lee County News-Press newspaper, and is apparently feeding off nutrients captured in stormwater runoff from Lake Okeechobee. Unfortunately, South Florida Water Management officials have been releasing lots of phosphorus-laden water of late because of heavy rains and rising lake waters as a flood-control mechanism.

Just one more thing to flow downstream.

Another smuggler busted

When you think of smugglers, you probably think of illegal importation of drugs, booze, weapons, or even people.

However, a Miami woman has been convicted of illegal importation of birds.

Seems that the woman was flying from Cuba to Miami via the Bahamas last year when she and her motorized wheelchair encountered QT, a member of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Beagle Brigade."

According to officials, "The Beagle Brigade is a team of trained canines, who along with their handlers are charged with inspecting passengers and luggage entering the United States to prevent the possible introduction of destructive pests in food and fruit items carried by passengers.

"In this instance, QT alerted to the area around the base of the woman's wheelchair. Inspection revealed the presence of several cloth pouches, bungee-corded to the underside of the chair, which were found to contain a total of 39 birds, some of which had already died from being confined in small plastic tubes inside the pouches."

Busted. And she's facing a federal charge, too. She is facing a prison term of up to five years on each of the two counts against her, as well as fines that could be as much as $500,000.

Bird poacher bagged by beagle?

Free service for hurricane prep for boaters

The Manatee Sail & Power Squadron is offering a free class to the boating community in how to prepare for a hurricane.

Further information is available by calling Richy Evers, executive office MSPS at 746-5759.

Waterfronts Florida coming to Bradenton Beach

Bradenton Beach has received the blessing and funding from state officials to embark on a two-year-long program to assess and address its waterfront.

The fledgling mooring field south of the city pier in Anna Maria Sound has been the focus of some concern in the past few years; now, that area and others will be the focus of community meetings and discussions to determine what to do with the waterfront.

Cortez completed a Waterfronts Florida program a few years ago. The results were pretty astounding: A new land-use overlay district for the historic village that allows it to continue to be a "working waterfront" with boats and crab traps in peoples yards, fish houses and marine-related activities to flourish and more.

There is also major restoration of the schoolhouse as a maritime museum that can probably be given some credit from the program.

The grant funds, although requiring a somewhat hefty local match - which can be in-kind services rather than a flat-out cash outlay - should become available later this year.

As Bradenton Beach City Commission Lisa Maria Phillips, who spearheaded the program, put it:

"Now the real work begins! With a focus on public access and environmental quality, we will embark on city projects that enhance our viable traditional economy, such as promoting eco-tourism (kayak ramp, recreational diving at "Regina" shipwreck site), instituting the mooring field, accommodating a water taxi and finding ways to improve water quality and protect wildlife.

"All of this will be achieved through community visioning and aggressive grant funding. Public art is on our wish list, as is connecting to the county multi-use trail. The designation helps to further protect our waterfronts, and adds to our ‘point value' in the funding arena."

Good luck.

Sandscript factoid

Sarasota County officials have been in something of a quandary in the past few weeks regarding permitting and water quality in the area around the former Midnight Pass, the former inlet from Gulf to bay in Little Sarasota Bay.

After 22 years, the county commission agreed to proceed with reopening the pass after it closed due in part to human intervention. Permits are needed by everyone from God on down, it seems, and a big drive behind the permits was the purported fact that water quality in the area where the inlet used to be isn't all that great.

Well, recent testing revealed that water quality wasn't as bad as officials had thought - or hoped, as if you can believe someone would actually hope for bad water quality these days.

Granted, the now "good" water is only microscopically better that what the state and feds call "bad," but the figure don't lie, don't you figure?

All of which brings up the question of why, if there is an argument for trying to get the bad water argument across to the permitting agencies, would anyone want to come up with a program of installing oysters in the area to improve water quality?

Sarasota County officials said the oyster seeding project has no bearing on Midnight Pass. It's too small a project, the officials said, and the oysters will be too far away to have an impact on water quality near the pass.

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