|The President’s Hoot|
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
Wow, what a start to 2010! What damage a few degrees at or below 32 degrees for 8 or more days does to our Florida environment! We have had much deeper freezes, but usually for a much shorter time.
Manatees, previously wintering and calving in the Caribbean, now ignore their migrating instincts to stay near warm waters of power plants. Young manatees find difficulty surviving these temperatures. Ten died and two rescued in our county, over 77 died and 16 rescued in Florida. More are expected to die.
Ed Killer, the Press Journal sports fishing editor, wrote “The more places I looked, the more death (fish) I saw. Floating on the tide, lying on a shoreline or sunk to the bottom. So many fish. So many species. So many gone without any chance of rescue…millions and millions.” (http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2010/jan/24/big-chill-was-learning-experience/). Fortunately, I did not see the amount of fish kills on the more protected St. Sebastian as were seen on the Indian River Lagoon. Snook do not survive below 54-degree water temperature.
At the county’s January 18th Marine Advisory Committee meeting, Dr. Grant Gilmore, a world class ichthyologist scientist, reported that many fishing associations after seeing the large scale devastation of fish populations have contacted him about the importance of protecting as much fish habitat as we can in the future. We need to bring these populations back as soon as possible. This puts new emphasis on saving our seagrass meadows and mangrove nurseries for snook, tarpon, redfish, seatrout, and other species.
Thanks to the Environmental Learning Center and volunteers, over 91 sea turtles were saved and kept at the ELC (and over 1,100 at Merritt Island NWR). They were all tagged and treated for serious injuries and papilloma virus. Most appeared to be successfully released (http://www.discoverelc.org/home/pages/SeaTurtleRecoveryEffort.cfm).
At least 30% of Florida’s crops were damaged by the freeze. This means higher food prices with more folks going without eating their fruits and vegetables.
Amazing effects of the freeze occurred on Florida’s west coast. Considerable freshwater was used spraying our agricultural crops during that week in order to prevent the plants from freezing. At least 22 sinkholes opened up in Hillsborough County alone, with many around Plant City. Some sinkholes occurred in fields, but other sinkholes damaged houses. Two sinkholes 65 foot wide and 20 ft deep and a second 40 ft wide by 2 ft deep were found on U.S. 27. A sinkhole seems responsible for the closing of two lanes on I-4 in Plant City where a number of other roads were also closed. These sinkholes most likely were the result of the continual withdrawal of water from shallow wells, lowering the water table by 60 feet in some areas. Without the groundwater support inside natural cavities, the limestone above these cavities collapsed, forming sinkholes.
I noticed that the water level on the St. Sebastian River was the lowest I have seen in 9 years, exposing never before-seen sandbars.
This unusual cold spell, which caused so much environmental damage, follows 2009, the second hottest year on modern record according to NASA’s analysis of global surface temperatures. Since records have been kept, it was even the hottest ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere. January 2000 to December 2009 was the hottest decade on record. Except for a leveling off between the 1940s and 1970, the Earth’s surface temperatures have increased sharply since 1880. (http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/temp-analysis-2009.html). Most climate scientists agree that rising levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases trap incoming heat near the surface of the Earth and are the key factors causing the temperature rise.
Our environment is challenged worldwide by shrinking forests, eroding soils, falling water tables, collapsing fisheries, expanding deserts, deteriorating rangelands, dying coral reefs, melting glaciers, rising seas, more powerful storms, disappearing species, and shrinking oil supplies. The decline of earlier civilizations was more often environmentally caused than by wars or economies. Trees went first, then the soil, and finally the civilization itself. This pattern is familiar to archeologists and is well documented in a new book Plan B 2.0-Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble by Lester R. Brown. He is optimistic that we humans can find solutions to these problems, if we all work together. That is the mission of Audubon.