'Fair' is grade for local bay by federal government
Our bays have received a first-ever report card regarding how they have fared in the past 18 years.
They passed. Barely.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Commission commissioned a study on the 28 estuaries that were/are within the National Estuary Program. Sarasota and Tampa bays both got "fair" ratings. The range was from "poor," "fair" to "good," with the split pretty much evenly divided for the estuaries throughout the country and Puerto Rico that were included in the study.
First, though, a bit of history.
"Estuaries are semi-enclosed body of water which have free connection with the open sea and within which seawater is measurably diluted by freshwater from land drainage." That's a quote from the State of the Bay Report 1990 produced by the then-Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program. The group dropped the "national" part of its title a year or so ago.
The National Estuary Program in the United States began with the Great Lakes in 1970, involving the states and Canada in the form of an international joint commission between the two countries.
Chesapeake Bay was next up in 1977 in the form of a federal/state partnership which included Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, plus the District of Columbia.
The "real" estuary programs began in 1987. Sarasota Bay joined the club in August 1988, and officially was designated on June 26, 1989, which is generally considered the startup time for the Sarasota Bay Project.
Survey says …
The EPA looked at a bunch of water-quality factors in its rankings. For Sarasota Bay, the conclusion was "the overall condition of Sarasota Bay is rated fair. SBEP analyses have shown that although temporal trends by segment indicate that water quality in Sarasota Bay is improving, water quality problems still exist in the tributaries and the bay segments receiving water from the tributaries. Seagrass coverage in Sarasota Bay has improved substantially in the past few years, with declines in submerged aquatic vegetation occurring at a much slower rate. Although there is no substitute for natural habitat with respect to the diversity and productivity of organisms, engineering options for some environments (e.g., dredge holes, canal communities and channel markers) exist to create artificial habitats for juvenile and adult finfish, shellfish and other invertebrates."
The "Sarasota Bay" in question stretches from the tip of Anna Maria Island to Venice Inlet in Sarasota County. Tampa Bay is north of the Island.
For Tampa Bay, the study said that "the overall condition of Tampa Bay is rated fair based on three indices of estuarine conditions. The TBEP has taken strong actions to establish short- and long-term goals for the protection and restoration of this estuary. Monitoring data show that many aspects of environmental quality in the bay are improving, such as nitrogen-load and chlorophyll-a levels and seagrass coverage. Attaining the TBEP's ambitious goals will require continued strong scientific involvement through monitoring, research and pollution management, as well as the cooperation and dedication of a wide spectrum of stakeholders, including the public."
As is often said, much work needs to be done to preserve and protect our bay assets.
So now onto the critter front.
"Playboy" magazine founder Hugh Hefner paid some money 20 years ago to help document a rare and endangered Florida Keys marsh rabbit. The bucks for the bunnies got him partial naming rights to the little critters, which scientists call Syliviagus palustris hefneri. The bunnies are small, cute, and Hef apparently thought at the time it would be a good idea to have a bunny named after him, hence the financial contribution.
Playboy magazine's signature, for those who have lived in a cave for the past 60 years, is a bunny.
Now, there seems to be a cat threat to the rabbit, and Hef has coughed up some more dough to help trap feral cats and save his bunny namesake.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, Hef gave Stand Up For Animals $5,000 to aid in the spay-and-neuter efforts of the feral kitties in the Florida Keys, specifically at the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key.
Numbers of the rabbits have apparently plummeted in the last seven years due to cat predation. There are other critters going after the rabbits, but cats are the main threat.
Since feral cats - well, let's face it, they breed like bunnies - some kind of kind control is welcome.
It seems, according to the Times, that the bunnies evolved from a marsh species found in South Florida about 10,000 years ago, and ended up stranded in the Florida Keys when sea levels dropped.
Good for Playboy, good for the rabbits, good for the cats, eh?
Remember those old door mats that depicted a cartoon of a raccoon working the combination lock on a garbage can? The little bandit-looking critters could break into anything, and Island residents of years past - and even today - took extreme lengths to keep the pests from strewing garbage all over the yard at night.
We're not alone, it would appear, in our coon problems.
According to a news report first published in the Washington Post, Hermann Goering first approved a proposal that raccoons would be a great source of fur and would give hunters something to shoot. Raccoons were imported from the United States to Germany.
And they did what animals do. They bred. And bred.
Goering's action in 1934 has spurred what is estimated to be 1 million raccoons in Germany, a place that never had the masked marauders before, and they have spread to the Baltic Sea and as far east as Chechnya. British newspapers have called them "Nazi raccoons" and fear they'll find their way across the English Channel to their country.
As here, the little critters are more of a nuisance than anything else, eating eggs and breaking into homes in the winter to weather the cold and find food.
German residents are fighting the same fight we do with raccoons. They try to secure their garbage, keep their doors to outbuildings closed, and keep a careful watch to keep the little pests away.
And, like we've all found - well, some of us, anyway - raccoons don't serve as a good food source.
As one trapper put it, after his snack, "It's a very intensive taste, a wild-animal taste. But there's just no demand for any part of them, basically."
Right. Tell that to Daniel Boone.
Here's a quote to seal your longing for the shore from Karl Bickel's wonderful but unfortunately out-of-print book, "The Mangrove Coast," a quote that always bears reading again.
"Stand on the beach and look to sea. You will see creatures as strange as the trees and plants - the rare and lonely manatee, the great sea turtles, the slowly turning dolphin, the flashing tarpon and the king. Then the old tales begin to take shape, tales of Spanish cavaliers, and smuggled drugs and Chinamen, of the wrecks when the bitter lash of the nor'wester has struck the coast. The sun is setting.
"Look about you. The saying goes that if you once get the sand of the coast in your shoes, you will itch forever after with the longing to return to bury your toes in the sand of this shore, to smell its morning winds and gaze at its high blue sky."