Reefball seeding proceeding in Tampa, Sarasota bays
Reefballs are sprouting like wild flowers in Sarasota and Tampa bays.
A group of Harllee Middle School students deployed 96 of the marine critter attractors at the Bulkhead in Tampa Bay last Friday, building on 48 they had dropped in the bays last year. The Bulkhead is northeast of the Island.
Reefballs are round hollow concrete spheres, about two feet in diameter. They've got holes through them and look pretty much like big wiffle balls. The idea is that barnacles and soft coral will grow on them, and the habitat will attract and shelter marine critters like crabs and juvenile fish.
Rick Smith, a sixth-grade science teacher at Harllee, said his students started making the reefballs last year. Permits were eventually granted to drop them in the bays at artificial reef sites. Assisting with the program is Manatee County, Sarasota County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, in addition to the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program.
Smith said there is another program the school has started, "Reef Rakers," which allows students to take scuba diving classes. When certified, the scuba students go out in the bays and clean the reefballs of excess growth.
"What other middle school has their kids out scuba diving?" he said with a laugh.
The Reef Rakers program has attracted the attention of Gov. Jeb Bush, who is tentatively scheduled to dive with the students in April.
The after-school program at Harllee, by the way, was the recipient of the 2004 Busch Gardens-Sea World Environmental Excellence Award, the only such program to receive the honor in Florida. The award includes $10,000 and a trip for three students to go to San Diego, Calif., to tour Sea World and learn more about marine life.
So cruise out to the Bulkhead - it's northeast of Anna Maria Island in Tampa Bay - come this summer and expect to find some good fishing, once the critters start to congregate around the artificial reef that the Harllee kids helped build.
We'll miss you, Gus
I lost a good friend Saturday. Gustavo Antonini, 66, and stepson William W. Cupples, 42, were bicycling near Gus's home in Gainesville when they were struck and killed by a pickup truck driver. Florida Highway Patrol troopers believe the truck driver was "impaired."
Gus was an avid bicyclist who regularly logged upwards of 200 miles a week on his bike.
Gus was a retired University of Florida professor. Locally, he was the principal author of two books about local waters, "A Historical Geography of Southwest Florida Waterways," focusing on the area from Anna Maria Sound to Lemon Bay and the second from Englewood to Marco Island.
It was my privilege to have helped with the books.
Locally, Gus had been involved in creation of an anchorage off Bradenton Beach and the canal dredging projects on Longboat Key. He was also an avid sailor and kept his beautiful sailboat on Longboat Key.
I'm gonna miss you, Gus.
Mote gets checked on restaurant
Sarasota city commissioners nixed plans for a 162-seat restaurant at Mote Marine Laboratory last week. Mote officials had hoped to expand into a 20,000-square-foot building to include the restaurant. The eatery would only be open during the day or for special events, and only for Mote visitors, patrons or guests.
The Old Salty Dog restaurant, across the street from Mote on City Island, had objected to the Mote restaurant on grounds that it would be unfair competition. The Old Salty Dog leases space from the city on city-owned City Island to the tune of about $50,000 a year; Mote, as a not-for-profit entity, pays $1 a year.
Mote officials will re-think the proposal and probably bring some modified version back to the city table later this year.
Shark attacks down this year
Call it good news-bad news.
The good news is that shark attacks on humans were down last year, the third consecutive drop. There were 55 unprovoked attacks worldwide in 2003, 63 in 2002, 68 in 2001, and 79 in 2000.
The bad news is that Florida leads the world in number of attacks, with 31 last year. Volusia County on the East Coast is the hot spot. Topping the list of targets for sharks is surfers, followed by swimmers and waders, then divers and snorkelers.
George Burgess, the director of the International Shark Attack File in the Florida Museum of Natural History, speculated that the drop in shark-human interaction could be due to a decline in shark populations worldwide.
Tarpon rule changes at Boca Grande
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has developed a series of measures it hopes will ease "conflicts" among recreational fishers during the Boca Grande Pass spring tarpon season.
"These measures are intended to address an ongoing disagreement among fishermen and guides in Boca Grande Pass regarding the impacts of different fishing methods and fishing tackle on localized populations of tarpon, and crowded fishing conditions in the pass," FWC officials said.
Traditional fishers who use live bait believe that fishing activity related to the use of breakaway jigs is responsible for a reduction in tarpon abundance in the pass.
The non-traditional fishers who use jigs dispute the claims, and believe that one fishing style should not be favored over another without a clear biological basis for such a restriction.
FWC officials agree that the data on the tendency of breakaway jigs to foul-hook fish are inconclusive.
So, FWC officials approved rule amendments to prohibit the intentional "snagging" or "snatch-hooking" of tarpon, which is defined as "the intentional catch of a fish by any device intended to impale or hook tarpon by any part of its body other than the mouth, and limit the number of fishing lines/rods used per boat to fish for tarpon in Boca Grande Pass to no more than three during April, May and June."
The rule amendments will take effect in March.
To enforce the changes, FWC intends to increase law enforcement efforts in Boca Grande Pass this spring to address reckless boating behavior, and develop brochures and other educational efforts to encourage the use of appropriate tackle and proper fishing and boating behavior in this world-renowned fishery.
The FWC is also working on drafting a proposal to prohibit breakaway fishing gear in Boca Grande Pass to reduce the amount of debris that collects on the sea bottom. It is also working on a law that would expand the tarpon three-fishing-lines-per-vessel provision to include all species harvested in the pass in April, May and June.
Movie magic for 'King Con'
Switching from marine life to literati, Stephen Cannell was in Sarasota a while back to sign copies of his 10th mystery novel, "Vertical Coffin."
Besides being an author, Cannell is the creator of a whole slew of television programs, including "Rockford Files," "The A-Team," "Silk Stockings," "Renegade" and "Wiseguy." He said he's pretty much dropped out of the TV scene these days to devote more time to writing his books.
"I've done 40 shows," he said, "and I don't think I have that much to contribute to TV any more."
Cannell said he misses the social aspects of television versus the more solitary life of a writer. "At one point I had six shows on, and had about 2,000 employees, all friends."
And he hasn't given up the electronic medium altogether, what with six projects in pre-production and two or three acting gigs a year. "It's not like I'm locked in an attic somewhere," he said.
He's enjoying the writing, which he said is "much more professionally fulfilling. There are so many more tools at an author's disposal that you can't do in a screenplay, where everything has to come out of a character's mouth and usually you have to have them say things they would never do in real life. You also get to do research, which I love."
One of the film projects he has well into the works is a screen adaptation of his novel "King Con," probably my favorite Cannell novel. He's lined up Bruce Willis to play Beano Bates, the king of the con men, and has finished the first draft of the screenplay.
The book, for those of you who are lucky enough not to have read it yet, tells the story of Beano getting beaten in a poker game by a mobster. Actually, Beano is the big winner in the game, but the mobster doesn't like to lose and beats Beano up.
So Beano does what he does best - he arranges a complicated con to outsmart the mobster.
It's a great read, as are all of Cannell's books.
Humans kill about 60 million sharks a year worldwide, and sharks kill about eight people annually.
Is that something of a disproportional ratio or what?