Low water stories, higher temperature tales worldwide
Anna Maria Island's real estate has suddenly grown by several acres in the past couple of weeks, but before you start calling your agent to pick up the property, remember that it shrank just about as fast as it formed.
Exceptionally low winter tides, coupled with strong cold fronts and brisk northerly winds, pushed much of the water away from the Island farther into the Gulf of Mexico. With all the water gone, usually submerged sandbars and seagrass flats became high-and-dry extensions of the shore.
It was quite a sight to see sailboats in usual deep moorings listing 45 degrees as they rested on the bottom, or dry sand far, far away from the accustomed shoreline.
Real low tides are a good time for mariners to get out on the water and do some exploring through the narrow channels around the Island. If you can find your way around the water when the depths are four or five feet lower than usual, you should be able to find your way around any time without risking a grounding.
These winter low tides are also a good time to do a little exploring of the seagrass flats to look at the critters that are usually hidden. Bring along a stick and a bag, and you just may be able to bag a nice stone crab claw dinner - stone crabs don't just live in rocks, but also burrow into the flats and, with a little urging and a little care, you can tickle them out of their holes, separate the claws and, eventually, plop them into a cooking pot.
By the way, the grass flats aren't damaged by their unsubmerged state and will be just fine when the waters return.
Damaged boat now gone
A steel-hulled sailboat that claimed at least two other vessels during its 18-month grounding just south of New Pass off Lido Key has been removed.
The 32-foot boat ran aground and its owner told officials he didn't have the money to refloat it. He's currently in the Sarasota jail on drunk-driving charges.
Sarasota Police Marine Officer Doug Peters said the boat was refloated and towed to Venice last Friday at a cost to taxpayers of about $40,000. The decision to move the sunk boat was made by the Sarasota County Commission after an errant boater mistook the "hazard to navigation" signage for a channel marker and rammed into it, totaling his new 50-foot cruiser.
Why did taxpayers have to foot the bill to have the boat removed rather than the owner? As one county official put it regarding the destitute boat owner, "You can't get blood out of a rock."
It's a shame that two boats, one valued at better than $500,000, had to be wrecked due to one boater's errant actions before something was done about the obstruction's removal.
Committee on ocean policy formed
President Bush has formed a Cabinet-level committee to recommend changes to U.S. policies on management of the nation's nearshore seas.
According to a Washington Post report, the committee will review everything from fisheries to coral reefs.
Formation of the committee came on the heels of a presidential commission report that took three years to draft. The report said there were serious problems with the waters off the coast and that serious money needed to be spent on research and management.
It's a big job. There are about 4.5 million square miles of water within U.S. jurisdiction.
Kyoto Protocol heroes
In 1997, government leaders from around the world met in Japan and hammered out a greenhouse gas reduction plan that would require countries reduce fossil fuel emissions to more than 5 percent less than 1990 levels by the year 2012. The Kyoto Protocol was heralded by environmentalists as a good first step in dropping the levels of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that are generally believed to be causing global weather warming.
In 2001, President Bush blasted the protocol and refused to sign the agreement. The United States releases about 21 percent of the global gas into the atmosphere. Australia joined the United States in refusing to sign the pact. More than 190 other nations penned the agreement, which goes into effect in February.
But not everybody in the country agreed with Bush's opposition to the agreement.
According to the Associated Press, nine states have taken it onto themselves to accept the protocol mandate.
In a meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last week, the states of New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey and Delaware agreed to band together to lower the gases oozing into the atmosphere.
Although California didn't join the "gang of nine," officials there last year mandated that the auto industry reduce vehicle emissions by 25 percent by 2016.
Before you blast the Bush administration for not signing the Kyoto Protocol, bear in mind that the order for reduction in fossil fuel emissions mimics the agreement. However, officials indicate that the required 18-percent drop will amount to about 15 percent higher gases in the air than what the protocol calls for.
And if you want to pooh-pooh the whole global warming matter, scientists with the World Meteorological Organization have agreed that 2004 was the fourth-warmest year in the past 100.
The 10 hottest years have all been since 1990.
And 2004 was the most costly for the insurance industry worldwide, what with all the hurricanes, typhoons and other natural disasters. All the storms caused $43 billion in damage to the United States and the Caribbean Islands this year.
Warmer weather is expected to continue; also expected are more frequent and stronger hurricanes.
To continue this doom-and-gloom report, a book by Anthony Greenbank titled "The Book of Survival" offers these tips for a safe and merry holiday season.
• Tree lights can overheat a flammable decoration or a candle can slip sideways, a good reason not to use candles.
If a fire does start, pull out the plug of the tree lights before you do anything else. Unlikely as it seems, water hitting a live electric wire could throw a lethal shock back at you. Use water only if it's not possible to smother the blaze with a rug or a piece of clothing.
If the fire is out of control, get everyone outside. Close windows and doors so drafts won't fan the flames, and phone 911.
• Holly berries are, unfortunately, attractive to children and can have dire effects when eaten.
If a child doubles up with violent stomach pains and starts vomiting, suspect the worst. Take him or her straight to the nearest hospital.
• The risk of choking to death on your food is greatest during the festive season, when alcohol can blur judgment and slow reflexes.
Quick thinking is vital. There are only four minutes in which to save the casualty's life.
The mishap is so frequently mistaken for a heart attack that it has become known in America as the "cafe coronary." If the casualty cannot speak, it's safe to assume he or she is choking. In fact, in most cases an individual who is choking will be completely silent.
What to do? First, remove any false teeth. Then bend the casualty over with the head lower than the legs. Smack sharply between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand, repeating several times if necessary.
The last resort, because of the possible damage it causes to internal organs, involves applying sudden sharp pressure with a bear hug from behind to the upper part of the abdomen.
• Heavy baggage, laden with gifts, is always a problem for families on the move during the holiday season. The strain of shifting heavy luggage can cause any number of problems, from pulled muscles to heart attacks.
In fact, it's not the weight but the way you carry it that makes the difference. Many people, for example, don't know how to properly swap suitcases from one hand to the other. Struggling to cross over arms is the wrong way. Instead, face the opposite way to the one in which you are walking before you put the suitcases down. Lower them to the ground, rub your wrists to restore circulation, then turn around to face the way you are heading. Pick up the cases, and you will have changed hands without effort.
• Taking a 20-pound bird out of the oven could put between 200 to 300 pounds of extra pressure on the lower back. That's the equivalent of two bags of cement.
The secret is to keep the turkey close to your body. Go down on one knee when you pull the turkey from the oven. Before you actually lift, actively set your back muscles, then raise your head, tuck in your chin and stomach, and slowly straighten up. Keep your knees apart to keep the load close to you, and use your leg muscles to help lift.
Finland has the greatest number of islands in the world at 179,584. Wonder who got the job of counting them all?