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Date of Issue: May 28, 2008

Sandscript

Honored

Boson’s Mate Anthony Valari was honored by the Sarasota/Manatee Navy League last week as “sailor of the quarter” serviceman at U.S. Coast Guard Station Cortez. Pictured are from left, Station Chief Trey Bennett, Arlene Bennett, Valari, Jamie Valari and Admiral Mary Landry. Islander Photo: Paul Roat

 

On admirals, seagrasses and smoking

Admirals are stereotyped as being gruff old guys who bark out orders while looking for bad guys through their binoculars from the bridge of some huge ship.

So it was a pleasure to chat with U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Mary Landry last week, a different sort of officer from the movie-fame stereotypes.

She was guest speaker at the Sarasota/Manatee Navy League dinner. She is director of government and public affairs for the Guard, based out of Washington, D.C., although she served as principal officer for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands for hurricanes and served as executive officer for stations in Boston and Rhode Island during her 28-year career.

The soft-spoken admiral said the Coast Guard is undergoing a $1 billion re-fit of its assets — in other words, it’s getting a lot of new ships.

“We need to keep our sea lanes safe,” she said.

The question of Homeland Security was broached, especially in light of the 30-plus Cubans who landed near Beer Can Island last year, having been brought north in some vessel and put off only a few miles from Coast Guard Station Cortez.

“It’s a very dynamic time for the Coast Guard,” she said. “It’s a challenge, but we’re making progress.”

Landry said that there is a new program in place to fingerprint all immigrants. The program has revealed that about 20 percent of the newcomers are “bad guys.”

But, she added, “We’re a nation of immigrants.”

So true.

And, of course, the question of gender came up.

The admiral says about 12 percent of Coast Guard sailors are female. Landry said that women in the Guard are “pretty much in a fish bowl, but if you can focus on your performance and do your job, you’ll do fine.”

 

Seagrass quandary

We love our seagrasses.

The “underwater ground cover” of water grass rings Anna Maria Island’s bays and sound. There are four species in our part of the world — shoal, turtle, widgeon and manatee. Shoal is the most prevalent.

Seagrasses serve a number of functions. Yes, the little underwater plants are home to all sorts of critters.

There is also a symbiotic relationship between mangroves and seagrasses. Biological studies indicate that when you’ve got a mangrove forest and lush seagrass beds near one another, there is an even greater biological quota of stuff present.

And seagrasses are also a sediment trap.

Imagine a boat channel. Boat wakes stir up the bottom of the bays. That stirring causes the sand or muck or whatever to get into the water column, causing murky water, which is not a good thing.

With a seagrass bed next to the channel, the hardy little plants and their hefty little roots keep the sediments down on the bottom, where it belongs.

A problem with seagrass is that folks tend to think of if as turf grass. Plop a mat of seagrass on the bottom and expect it to grow? Nope.

Folks have been trying to figure out a way to replant seagrass beds for years. The problem has always been that when a developer wants to create a new channel through some area that has seagrass, a term called mitigation comes into play before federal or state or regional or local environmental regulators allow the channel to get its permits. Mitigation is the process of planting new grass in other areas to offset the plants that are being ripped up by new dredging, or channels, or something.

Mitigation is tough for seagrasses, though. The little plants just don’t seem to like to be planted by humans, and don’t grow too well.

Hence the concern over a bill on Gov. Charlie Crist’s desk that passed without fanfare through the Legislature last session. According to Craig Pittman of the St. Petersburg Times, the proposed law would allow dredging through lush seagrass beds as long as some sort of mitigation was proposed for the grass loss.

More to come on this one.

 

Plunder from different realms

You’ve probably noted the raft of copper thefts of late. Seems that China is in huge need of all sorts of metals, and copper is a hot item at recycle centers, where it gets shipped to Asia.

It got so bad a year or two ago that some lads apparently took a slew of manhole covers in Great Brittain for the steel value.

Now, we’ve got grease thieves.

Biofuel is the new buzz word in the green world. It is manufactured with used fast-food grease in something that resembles a backyard still and turned into diesel fuel.

And backyard stills are starting to pop up in California and elsewhere for the production of biofuel, much to the consternation of legitimate grease collectors.

By the way, something called the National Biodiesel Board said that U.S. production of the fuel reached 500 million gallons last year. It was pegged at 75 million gallons in 2005.

 

Crazy times?

And in another crazy element comes ants.

It seems that something called “crazy raspberry ants” are swarming in Texas. The ants, which are about the size of our sugar ants, arrived on a cargo ship in Houston, and are wreaking havoc everywhere.

Unfortunately, the ants seem to like electrical equipment and are causing power outages in homes and threatening headaches for NASA’s space center.

Experts say the widespread nature of the ants is making it almost impossible to irradicate them.

 

Smoke crazy?

I’m not a cigarette smoker. I don’t have a particular problem with those that do smoke, although it does bother my eyes when I’m in a room full of people who light up. The smoke-free workplace law passed in Florida years ago, and the ban on smoking in restaurants that followed wasn’t such a hardship as it was predicted to be. 

So it’s with some interest that Sarasota County has enacted a prohibition for employees to smoke at work. Anywhere.

Remember that the county to our south is also working on a law to prohibit cigarette smoking on beaches.

Sarasota “No-Smoke” County?

 

Sandscript factoid

There are more than 2 million acres of seagrass beds off Florida’s coastlines, the most in the nation.

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