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Date of Issue: April 13, 2006

Sandscript

Please, your help needed in counting critters in our area

Birders and biologists are looking for our help in identification of critters in and around the water of Anna Maria Island. Let's give 'em a hand.

 

Spoonbill needs

According to the Florida Audubon Society, there have been tremendous fluctuations in the population of Roseate spoonbills in the past century. The big pink wading birds, with the spoon-shaped beak used to snorkel food, were at one point prized for their plumes back in the 1800s. Their numbers plummeted as the plume market rose. Then came people and the development of the species' habitat, namely wetlands, and the numbers dropped even more.

But even as the population of spoonbills lowered in Florida Bay and near the Florida Keys, the Tampa Bay spoonbill crowd began to grow. "Whether these birds are moving from Florida Bay to Tampa Bay is unknown," according to Audubon experts.

What is known is that the birding folks want our help in identifying birds, many of which have been banded to help in figuring out where they've been and what they're doing. 

There's an aluminum band on the lower leg just above the foot on some birds, and a colored band just above some of the birds' "knees." Audubon and other would like to know what you can see about the bands, what colors they are, which leg of the bird they're on, even markings if you can get close enough without disturbing the bird.

Let them know by either calling the Coastal Islands Sanctuaries folks at (813) 623-6826, or you can log your report onto a Web site at audubonflorida.com.

There used to be lots of spoonbills in and around Perico Island, both north and south of the road, in years past. Development has somewhat hampered their traditional wetland haunts, but I've still spotted a few in the area every once in a while.

 

Springtime thoughts of horseshoe crab love

Horseshoe crabs are spawning this spring, and scientists are looking for our help in counts and locations.

Full-moon high tides are a good time to watch for the dinnerplate-sized critters, which are coming up April 13. Anyone who spots a spawning location or lots of crabs should contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, research.myfwc.com/horseshoe_crab, e-mail at horseshoe@myfwc.com, or call toll-free to 1-866-252-9326.

"Biologists also want to know how many horseshoe crabs observers count and whether the horseshoe crabs are spawning," according to the FWC. "Researchers said horseshoe crab harvests are too high in some states. To manage the species more effectively, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission requires all Atlantic coastal states to identify horseshoe crab spawning beaches."

The prehistoric crabs, more closely related to spiders than mollusks, are a useful creature for scientists."

"Research on the compound eyes of horseshoe crabs led to better understanding of the human visual system, and horseshoe crab blood is useful in the biomedical industry," according to the FWC. "A special substance in their blood is a component in testing for bacterial contamination in human blood and commercial drugs. In addition, manufacturers use the material that makes up the horseshoe crab's shell (chitin) to make contact lenses, skin creams and hair sprays."

There have been some problems of overfishing of horseshoe crabs in the Northeastern Atlantic states in the past few years, and the accurate census numbers are needed to come up with a population base and location analysis.

Female crabs are generally larger, and will attract one or more male crabs in a kind of train as they crawl along in the water. Most of the crabs seem to work their way into the shallows - I've mostly seen them in the bays - and they then burrow partly into the sand, where the eggs are laid and fertilized.

Keep your eyes peeled in the next few weeks and give the scientists the benefit of your local knowledge. One spot I've noted the crab orgy is Prices Key at the mouth of Palma Sola Bay, and off Gilligan's Island near north Perico Island, but I'm sure there are many, many more crab bordellos out there.

Good luck in your hunt.

 

Wetland expansion, or demise?

Sometimes you've just gotta shake your head about the thought processes of our governmental leaders.

Wetlands are a vital piece of the environmental chain that provide home, food and shelter to countless species of critters. What were once thought of as worthless swamps are now recognized as being invaluable areas worthy of protection.

Of course, in Florida and elsewhere, those swamps are also prime real estate for waterfront homes, and the desire to dredge, fill and build is such that developers have nasty dreams about changing the ecosystem to fit their will - and the will of filling their wallets.

According to a survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there were 520,000 acres of wetlands in the country destroyed for development from 1998 to 2004, as reported in the St. Petersburg Times.

But get this: The feds are saying that there was actually a net increase of 715,000 acres of wetlands, because the sampling method used included retention ponds, lakes on golf courses and other manmade water bodies.

Hmmm, let's see if this is right. You take an ancient mangrove forest that has trees that date back a hundred years or so, bulldoze it, put up a bunch of condos, plunk in a mandatory retention pond with a few exotic cattails in the middle of the project, and then lean back and say you've done good?

At least the Fish and Wildlife folks are clinging on the end of a dying limb, so to speak, in their argument, based on the "no net loss" program findings' opposition from other federal and state agencies, as well as environmental groups.

The idea of mitigating wetlands is generally agreed to be a poor solution to protecting the environment. The issue isn't so much quantity as quality, and a pristine wetland is going to do much, much more for the environment than some drainage canal or a pond in the middle of a grassy golf course, regardless of how many acres may be involved.

But the development community apparently has embraced the new numbers, and is crowing about how much they're giving back to the environment through good stewardship via mitigation, or some such drivel.

Jeez.

Many years ago, a buddy bought a new condo in an inland development. It was his first home. He was proud of it. He was especially proud of the waterfront vista he had, for which he paid only a few thousand dollars more.

It was a nice place, and the retention pond outside his window was OK, but he was less than pleased when I pointed out that it was indeed a development-mandated retention pond outside his living room and not a small natural lake.

I suppose I should have shut up and let him live his fantasy, kinda like what some of the feds appear to be doing with their wetland shell games.

 

Sandscript factoid

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program did a study years ago on the nutrient loading of water bodies adjacent to waterfront golf courses. The premise was that with all the fertilizer, pesticides and other chemicals sprayed or dumped on the courses, the surrounding water would be filled with all sorts of nasty chemicals.

The results were the opposite. As hard to believe as it may seem, there were no signs of excess runoff chemicals found in the receiving waters near golf courses, at least no more than what are found in any other waterfront development other than natural wetlands.

The groundskeepers at golf courses are apparently so well trained in using the exact amounts of chemicals to keep the grass just right that there isn't any excess to flow into the bays or Gulf of Mexico.

"Golf course maintenance practices have minimal impact on groundwater quality," the study concluded.

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