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Date of Issue: March 30, 2006

Sandscript

Back in the past through maps of Manatee County

Florida's past two devastating hurricane seasons have done more than flatten houses, splinter trees and inundate islands - the rampage also took a toll on marine life.

Even some unlikely forms of marine life.

Bowing to complaints from representatives of the state's commercial lobster trap fishery, members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will consider modifications to the harvesting season next month.

The complaints stem from the setbacks to the industry caused by all the storms, both damage to the traps on land and the churning of the waters caused by all the hurricane winds and waves.

The proposed solution is to open the season in July for commercial trappers, rather than the traditional August. July 15 versus Aug. 6, to be exact. The season runs through March 31.

"Industry representatives believe they would have a better opportunity to reap the economic benefits stemming from early season lobster catch rates if they can launch the trap-fishing season earlier - before the height of hurricane season," according to the FWC.

The sport season for divers would not change, and would be July 26-27. "The Aug. 6 opening of the regular lobster fishing season for commercial divers, bully netters and recreational fishers would also remain unchanged," according to the FWC.

The matter will be decided by the FWC in its April. 6 meeting in Tallahassee.

Another crustacean tale

A group of researchers have identified a new species of crustacean in the Pacific Ocean off Easter Island, a critter they're calling a "yeti crab" due to its white color and long hair.

Yep, it's like the abominable snowman, but deep in the water, and it's unlike any other crab found to date.

Discovered near a newfound hydrothermal vent, "It was huge," one scientist told the journal Nature. "It was 7 inches long, and eyeless and hairy. We all realized it was really different, but we didn't have any specimens to compare it with, or DNA techniques on board to analyze it."

The scientists eventually classed it as a new crab family, Kiwaidae, since Kiwa is the goddess of shellfish in Polynesian mythology. They gave the crab the proper name of Kiwa hirsute.

"The function of crab's 'hairs,' which feel like toothbrush bristles, is still unknown," according to the journal, although some scientists "think they might be used to comb edible materials from water or mud. The hairs are almost like feathers. They have secondary and tertiary branches that facilitate all kinds of things sticking to them."

Don't expect to find the yeti crab on any menu soon, though: Since the critters hang out near hydrothermal vents reeking with sulfur, researchers postulate that "they are probably not very tasty."

Extinct woodpecker sighting debunked

The thought-to-be-extinct ivory-billed woodpecker probably is still extinct, a noted birdwatcher and author has announced. The bird was sighted two years ago by a team of birders from Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the wilds of Arkansas.

The birding world went wild when the blurry video was made public, since the last ivory bill was seen in 1944.

Of course, there was controversy regarding the images. And since nobody else has seen the bird, which is/was the biggest of the woodpeckers found in the United States, despite lots of trips through the swamps of the Razorback State.

Now, noted birder and author David A. Sibley has told the New York Times based on an article in the journal Science, the bird looks to him like a pileated woodpecker, a common bird that is even spotted on Anna Maria Island upon occasion. The pileated looks a lot like Woody Woodpecker, and is about the size of a big gull. The ivory bill is even bigger.

"I think that this identification is wrong and I feel that I'm obligated to correct that," Sibley is quoted as saying about the ivory bill.

It will be interesting to see what Congress has to say about the debate, since there is a bill floating through the halls there that would earmark up to $10 million for the bird's conservation and care.

This seems to be one story that isn't going to fly away any time soon.

Metals becoming rare, too

Intense construction throughout the world, specifically China, has caused the price of raw materials to skyrocket as high as the skyscrapers that are being built. Steel, aluminum, iron - anything metal is getting incredible prices on the commodities markets.

And thefts of those materials are getting pretty incredible, too, as people try to scrape together some big bucks from scrap metal.

The latest hot market in the black-market metal trade appears to be beer kegs.

In England last year, 250,000 kegs were taken out of circulation by thieves, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. The kegs are made of stainless steel, nickel and chrome, and are an easy target because they're easy to carry off.

The story gets more weird, though.

The metal market is so hot right now that hot-metal crooks are scarfing up any type of scrap metal they can lay their hands on, including road and bridge guardrails.

In Belgium, the main railway station has lost almost all of its 800 aluminum baggage carts.

In Germany, thieves have levered up and hauled off 3 miles of railroad track.

In Beijing, 25,000 manhole covers have disappeared since the start of 2005.

How much is all this bringing in, and how much of a demand is there for metal?

An empty keg brought about $5 on the metal market a few years ago. Today, you can look to get up to $21. Since a new keg costs about $90, beer brewers are reeling at the added expense to make their beverages. That new-keg cost is about triple of what is was a few years ago, too.

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...

Perhaps we could put the following in the faith-based category of products, and I do hope that someone will let me know if this thing actually does as claimed.

A Salt Lake City manufacturer has come up with an outboard motor propeller guard that is manatee-friendly and more, they claim it also increases prop thrust - more "get out of the hole" power. Many prop guards are despised by boaters because of the efficiency loss of their engines if installed.

And they say the guard disperses and reduces carbon monoxide levels that the engines spurt into the water.

According to my buddy Bob Ardren, EnviroProp makes a Suproguard that does all that good stuff, based on the company's Web site, enviroprop.com.

I guess I'll buy into the manatee-friendly aspects. Since marine engines pump something like 180 times the carbon monoxide into the air and water as a car, due mostly to less stringent federal requirements, I guess I can buy into the green aspects of the prop guards.

But I'd be really interested in finding out about engine efficiency with something that has to produce some drag on the boat.

I hope it works.

Sandscript factoid

You can tell the metal market is lucrative just by this little snippet: Groundskeepers at the Royal Johor Country Club in Malaysia last month discovered that thieves had taken 12 of the aluminum cups out of the tees on the golf course, presumably to sell on the metal commodities market.

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