This blog is dedicated to the environmental well-being of our Florida coastal habitat.

This blog is
dedicated to the environmental well-being of coastal habitat.

Monday, May 25, 2009

From the Director

Birthday Party - 2009

This year marks the 200th anniversary Charles Darwin‘s birth and the 150th year since the publication of “On the Origin of Species”. Although he wasn’t aware of mutations (Mendel’s work went unnoticed for many years), he was fully aware of the work of animal breeders, the fossil record, and changes brought about by geographic isolation.

His main themes tied together life’s enormous diversity and core commonality. All life is connected by common ancestry . Species undergo random variation which is either sustained or lost in the struggle for existence and change evolves through natural selection. The corollary to this, which has engendered considerable consternation in ecclesiastical circles, is that the direction of change is random and purposeless; ‘non-teleological’ in philosopher’s lingo.

From this beginning, followed by the rules of genetics, the elucidation of DNA, and the structure of the gene, a plethora of ideas and innovations have followed.

The field of developmental biology- ‘evo-devo’, the evolution of developmental sequences- is presently in an explosive growth phase and full of surprises. The conservation of body plans, nearly identical in a host of organisms that appear unrelated externally, led researchers to believe this was a universal attribute. But it is not. Work in the 1990’s found that, at the gene level, different mechanisms often lead to similar outcomes.

Belief that evolution works strictly at the individual level is being challenged. The notion of the ‘superorganism’ (eg.bees, ants, bacteria) and group natural selection are making news.

Ideas on how evolution should be incorporated into our view of life range from Dawkins atheism (The God Delusion), the Dalai Lama’s acceptance and revision of Buddhism to outright rejection and the creationism alternative.

Science is young and much of it is hard to grasp without a rigorous education. Whether faith and reason can reconcile their differences is something only the future can tell-if we humans have a future.

The Need for Active Volunteers

As an all-volunteer group, we have a continuing need for people to help on existing projects and events as well as starting up new ones. Some current activities are in jeopardy and some earlier activities have gone defunct because we don’t have the people to handle them . Take a look below and see what you think might interest you;

Restoration work - First Saturday of the month, half a day either removing exotics or planting or nursery work - Call John for information (941) 966-7308.

Picnic - Twice a year probably at Blackburn Point or you choose the place. Saturday. - Call Dave (941) 377-5459.

Exhibits - A few time a year; Earth Day for example - Prepare a new (simple)exhibit and get a core of volunteers to serve at the exhibit (usually outdoors). Call Dave (941) 377-5459.

Marine Conservation Guru - Attend meetings of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, SWFMD Environmental Advisory Committee, ECOSWF, Charlotte Harbor NEP etc . Follow what is happening what is happening on the marine scene. Call Dave (941) 377-5459.

Do you have an idea for an activity and are you willing to develop it? Call Dave at (941) 377-5459.

Think about finding a friend (or friends) to help you. It will make sustaining an effort much easier.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Midnight Pass

In 1983, a shallow, meandering outlet to the sea, called Midnight Pass, was closed by a nearby home owner whose property was threatened. Attempts to reopen it failed. Over the years, the subject of reopening became the single most contentious “environmental” issue in Sarasota County. In the 1990’s the County applied for a permit to open it which was denied. The issue didn’t die and study after study went on, spurred on by the Midnight Pass Society. The County reapplied in 2003.

The application for a permit to open midnight pass was denied in late 2008 . The county chose not to appeal the DEP decision and has withdrawn the application. The list of reasons cited by the DEP was long. The main one –the closing was not a recent event, therefore the application was to create a new pass, which is now prohibited by law- drew a comment from one of the commissioners, “why didn’t they tell us that before we spend all that money ?” The engineering work, done by an outside consultant, cost was $850,000. Over the years I estimate the midnight pass question has cost county taxpayers well over $4 million with little to show for it. It also stopped remediation in that area. Fortunately it’s not easy to get to the Neville Preserve which would have been heavily impacted by the proposed opening and nature has made the best of it. Our seining excursions in that area, the results of which we reported to DEP and FWC, led us to believe they were about to destroy a prime nursery for fish. DEP came to the same conclusion. Although we got no publicity for our work, our partners in opposing an opening-Manasota 88, Sarasota Audubon, and Sierra Club and one pro-environmental commissioner- know what we did.

North Roberts Bay

A few weeks ago the commissioners voted (3to 2) to put aside $500,000 meant to remediate spoil islands in north Roberts Bay and spend $100K of that money on selling the surrounding neighborhoods on the remediation plans. In a letter to Pelican Press, which was published, we pointed out that replacing these spoil heaps, now covered with Australian pines, with red mangrove was the only major way to clean up those waters. Eventually the polluted tidal creeks feeding Roberts Bay may get cleaned up but that will take many years.

The County hired Cliff Truitt, a consulting coastal engineer, to meet with local people and assess their views on the restoration issue. His initial findings show considerable resistance to it. Siesta Key Association also appears split on the issue.

Critter News

The blue crab is drawing the attention of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. Third on the money list of commercial trapped catches (spiny lobster and stone crab are one and two respectively), long-term catch averages are down. Yearly totals vary widely, mainly a function of rainfall. Down in drought years, 2001, 2003 and 2007, their continual drop in numbers may be the result of less fresh water runoff reaching the estuaries they inhabit. Confounding the numbers are the unknowns; disease, the size of the recreational fishery, the mortality of undersized throwbacks, and the ghost fishing of lost or abandoned traps. Annual commercial takes are large; the 2005 gulf coast landings in Florida were 7.4 million pounds and 4.2 million pounds on Florida’s east coast. Around here, Tampa Bay landings were 822,000 pounds.

Red drum is bouncing back, notwithstanding occasional setbacks caused by red tide as in 2005. Hatchery releases are helping but the main reason is the one fish a day, 18” to 27”in length, limit aqnd the no-sale provision that ended the commercial fishery.

The snook population is booming in Tampa Bay. Total catches have continually increased since 1997. Nevertheless, the FWC is trying to measure the effects of increasing fishing pressure. Size limitations mean a lot are thrown back. In 2004, FWC estimated that 42 % died. Over 80% of snook caught are undersized. Tampa Bay is the northernmost limit for snook. A prolonged temperature drop can send their numbers plummeting.

Spotted sea trout, almost wiped out by the 2005 red tide event, are rebounding in Tampa Bay but habitat degradation and overfishing are nagging problems. The fecundity of a mature female (one year old) is astounding. She can shed 18 million eggs in a season.

The Florida Wildlife Research Institute is testing a model that includes all the major fishes in Tampa Bay, their habitats and interactions. This has led to some surprising conclusions. For example, reducing red snapper losses by limiting or banning shrimp trawling to reduce by-catch would not increase the number of adults. The model predicted a decline in bottom trawling would increase the numbers of catfish, a major predator of juvenile snapper.

--Bay Soundings Winter 2009

South Florida News - March 2009

Gov. Crist’s plan to purchase part of the land holdings of U.S. Sugar north of the Everglades has run into resistance from the Florida legislature and a court challenge by several diverse groups.. The modified plan, the purchase of 180,000 acres of farmland for $1.34 billion, will require financing by the taxpayers of 16 counties in the South Florida Water Management District. To do so, the District must create long-term loan instruments called certificates of participation. These must be approved by a circuit judge. Florida Crystal, a competitor of US Sugar, doesn’t like a provision for a 7 year leaseback of land to US Sugar below current market prices. A Clewiston citizens group and the Miccosukee tribe argue the purchase is not in the public interest and would derail most of the present plans for Everglades restoration. As of the last days of March, Gov.Crist is said to be formulating a new, less expensive ($500 million) plan but details have not yet been released. The dought in southern Florida, now in its third year, is creating an enormous quantity of deadfall that is not decomposing in place. Leaves, grass litter and alike, that normally would stay put when the rains finally do arrive, will be swept into watersheds and carried into adjacent estuaries. Their physical presence will lead to flooding as sewer systems jam up and their decomposition in our estuaries may lead to low oxygen problems. -- David Bullock

Saturday, May 16, 2009

May 16 Bay Life Search at Bird Key

CLICK on the photos to get the BIG picture.

Bay Life Search at Bay Preserve in Osprey

On April 18, we held our bay life search at Bay Preserve in Osprey. Our host was Sarasota Conservation Foundation. Our ichthyologist, Chuck Idelberger, and botanist, Bruce Dayton, with the helping hand of lots of kids captured, identified, and released examples of the local flora and fauna. John Sarkozy was there as well. SCF has given us space for a local plant nursery. Our thanks to Peg Conklin for the pix.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Seineing at QuickPoint with ichthyologist, Chuck Idelberger

Photos wanted

WANTED: photos of Mangrove Salt Marsh Snake and Mangrove Cuckoo

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Turtle Nesting Begins

"HOLMES BEACH — Sometime during the overnight hours between May 14 and 15, a female loggerhead turtle crawled ashore, dug a nest, deposited her clutch of eggs, covered them up with sand and returned to the Gulf waters." -- Anna Maria Island Sun

Birds taking over Prime Waterfront !!!

"North Lido, with its extensive dunes and relative remoteness, is a historic bird nesting site and this is the time of year when it shifts into high gear, with courtship rituals, nesting, fishing and territory establishment happening on a daily basis. " - Sarasota Herald Tribune