Monday, July 31, 2006

Free Wireless Internet on Clearwater Beach!

Are you so into the internet (like me) that you can't stand going on a beach vacation and doing without your email and internet surfing? Well suffer no more! Come to Clearwater beach And get your sun, your surf, your grouper sandwich, and bring your laptop with you. Or bring your PDA or WiFi enabled cell phone.

The Chamber is working with a local Belleair company called Neuvision to bring WiFi to Clearwater Beach.

Right now the wireless hotspot extends from Pier 60, south to where the old Adams Mark Hotel once was. Eventually the network will be expanded to cover almost all of southern Clearwater Beach, and will extend further north as well.

WiFi is designed mainly for outdoor use. The signal doesn't penetrate walls very well, so use it on the beach, by the pool, or at an outdoor cafe (plenty of those on Clearwater Beach).

The free wireless network is not protected by data encryption, so don't do any online shopping or expose any other sensitive information to the network.

BeachHunter

A Hot Morning Walk on Sunset Beach

After attending the Sierra Club's Red Tide Forum on Sunday (see previous post)I was inspired to take a walk on the beach this morning. I needed to get out and measure the Gulf water temperature anyway since I hadn't done that in a week or so. The water is now at 89 degrees. I think that's a little cooler than it was at this time last year. But it still feels quite warm. The air temperature at 10 am was 91 degrees and not a hint of breeze. The sky was very hazy. Overall it was stifling hot.

The beach was nearly deserted but for a few people, mostly sheltered under umbrellas. The birds were relaxing on the beach after a morning of fishing. I got a nice photo of a black skimmer resting on the beach. It's hard to photograph skimmers because they usually fly when a human gets close, but this morning it was just too hot to fly. Skimmers are amazing birds. Their lower beak is longer than the upper. They fly along the shore, dipping their beak into water that is only a few inches deep, snapping it shut when they touch a fish. You have to see it to believe it can be done.
black skimmer on beach
I also got a nice photo of an American Oystercatcher. They are normally seen singly or in pairs and are usually very shy and difficult to approach. This morning I had no trouble getting within 15 feet. They are beautiful birds with their bright orange beaks.
oystercatcher on beach
The beach rake was out smoothing out the sand and breaking up any hard areas that might form. This is part of grooming a renourished beach, which can sometimes form hard-packed areas, quite unlike a natural soft sand beach.
beach rake in action on sunset beach
One thing that disturbed me was seeing a lawn maintenance or pest control technician spraying poison on a condominium lawn within about 50 feet of the beach. This afternoon it is going to rain and wash all that poison right into the Gulf. When are we going to wise up? The same people that are having their lawns sprayed are the ones that cry the loudest when dead fish start washing up on "their" beach! Insanity.
spraying lawn poison near the beach

BeachHunter

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Red Tide Forum Educates the Public

On Sunday, July 30, the Sierra Club sponsored a community forum on Red Tide and coastal water pollution at the Sirata Resort on St. Pete Beach.

This was a great opportunity to hear the leading scientists speak about red tide (karenia brevis), and to hear local government representatives and concerned nonprofit groups talk about what is being done to protect our local waters.

Here is a brief summary of what was said:

Dr. Larry Brand (prof of Marine Biology and Fisheries at Univ. of Miami). Dr Brand has analyzed a "data set" collected over the last 50 years. He states that we do not know what starts a red tide outbreak, but he has concluded that the runoff of nutrients from the land have increased the severity of the red tide. He says that red tide biomass has increased about 14 times in the last 50 years. In other words, red tide freqency and severity has, in his opinion, increased.

Dr. Cynthia Heil (Senior Research Scientist and Harmful Algal Bloom Group Leader at the Florida Marine Research Institute, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission in St. Petersburg) Concerning the data set that Dr. Brand (above) analyzed, Dr. Heil believes that the data are not reliable. Even Dr. Brand agrees that the data are not as complete as one would wish for, but believes some analysis can be done. Dr. Heil disagrees and is now working to come up with data collection methodologies that will provide data that can be analyzed properly and produce reliable results.

Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick (Manager, Environmental Health Program, Mote Marine Laboratory). Dr. Kirkpatrick leads studies that investigate human reactions to red tide. She is working with the Florida Department of Health on a program to put warning signs up on popular beaches when red tide is present. She is particularly concerned about people with asthma being exposed to the red tide neurotoxin. She cautions that asthmatics who go to the beach during red tide can expect an increase in their symptoms and should take their inhalers to the beach with them. Better not to go to the beach at all during red tide. She also mentioned that commercially harvested shellfish is always safe to eat during a red tide outbreak, because commercial shellfish beds are carefully monitored and are the first to be closed to fishing during an outbreak. This means that you should feel safe eating shellfish in a restaurant even during a red tide episode.

Dr. Frank Muller-Karger ( prof of Biological Oceanography and Director of the Institute for Marine Remote Sensing at the College of Marine Science USF, St. Petersburg) Dr. Muller-Karger conducts research using satellite remote sensing and high speed computers. Dr. Muller-Karger pointed out that the 2005 red tide that so badly affected the west coast of Florida covered 25,000 square miles of water. He addressed the idea of trying to kill a bloom in progress. He said that "this is a dangerous game" and that killing the bloom would only make matters worse. The bloom (which is made up of millions of tiny plants) would die, then decompose, using up the oxygen in the water. This would make a bad situation even worse. All of the scientists present seemed to agree on this.

It seemed to be agreed by all present that the largest single contributor to harmful algal blooms and degradation of coastal water quality is nutrient runoff from fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, and other pollutants. It was pointed out that in 2005, Pinellas County applied 19,614 TONS of fertilizer. Lest you blame the farmers, it was also pointed out that 16,538 tons were from non-farm use. In other words, from YOUR LAWN! The best solution, stop using fertilizer. The next best solution, use a time-release fertilizer, don't use fertilizer during the rainy season, plant native plants that don't need water and fertilizer.

Finally, even though it is nearly impossible to show cause and effect between red tide severity and nutrient runoff, all the scientists and government representatives agreed that a campaign to reduce nutrient-rich runoff should be undertaken now and will have far-reaching and long-lasting benefits (including more fish in the Gulf).

I've tried to be as accurate as possible in summarizing what was said by the scientists at the forum. My apologies if I have made any errors in my attributions.

David McRee---BeachHunter

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Look Young Longer: Use Solar Protection

Since I spend so much time out on the beach, and since I've already had at least 5 tiny basal cell carcinomas removed from my back, I decided to do some research into sun protection products. I was in for some surprises.

First, I found out that I was fairly ignorant about the effects of the different types of solar radiation. You know, UVA rays and UVB rays. This is being brought to light in the media with the lawsuits now being brought against sunscreen manufacturers concerning product labeling and advertising.

Second, I found out that the best UVA protection sunscreen ingredient, used in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and South America, has not been approved for sale and use in the United States. However, I notice that it is possible to order it online (thanks to our friends, the Canadians!).

Third, I've discovered that there have been HUGE advances in sun protective clothing. Now you can even purchase t-shirts with a high "SPF" protection rating. T-shirts are notorious for providing poor protection from the sun. Especially white cotton t-shirts (which is what I always wore).

I'm providing the results of my research on my website, www.beachhunter.net.

You can see the sun protection information I've put together for you at http://www.beachhunter.net/sun_protection/.

David

Florida Beaches

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Fourth of July Weekend at the Beach

It's hard to believe July is here already. So far along the west coast of Florida we've managed to make it this far into the summer without significant effects from any tropical storms or red tide. There have been some problems with algae and seaweed washing up on the beach in the Sanibel/Ft. Myers beach area and all the way south to Naples, but hey it's like I always tell people...THE GULF OF MEXICO IS NOT A SWIMMING POOL! It's wild nature. Nature happens. Even when you are on vacation.

After lingering for weeks in the 83 degree range, the Gulf water temperature is finally up to 87 degrees, warm enough for natives like me. Soon it will be well into the lower 90's. That's hurricane water.

Monday, July 3rd, I spent a few glorious hours on Pass-A-Grille beach. Actually I was in the water most of the time. The Gulf was as calm as a lake and the water was about as clear as Saint Pete Gulf water gets. Unlike last summer (because of red tide), I saw quite a few fish in the water, but oddly, no sting rays.

While I was kneeling in thigh-deep water, a school of very tiny transparent fish established themselves in front of me about 15 inches from my chest. They were each about an inch long and were so transparent that all I could see was their eyes.

Suddenly a lightning fast streak of hungry yellow-tailed jack sliced through the little school of fish. It was so fast, it barely disrupted the school. The jack fish was about 6 inches long with a bright yellow tail. It swam around me in circles planning its next attack, of which there were 5 or 6 more. I don't know how long it stalked those little minnows or if there were any left after the end of the day, but it was a reminder that for some to live, others must die.

As long as its not me.

Visit my site on Florida Beaches at www.beachhunter.net.

David