Welcome to our inaugural edition of Cheers and Jeers, which will be an occasional feature on the Opinion page. We’ll spotlight some of the best and worst news developments in our county, state and nation.
Diving into science
Cheers to Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota. It would be tough to catalog the entire list of noteworthy contributions to the environment, science and education that Mote produces. This is just one, a new one.
Manatee and Sarasota high school students and teachers interested in marine science can join Mote researchers in a new program, called the Ocean Technology Club. The program launches in late August with around 15 students and three to five teachers attending Mote meetings and activities twice a month.
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Those lucky enough to get accepted in the club will be able to explore oceanography, physics, chemistry, computer programming and more — even help to deploy ocean monitoring devices, including robotic gliders to study algae. How cool is that?
Applicants undergo a competitive process, membership is free and the application deadline is Aug. 7. Check out
mote.org for details.
Algae bloom blame
Jeers to Gov. Rick Scott and all the legislators who are lap dogs to Big Sugar. They should be roundly embarrassed by the national spotlight now shining on the environmental disgrace and shame plaguing Florida beaches, estuaries and other waterways. A thick and massive algae bloom — a toxic, stinking mess — is fouling both coasts and inland waters, the byproduct of the discharges of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee by the Army Corps of Engineers to prevent a dike breach. These blooms have been occurring for years, but this is the worst yet — covering an estimated 33-square-mile portion of the lake and now just about everywhere else downstream.
National and state news coverage shows images of newscasters dredging up some of the goo with shovels and sticks, not a good sign for the tourism industry. Like the BP oil spill, vacationers might associate the algae bloom with all of Florida. The state’s tourism industry represents a larger economic engine than sugar and agriculture. Real estate will suffer, too. Communities along these fouled waters are already enduring hardships.
Waterfront dining? Forget it. Kayaking? No way. Beaches? Closed. Fishing? Good luck with that. The muck is inches thick. Who wants to be subjected to rashes, nausea, diarrhea and other ailments?
Our governor blames President Obama, a convenient scapegoat when the most responsibility lies with his office and the Legislature for opposing a deal to purchase sugar land south of Okeechobee to serve as a sort of natural water treatment plant. The recent evisceration of Florida’s environmental and water regulations also can be traced to the political elite. Florida’s powerful and politically strong sugar producers supply gobs of money to officeholders, and the payoff is glaringly apparent.
Scott, who did declare a state of emergency over this latest environmental disaster, now offers up millions of dollars for what can best be described as a non-solution: a grant program to help homeowners switch from septic tanks to sewer systems and funds for communities around the Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee River to build wastewater treatment plants. Even at that, Scott would require communities to pay a 50 percent match to qualify for state funds, thus shifting a major part of the burden on local taxpayers.
Those laughable ideas will do little to stem the flow of agricultural pollutants fouling the waters of Okeechobee. And they would take years to have even a minimal impact.
When assigning blame for this pollution, our governor should be peering into a mirror.
Quote of the week
“The kids get to come out, have fun and not be judged. There is something different about everyone, but the things that make us different, somehow make us the same.”
— Deveonte Ousley, 20, a first-time counselor at the Dream Oaks Camp in East Manatee for youngsters from 7 to 17 years old who have disabilities or serious illnesses.