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Items filtered by date: April 2016

The National Park Service has decided to allow a Texas company to explore for oil and gas in the Big Cypress National Preserve, one of SW Florida’s most treasured outdoor areas...
Late last week, officials from the Park Service said that after a 20-month environmental review they concluded there would be no significant impact to allowing Burnett Oil Company to conduct a 110 square mile survey in the locally popular national preserve.
To complete the survey, Burnett says it will use sound waves from “sonic vibrators” mounted on trucks to create a three-dimensional map of potential oil and gas reserves.
The Park Service received a lot of feedback opposing the plan from those who feel it opens up the sensitive biosphere to ultimate drilling. In response, the Service said permission to conduct a survey is not tantamount to exploiting resources that might be found. They further said that even If Burnett Oil does “find energy resources it desires to pursue”, the company would then be required to submit a new plan of operations, requiring another environmental review.
Critics maintain that it is insincere to allow exploration if there is never any intent to drill in the Preserve and that because the land is home to flora and fauna unique to South Florida, it should never be exploited for resources. There are also those who point out that the Preserve is a natural watershed acting as a groundwater purifier and filter for southwest Florida’s aquifers and considering the current level of water woes facing SW Florida maintaining the land for recreational and public water sourcing would be the best management practice.
The Preserve has come under fire before for allowing recreational usages that damage the lands’ capacity to regenerate. In 1999, the Park Service noted that increased off road vehicle usage (ORV) was having a negative impact on the preserve. That prompted the National Park Service in 2001 to “proactively manage ORV recreation and to reduce 400 miles (640 km) of primary trails within the preserve, despite persistent calls for more from hunters and ORV enthusiasts.

OIL Map of Big Cypress Preserve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“ORV use in Big Cypress National Preserve (BICY) has impacted wildlife populations and habitats through modifications to water flow patterns (direction and velocity) and water quality, soil displacement and compaction, direct vegetation damage, disturbance to foraging individuals, and, ultimately, overall suitability of habitats for wildlife," concluded officials with the Park Service based on a 2001 study conducted by the United States Geological Survey,
Based on these conclusions, environmental groups opposed the announcement by park officials in 2006 that it would conduct a new study to determine whether the recreational benefit of increasing the number of trails would be worth the risk of additional damage to the ecosystem.

OIL An Egret in the Big Cypress National Preserve 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to Wikipedia and the Park Service website, “the preserve is considered the most biologically diverse region of the terrestrial Everglade. While dominated by a wet cypress forest, it is host to an array of flora and fauna, including mangroves, orchids, alligators, venomous snakes like the cottonmouth and eastern diamondback rattlesnake, a variety of birds, and the critically endangered Florida panther, along with the more common Florida black bear. The preserve is also home to nine federally listed endangered species including the West Indian manatee, the eastern indigo snake and the Florida Sandhill Crane
The preserve located in South Florida and is a popular destination for both Lee and Collier county tourists and locals. It is ideally situated for a leisurely day trip from either Fort Myers or Naples.

Published in Environment

If you've been to one of our local parades either on Fort Myers Beach, Naples or in downtown Fort Myers for the Edison Festival of Lights, then you have seen the Araba Motor Escort drill team doing their signature figure 8's, criss-crosses, circles, and other exciting maneuvers during the parade. This same motorcycle drill team makes its' home in Fort Myers at Araba Shrine Center on Hanson Street and is a perennial favorite with parade goers throughout Lee County.\

These daring riders from the City of Palms competed this past weekend in the Statewide Shrine contest taking first place in drill competition in addition to taking home the big trophy for Best Overall. The "travelling trophy" will reside with the Hanson Street Shriners for a year when it will again be up for grabs in next year's much anticipated competition when the local team will once again ride to win.

shrine1PHOTO: Tracy Davis

(L to R) Current Araba Potentate Illustrious Sir Ken Herald, Unit Colonel John Foor, Dave More, Fred Peterson, Bobby Mimmo, Past Potentate Mel Stiles, Gary Maning, Dodd Skipper, Jerry Abbott, Al Little, Jim Dennis, Drill Team Captain Ed Lawlar (trying to hide) & Nadine (Mom) Styles...Dan Lumley also on the Drill Team (not in photo)

 

Shriners have long been known for their charitable work, particularly with their well-respected children's hospitals and burn units. there are over 22 hospitals in North America alone and it is estimated that the cost to operate these medical facilities is in excess of a billion dollars annually.

Congratulations Araba Motor Escort Patrol for your victory & for being part of such a wonderful organization.

Published in General/Features

Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey circus open Conservation Center to preserve and study pachyderms for a possible human cancer cure.

The last 11 touring elephants from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus arrived in central Florida on Friday where they were treated along with a group of journalists to a grand buffet
Stephen Payne, a circus spokesman, told members of the gathered press that the last 11 touring elephants have arrived at the Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida after performing their last shows in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. They join 29 others already retired on the 200-acre center after the circus decided last year it would stop using elephant acts after many areas of the U.S. passed ordinances outlawing the use of bull hooks or forbidding wild animal acts altogether.

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The last 11 touring elephants from Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus arrived in central Florida on Friday where they were treated along with a group of journalists to a grand buffet.


Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is owned by Feld Entertainment. High level management, meeting with news media said the expensive of changing acts and procedures to meet the legal requirements of the 115 cities where the circus appears each year is monetarily “prohibitive” and makes organizing the tours of the three traveling circus’s it owns “too difficult.”
Until the retirement of the pachyderms, Feld maintained a herd of 40 Asian elephants, the largest in North America. The company says while it is retiring the animals from the ring, they will still be used in a breeding program and for cancer research.
Last Friday, as media gathered to watch and learn, 23 members of the herd dined on a buffet brunch of carrots, apples, celery, bread and copious quantities of hay.
All of the elephants but one are females. Smokey, the lone male, was neutered long ago making him amenable to living peaceably with the herd.
"Smokey does not have the aggressive tendencies," said Payne. He noted that bull elephants that have not been fixed are solitary, territorial and generally highly aggressive.
The old adage about elephants living long lives appears to be true since the oldest elephant in the herd – Mysore – is 70 and still going strong

 

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Mysore, a 70 year old Asian female elephant recently retired from performing in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus will now live out her days in the Sunshine State near Orlando, Florida.

 

Elephants have long symbolized the circus and their presence under the big top goes back to 1882 when P.T. Barnum brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America. Taking the name and making a slight variation, Walt Disney created Dumbo, the most famous elephant in America. Known for being able to fly with gigantic ears it is still common to hear someone with big ears called “Dumbo.” Indeed, elephants have pervaded our popular culture and for many, their removal from the circus will be sorely missed.
According to circus “menagerie men:” or animal handlers, tigers, dogs,goats, and a Mongolian troupe of camel stunt riders will still be enjoyed by attendees who love to see animals in the acts.
Though animal rights activists will continue to object to the use of these animals by the circus, they see the retirement of the elephants as a big coup in the fight for animal rights. Citing the social nature and high intelligence of elephants, groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) point to the fact that “elephants are social in the wild and enjoy living in family-like environments.”
“Traveling around the country in crowded rail cars isolated from other members of the herd created an inhumane environment and caused depression in the animals,” PETA said.
The Associated Press explored a novel idea that some in the animal rights community mused might have been the impetus for the Feld family's decision to retire elephants from the show.
It was the backlash against the use of intelligent mammals in theater brought on by the documentary, “Blackfish,” a film that explored why the killer whale Tilikum killed Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.
The documentary was built around the premise that keeping killer whales in captivity makes them more aggressive to humans and to each other. It has been widely discussed and since the film was aired, noted entertainers have pulled out of performances at SeaWorld around the world and Southwest Airlines halted its co-marketing partnership with the parks.
The move to retirement has taken Feld less time than it thought when it announced in 2015 that it would retire the full herd to the Florida center by 2018. According to company officials, completion of the Center with its numerous building and offices, including brand new housing for the elephants, was completed two years ahead of schedule. Feld also told reporters that it costs roughly $65,000 a year for each elephant in the herd.

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The Center for Elephant Conservation is located in rural Polk City, between Orlando and Tampa. It is believed that Feld will eventually make some parts of the Center open to the public but details of those plans are being kept under wraps at the moment.
“Right now we just want to get the Center working well and see to it that the animals adjust to their new surroundings,’ said a company spokesman.
The battle to get the gentle giants out of the circus has been arduous and animal rights activists have long alleged that circuses have mistreated elephants.
One of the chief complaints by animal rights activists was the use of a curved stick called a bull hook which was used to get the massive pachyderms to move in the desired direction. Bull hooks became a familiar name after the movie “Water for Elephants” was released and a search of YouTube shows a number of clips allegedly showing trainers “abusing” the animals with the sticks to get their cooperation.
Trainers at the Conservation Center - one with a tattooed Dumbo on his arm - said that when used correctly the bull hook does not harm to elephants but does trainers safe from the massive and sometimes dangerous creatures.
"Do we use bull hooks? Yes, yes we do. It's the most humane and appropriate tool for working with large elephants. And that's just not our position. It's the position of the Department of Agriculture, our primary regulatory authority in the US. It's also the position of the American Veterinary Medical Association," Feld's Payne said. "The people who are trying to demonize this tool are doing it for political reasons and really don't know what it's like to take care of an elephant firsthand."

But despite a number of high profile legal actions, in the end none of them were successful in forcing Feld to retire the elephants. In fact, in 2014, Feld Entertainment won a $25.2 million settlement against a number of animal-rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States. That case was fought in the courts for 14-years over allegations that Ringling circus employees mistreated the elephants in their care. Nevertheless, there are no public records that show Ringling Brothers ever lost a single suit.
But in the end, it wasn’t the lawsuits, it was the number and variety of local regulations that made Feld decide to create the Center and retire these icons of the Big Top.
"You can't leave the elephants at the border," Payne told us. "If City A had different regulations than City B that posed a problem. So rather than continue to fight all these regulations, we decided to make an even greater investment here at the Ringling Brothers Centre for Elephant Conservation to really put our money, our time, all our efforts to make sure this species is going to be around for future generations."
The endangered elephants, closest living relatives to the extinct mastodon, will now be both bred and studied by researchers and scientists.
Noting that there are just 35,000 elephants worldwide with 28,000 of them in North America and 40 of those now at now 40 at the Conservation Center, the company says it will breed them to preserve the species. Because they are endangered, they can be neither imported nor exported. Some will probably be donated or loaned to zoos, but “they will not be sold,” Payne says.
Ringling scientist Wendy Kiso and others will continue to breed the elephants, preserving a species that has fewer truly wild habitats in Asia. Sometimes breeding is done naturally as in a female is introduced to a male, but most of the breeding's done by artificial insemination.

Even in retirement, controversies remain. In a statement released by Ringling’s Janice Aria, PETA still objects to the chaining of elephants overnight and during meals but Aria says it keeps them from fighting and stealing each other’s food. Reporters were allowed to observe the elephants for most of an entire day and at no point did anyone observe and mistreatment. In fact, one reporter observed that the elephants seemed “content” and mostly just bent on cajoling a treat as they “eagerly” lined up at their enclosures at the end of the day for a scrub-down and meal.
The silver lining for both man and beast may lie in the use of elephants in another capacity – medical research. Scientists plan to begin conducting blood draws from the herd for use in medical testing.
"We're hoping that 55 million years of elephant evolution can teach us something about cancer," Payne said.
Pediatric cancer doctor Dr. Joshua Schiffman, of Utah's Huntsman Cancer Institute, will lead a team to study their blood for clues into how humans can improve their cancer resistance.
While elephants have approximately a 100 times the number of cells humans have meaning they should be 100 times more likely to develop cancer, they rarely do. Schiffman’s theorizes this is because humans have only two cancer-fighting P-53 genes, while elephants have 40.
"We know that the elephants themselves rarely develop cancer and we believe this is due to the extra copies of this P-53 gene that they have in all of the cells in their body," Schiffman elaborated.
"By studying their blood closely and understanding how this P-53 gene works, what we're trying to understand is: Can we one day synthesise, make our own elephant P-53 in the laboratory, load it up in some type of novel delivery system to use as a drug to treat cancer or maybe - just maybe one day in the future – prevent cancer, the way that these elephants almost never develop cancer themselves."
Though PETA and other groups also object to the medical testing Schiffman says he merely tests the blood Ringling trainers routinely take to monitor the elephants for disease (They are particularly susceptible to a raging form of the Herpes virus).
“If we can find a cure for cancer we have an obligation to do so and I can tell you with certainty the elephants are not harmed in any way,“ the Doctor said with certainty.
Many researchers feel confident that Schiffman’s research is valuable and that by studying elephant metabolism and cell structure they may find a way to protect people from one of mankind’s worst diseases.
Whether a cure for cancer is ever found or the elephants just get a long-deserved retirement, in the end, it was a moving experience for the visiting journalists who shared their brunch with 13 of the biggest mammals on earth. After the shared meal the gentle giants were moved to their new digs, where they could finally unpack their “trunks” and gather their vaunted memories to reflect on how they entertained the people of America for over a 134 years.

Published in General/Features

Solar power set another record-low price as renewable energy developers working in the United Arab Emirates shrugged off financial turmoil in the industry to promise projects costs that undercut even coal-fired generators.

Developers bid as little as 2.99 cents a kilowatt-hour to develop 800 megawatts of solar-power projects for the Dubai Electricity & Water Authority, the utility for the Persian Gulf emirate, announced on Sunday. That’s 15 percent lower than the previous record set in Mexico last month, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The lowest priced solar power has plunged almost 50 percent in the past year. Saudi Arabia’s Acwa Power International set a record in January 2015 by offering to build a portion of the same Dubai solar park for power priced at 5.85 cents per kilowatt-hour. Records were subsequently set in Peru and Mexico before Dubai reclaimed its mantel as purveyor of the world’s cheapest solar power.

“This bid tells us that some bidders are willing to risk a lot for the prestige of being the cheapest solar developer,” said Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at BNEF. “Nobody knows how it’s meant to work.”

Plunging costs along with the bankruptcy for the biggest developer, SunEdison Inc., has spurred questions about whether the cheapest projects will ever be profitable. The collapse of the world’s largest renewable energy company made some banks wary of financing projects. The winners of recent auctions in Mexico, Peru and Chile were diversified power companies like Enel SpA, which perhaps prioritized market share over profit maximization.

Dubai’s utility didn’t identify the developers behind the record-low bid it received. MEED reported that it’s a group including Masdar Abu Dhabi Future Energy Co., Spain’s Fotowatio Renewable Ventures BV and Saudi Arabia’s Abdul Latif Jameel. Among those companies, only Masdar could be reached for comment, and it didn’t confirm that it was the low bidder.

“A consortium led by Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company, was one of a number of bidders to have submitted a proposal for the third phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park,” a spokesperson for the consortium said in an e-mailed statement. “This is an active bid, with the technical and commercial proposals being evaluated by Dubai Electricity and Water Authority.”

Tender Process

The shift to tenders from feed-in tariffs for clean energy globally has helped governments rein in support for renewables while prodding companies to deliver lower costs. That’s shifted pressure away from government budgets and toward developers, which must strike a balance between a winning new contracts and maintaining profits.

Enel Green Power’s Chief Executive Officer Francesco Venturini, whose company bid 3.5 cents a kilowatt hour in Mexico last month, said in an interview that his projects will still make decent money even with record-low prices for electricity.

Enel’s Strategy

“There is no value in winning without margin attached,” Venturini said in an interview in Brussels last month. “I have two investment committees and two boards of directors I need to present my projects to and they want to see the money attached to it. So trust me, there is margin.”

Dubai’s state utility said it received five bids for the 800-megawatt project, which will be the third phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum solar park. It has not awarded the building permits yet. The facility is planned to have a capacity of 5 gigawatts by 2030.

“This price is borderline in terms of viability, but it’s an outlier project,” said Josefin Berg, solar analyst at IHS Inc., an industry researcher. “The size of the installation makes it easier to get good conditions on their procurement. It shouldn’t be used as a benchmark.”

The 2.99 cents bid for the solar project is a third lower than the electricity that will be generated by a coal plant commissioned by Dubai in October. That facility, set to begin generating in 2020, is expected to feed power onto the grid at 4.501 cents per kilowatt-hour under a 25-year power purchase agreement.

Published in Environment

Ed. Forward: As property prices and costs go up in the U.S. and increasing number of retiring Americans are looking to live in lower cost countries where they feel welcomed. Ecuador is considered one of the top five overseas retirement destinations for the past decade. It also helps that Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its currency and due to its proximity to the equator, has near perfect weather. Since it is estimated that over 89% of Americans will see a drop in their lifestyle due to insufficient retirement savings, The Sun Bay presents this as part of our continuing coverage of alternative ways to enjoy those "golden years in style, comfort and security. Welcome to Gringolandia!

Susan Lamy and her husband, Jean Pierre, owned a successful interior-design business in Westport, Conn., but they still worried about how they would make ends meet in retirement. “Just paying for the basic necessities was killing us, and we could see that there was no way that we would ever be able to stop working,” says Lamy.
The search for an affordable retirement spot led the couple to Cuenca, a Unesco World Heritage site in Ecuador’s southern Andes. They settled there in 2013 and now live in a spacious apartment with a terrace overlooking the Yanuncay River. Lamy says she and her husband enjoy a high standard of living in Cuenca for around $2,500 a month, paid for by their Social Security checks: “This seemed to be the best possibility for having a really terrific life on a fixed income.”

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The Don Colon restaurant in Cuenca's downtown is a favorite expat watering hole.

Photographer: Alejandro Reinoso for Bloomberg Businessweek

 

The combination of a subtropical climate, well-preserved colonial architecture, and low cost of living has made Cuenca a magnet for North American and European retirees—an estimated 5,000 now call the city of 500,000 home. Senior citizens also benefit from subsidized health care and medicine, discounted transportation, and a busy calendar of free cultural events sponsored by the city.
While some retirees have opened cafes and small stores, Ana Paulina Crespo, director of external relations for the city’s municipal government, says the new arrivals haven’t made significant contributions to the local economy. One sore point is that many rely on Ecuador’s health-care system, where the tab for heart bypass surgery is about $10,000, or less than one-tenth the cost in the U.S. “The wave of migrants has been growing, and it’s begun to generate friction,” she says. “Our biggest challenge right now is to find ways to benefit from all the foreigners.” The municipality is developing policies to better integrate the immigrants, including pairing retirees who have expertise or specializations with local universities and creating opportunities for them to volunteer in the community.
When the swell of international pensioners began about six years ago, local real estate developers initially thought the new arrivals would be wealthier Americans interested in buying properties, says real estate agent Maribel Crespo, a distant relation to the mayor’s aide. Instead, most turned out to be middle-class retirees from the U.S. who live on about $1,500 to $2,000 a month and choose to rent instead of buy homes. A two-bedroom condo goes for about $700 a month, Crespo says.
Still, building costs have almost doubled in the last six years as developers have rushed to accommodate the new arrivals. Demand for properties overlooking one of Cuenca’s four rivers has soared, and a neighborhood of apartment towers, known as Gringolandia, has sprung up on the city’s outskirts. “I’m bothered because the price of everything has gone up,” says taxi driver Fabiola Coro, and that includes her rent along with the price of a Panama hat, which, contrary to its name, is an Ecuadorean handicraft. Coro says malls are springing up to cater to the newcomers, but locals can’t afford to shop there.

Sandra and Wayne Materi, a Canadian couple who’ve been living in Cuenca since 2011, understand the concerns, but think Ecuador’s recent oil-fueled economic boom had a bigger role in pushing up prices than the city’s growing colony of snowbirds. Also, an estimated 25,000 Cuencans who left the country during a financial crisis in the late 1990s have taken advantage of government programs enticing back emigrants, further increasing pressure on a tight real estate market.
Language and cultural barriers may also be behind some of the complaints, but those haven’t slowed down the Materis, Sandra says. The couple joined informal classes pairing locals who want to learn English with retirees who want to learn Spanish. And they practice tai chi with locals in the mornings at a nearby park. In fact, the number of social invitations the Materis receive can be overwhelming. “There’s both a curiosity and fear on both sides, but in terms of how we’ve been received by Ecuadoreans, they’ve been very warm,” she says. “People go out of their way to help.”
The bottom line: Cuenca is home to some 5,000 North American and European retirees, most of whom have arrived in the past six years.

Published in Business

Innovator: Sona Pohlova and Tomas Zacek
Age: 31 and 36
Title: Architects and co-founders of Ecocapsule, a startup in Bratislava, Slovakia, with four full-time employees

Form and function
Made of insulated steel and aluminum with a fiberglass shell, the Ecocapsule is a 1.1-ton, 70-square-foot mobile home powered by wind and solar energy for off-the-grid living.

Pod 1

Origin
In 2009 the co-founders entered a competition to design a small home. They didn’t win but drew enough interest from potential buyers that they kept working on it.

Cost
The capsule, available later this year from the company’s website, costs about $90,000, plus shipping.

Pod 2

Layout
Enter through a hatch in the 15-by-7-by-8-foot pod to find a small stove, toilet, and shower on one side and a foldout bed and table on the other. The capsule’s wooden interior can be customized for various uses.

Power
The capsule can generate as much as 1.35 kilowatts via a wind turbine and solar panels on the roof. It stores up to 10kw in a rechargeable battery with a seven-year life span.

Market
Ecocapsule is processing its first 50 preorder deposits and has received 17,000 e-mails expressing interest, including from U.S. Army contractors, Zacek says.

Next Steps
Ecocapsule is seeking $1 million in capital so it can begin larger-scale production. Peter Wheelwright and Alison Mears, architecture professors at New York’s New School, say they worry its materials may be environmentally unfriendly and possibly unsafe. Aluminum production is energy-intensive, and some fiberglass products can contain formaldehyde, a toxic chemical. Zacek says the materials are safe. He and Pohlova are researching alternative materials, such as hemp, to make the capsule greener.

Published in Lifestyle

Freshwater polluted by harmful algal blooms costs the United States at least $64 million every year, by government estimates.
Now four federal agencies are collaborating on a $3.6 million research project to transform satellite data into information in formats that managers can use to protect human health and the environment from harmful algal blooms.

Offshore of New Jersey and New York, a vast bloom of phytoplankton gave the Atlantic Ocean a chalky green color, as seen by the Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite, August 3, 2015 (Image courtesy NASA)
The four agencies – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey – are developing a method that will detect and measure the harmful algal blooms in freshwater systems by satellite.
This satellite data will go to support the environmental management and public use of U.S. lakes and reservoirs.
Ocean color satellite data are currently available to scientists, but are not routinely processed and produced in formats that help state and local environmental and water quality managers.
Through this project, satellite data on harmful algal blooms developed by the four partner agencies will be converted to a format that stakeholders can use through mobile devices and web portals.
“The vantage point of space not only contributes to a better understanding of our home planet, it helps improve lives around the world,” said NASA Administrator Maj. Gen. Charles Frank Bolden, Jr. “We’re excited to be putting NASA’s expertise in space and scientific exploration to work protecting public health and safety.”
Cyanobacteria are a genetically diverse group of photosynthetic microorganisms – formerly known as blue-green algae – that occupy a broad range of habitats on land and water all over the world.
If the water is full of excessive nutrients from fertilizers and manure, cyanobacteria rapidly multiply to create a cyanobacterial harmful algal bloom, or cyanoHAB.

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Offshore of New Jersey and New York, a vast bloom of phytoplankton gave the Atlantic Ocean a chalky green color, as seen by the Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite, August 3, 2015 (Image courtesy of NASA)

When conditions are right, the growth of microscopic phytoplankton can blossom to scales that are visible from space for weeks.
Some cyanobacteria produce toxins that can kill wildlife and domestic animals and cause illness or death in humans
People and animals get sick through exposure to contaminated freshwater or by the consumption of contaminated drinking water, fish or shellfish.
In August 2014, officials in the city of Toledo, Ohio, banned the use of their regular source of drinking water supplied to more than 400,000 residents after it was contaminated by an algal bloom in Lake Erie.

The dark blues in the oceans represent algae-free zones, the greens are highly productive regions. The red zones are areas where phytoplankton and algae have bloomed to harmful levels. (Image by SeaWIFS / NASA)
But cyanoHABs are not just an American problem; they’re a worldwide expensive and unpredictable public health threat that can affect millions of people.
“Harmful algal blooms have emerged as a significant public health and economic issue that requires extensive scientific investigation,” said USGS Director Suzette Kimball. “USGS uses converging lines of evidence from ground to space to assess changes in water quantity and quality, ecosystems, natural hazards, and environmental health issues important to the nation.”
CyanoHABs are a product of a complex set of natural and human influences that make it challenging to provide early warning for public health protection and to minimize socioeconomic impact.
Rapid detection of potentially harmful blooms is essential to protect humans and animals from exposure. Development of a scientifically robust, systematic identification of CyanoHAB events is key to achieving an early-warning capability and to focus field resources more efficiently.
NOAA and NASA pioneered the use of satellite data to monitor and forecast harmful algal blooms. Satellites allow for more frequent observations over broader areas than water sampling.
Satellite data support NOAA’s existing forecasting systems in the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes.
Through this project, satellite data on harmful algal blooms developed by the partner agencies will be enhanced by coupling satellite data with field measurements of cyanotoxins and pigments associated with cyanobacteria that can be translated to cyanobacteria abundance.
The combination of field measurements and remotely sensed data allows for the development of nationally consistent, physically based models that can be converted to a format that stakeholders can use through mobile devices and web portals.
Satellite remote sensing tools may enable policy makers and environmental managers to develop early-warning indicators of cyanobacteria blooms at the local scale while maintaining continuous national coverage.
“Algal blooms pose an expensive, unpredictable public health threat that can affect millions of people,” said Sarah Ryker, USGS deputy associate director for climate and land use change. “By using satellite-based science instruments to assess conditions in water and on adjacent land, we hope to improve detection of these blooms and to better understand the conditions under which they occur.”
The Landsat satellite series, a joint effort of USGS and NASA, has provided a continuous dataset of land use and land cover conditions since 1972. The latest satellite, Landsat 8, has demonstrated promising new capabilities for water quality assessment.

Published in Environment

“Abstinence promotion” policies the United States has funded for more than a decade as part of an effort to slow the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are largely ineffective, a new evaluation of the program concludes.

The U.S. has spent more than $1.4 billion since 2004 telling young people in Africa to abstain from sex before marriage and then commit to a single partner. That funding didn’t influence the number of sex partners people had, the age at which they started having sex, or teen pregnancy rates, according to a study published on Monday in the journal Health Affairs by researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine.

The abstinence policies are a controversial part of former President George W. Bush’s ambitious program to fight HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, around the globe, and they have continued under President Obama. The broader effort, known as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or Pepfar, is widely considered a global health success. It has delivered life-saving HIV medicines to millions of people, largely in poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa, at a cost of more than $50 billion since 2004. The program "reset the world's expectations for what can be accomplished with ambitious goals, ample funding, and humanitarian commitment to a public health crisis,” according to a 2013 evaluation by the Institute of Medicine.

From the start, though, Pepfar was subject to certain ideological restrictions. The money couldn’t go to needle exchanges or to organizations that didn’t have policies explicitly opposing prostitution. Of Pepfar's prevention funding, the law required at least a third to go to programs focused on abstinence and faithfulness. That restriction was loosened in 2008, but the U.S. has continued to devote tens of millions of dollars a year to such programs.

The policy clashed with the reality of the HIV epidemic on the ground in Africa. For example, the 2013 Institute of Medicine report noted the “inherent mismatch between an abstinence/be faithful approach and programs for individuals engaged in sex work,” who are an important target for HIV prevention efforts. The Health Affairs report adds that abstinence promotion may be funded “at the opportunity cost of other, potentially more effective, prevention services,” such as promoting condoms or treatment to prevent HIV-positive mothers from passing the virus on to newborns.

The study has some limits. It didn’t compare individual people who had received abstinence education with those who had not, and researchers may not have been able to control for all the differences between the countries they compared.

A spokeswoman for Pepfar didn’t respond to questions about current funding for abstinence programs or whether Pepfar plans to continue them. In an e-mailed statement, Pepfar said it has “continually evolved its approach,” based on the latest evidence.

Additional evaluations of abstinence policies have found little evidence that they work. An analysis by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012 that looked at 23 studies on abstinence education, mostly in the U.S., found "inconsistent findings" and couldn’t draw any conclusions as to how effective they were.

The Health Affairs study, funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Center on the Demography and Economics of Health and Aging at Stanford, provides further evidence along those lines. Stanford researchers used survey data from more than 477,000 men and women. At the country level, they found no meaningful effect from the promotion of abstinence.

Pepfar has had many successes. It appears that an expensive experiment in promoting abstinence isn’t one of them.

Published in Politics

MIAMI — The second attempt by an endurance runner hoping to reach Bermuda from Miami ended early Sunday when he asked to be removed from his "hydro pod." The runner ignored a previously issued Coast Guard Captain of the Port (COTP) Order to not depart on his seagoing journey. The Order outlined specific safety conditions which Mr. Baluchi failed to meet.
At approximately 2 a.m. Sunday, a Coast Guard Station Fort Lauderdale boatcrew discovered Mr. Reza Baluchi aboard his makeshift hydro pod approximately 7 miles off the coast of Jupiter en route to Bermuda. Coast Guard crews remained on-scene with Mr. Baluchi throughout the night to ensure his safety and to prevent other vessels from colliding with the hydro pod. The Coast Guard Cutter Gannet arrived on scene, and Mr. Baluchi voluntarily ended his own voyage.

Mr. Baluchi embarked the Coast Guard Cutter Gannet with his hydro pod in tow.
"This was an inherently unsafe voyage attempt that put the lives of Mr. Baluchi and other mariners in danger," said Capt. Austin Gould, Coast Guard Sector Miami Commander. "This proposed adventure unnecessarily risked the lives of Mr. Baluchi, the maritime public, and our Coast Guard men and women. Additionally, the Coast Guard is obligated to ensure taxpayer money and resources are used efficiently and appropriately."

The Coast Guard issued a formal letter to the adventure runner April 15th, ordering Mr. Baluchi to not embark on his sea-going adventure without ensuring appropriate safety measures were in place.

One purpose of COTP orders issued pursuant to 33 U.S.C. 1221 et seq, The Ports and Waterways Safety Act, is to ensure the safety of vessels. A violation of a COTP order may result in imprisonment as well as civil and criminal penalties.

During his previous attempt to reach Bermuda in October 2014, Baluchi cost U.S. taxpayers more than $140,000 in Coast Guard rescue expenses.

Published in Outdoor

Following his decisive win in Indiana, Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican nominee for the 2016 Presidential election. His victory also retired Sen. Ted Cruz from the race. “The Donald” won the Hoosier state by roughly 52% capturing 51 of 57 delegates leaving him with slightly over 200 to win an uncontested nomination at the convention in August and there are three times that many remaining in upcoming primaries including delegate rich California where Trump is ahead by double digits. He’s also favored in most of the remaining states.

Since last August when most, if not all, other media sources were calling Trump a “flash in the pan” and most certainly not capable of winning his party’s nomination, The Sun Bay Paper has consistently written that Trump would prevail and win. His populism resonates with American voters who are fed up with established politicians and side with Trump on restricting illegal immigration, securing our borders and establishing fair trade practices to restore U.S. security and prosperity.

While Cruz honorably ended his bid for the nomination, once it became impossible to numerically stop Trump, Ohio Gov. John Kasich with far less delegates and wins than the Texas Sen., stubbornly refuses to step down and allow the Party to consolidate behind Trump. He is increasingly viewed as a spoiler.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic ticket, the battle continues between establishment candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The Vermont Sen. won in Indiana and continues to win more earned delegates that Clinton. But under Democratic Party rules, Clinton maintains a hefty lead due to super delegates positioned by the Party elite to insure Clinton the nomination.

Sanders and Trump have said the system is “rigged and unfair and both have pledged reforms if elected

“Trump is going to carry the nation to victory as our next President,” says The Sun Bay publisher Carl Conley.

“Not he’s not,” said Conley’s long-term friend former Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah.

The two have a standing bet for dinner that will be paid after the general election in November of this year.

LATER BREAKING NEWS: Kasich has also retired from the race leaving only Trump.

Published in Politics
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