Friday, September 3, 2010

Sanibel to spruce up lighthouse

Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau
Sanibel is asking the federal government for $170,000 to help pay for refurbishing the 126-year-old Sanibel Island Light. The city plans to pressure blast and repaint the 98-foot tower, replace parts of the lighthouse eves and replace deteriorated steel doors, reports.

The Sanibel Island Light was the first lighthouse on Florida's Gulf coast north of Key West and the Dry Tortugas. It is located on the tip of Sanibel Island. It was built to mark the entrance to San Carlos Bay for  ships calling at Punta Rassa, across San Carlos Bay From Sanibel Island.

Punta Rassa was an important port for shipping cattle to Cuba during the Spanish American war.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Killing sharks for the jaws

Albert Kok
Bull shark in the Bahamas. The species lives throughout the world in warm waters.

Folks in Venice were incensed recently about the mutilated 6-foot bull shark carcass found on the beach under the Venice Fishing Pier. It had been killed for its jaws.

“It’s a needless slaughter. Was this really necessary for a jaw?” asked Ron Salisbury, a local bait shop employee, in a report in the Venice Gondolier Sun.

“This is akin to removing shark fins for soup,” beachgoer Ron Leverish wrote in an e-mail to the newspaper.

A state wildlife official, however, said fishing bull sharks is not banned.

Bull sharks are found throughout the world. They can be unpredictably aggressive. They are among the most dangerous to humans because they tend to live in shallow water. Great white sharks and tiger sharks are also dangerous to humans but typically people encounter them in deeper water, Jaws notwithstanding.

Bull sharks may not be the most beloved species in the world but they certainly command attention. In Africa, bulls are known as Zambezi sharks and in Lake Nicaragua they are known as Nicaragua sharks. In India they're called Ganges River shark.

Despite their reputation for irascibility, bull sharks seem to draw sympathy when they're on the losing end of an encounter with humans. Witness the incident in May last year when two young men caught 9-foot pregnant female off the Pier in St. Petersburg.

"It was either him or us," 19-year-old Joshua Lipert of St. Petersburg told an onlooker, according to a report in the St. Petersburg Times.  "Look who lost."

"We like to cut the jaws out, hang them on the wall as a souvenir," said Robert Korkoske, 16.

The lads called it a trophy kill.

The article generated 287 comments, most of them criticizing the young men. Several asked why the 16-year-old wasn't in school.

The St. Petersburg Times published an accompanying shark photo gallery of shark catches in Florida.

Florida's Mad Men

1924 brochure advertising
Florida real estate. Click to
Sarasota historian Jeff LaHurd has a delightful take on the hucksterism of the 1920s real estate frenzy in the Sarasota Herald Tribune. The headline was Florida's Mad Men.

Real estate advertising made up for the lack of color photographs with inflated prose, LaHurd writes. A 1920s brochure described Florida as “The land of romance, legend, song and story ... An emerald Kingdom by southern seas, fanned by zephyrs laden with ozone from stately pines, watered by Lethe's copious libation ... of the semitropical zone.”

Says LaHurd: "Sarasota filled with fast-talking real estate men parroting the copy of full-page advertisements. Passers-by were grabbed by the arm by high-pressure salesmen at the train station and led to offices blaring jazz music.  The prevailing message was umistakable: Be quick or lose out."

LaHurd is the author of numerous books about Florida history, including Sarasota: A History, Gulf Coast Chronicles: Remember ing Sarasota's Past, Hidden History of Sarasota and Pitching Paradise During the Roaring Twenties.

Monday, August 30, 2010

In 1859, a woman lighthouse keeper

St. Augustine Historical Society
In 1859, a Minorcan woman, Maria Andreu, became lighthouse keeper at the St Augustine Lighthouse after her husband died in a fall from a scaffolding when he was whitwashing the light tower. The St. Augustine Record tells the story of this tough early Florida resident who became the first Hispanic American woman to serve in the Coast Guard. She was lighthouse keeper from 1859 until 1862.

New Miami Circle park under way

Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research
The Miami Circle site is at the mouth of the Miami River where it empties into Biscayne Bay.  Developer Michael Baumann planned to build a luxury condominium there.

Construction has finally started on a public park at the Miami Circle archaeological site on Brickell Avenue, the Miami Herald reports.

It has been a long time coming. Archaeologists believe the site was used by the Tequestas, a native American tribe that occupied the Miami River area at the time Europeans first came to the New World.

Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research
Some archaeologists believe holes found 
in the soft limestone were for a structure.
The site was discovered in 1998 when a 1950s apartment building was demolished to make way for a high-rise condo. Of course, that means it had to have been uncovered in the 1950s when the apartment building was constructed, but it wasn't until the 1998 project that any effort was made to preserve it.

The state paid $27 million for the property to keep the site from being buried again. Now a park to give the public access to the site is under construction. Price tag: $1 million.

The Tequestas lived in an area from about mid-Broward County all the way down the coast including Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys and around the tip of Florida to Cape Sable. Archaeologists believe the tribe's main town, Tequesta, was probably at the mouth of the Miami River. You can read more about the Tequestas here.

The site is a 38-foot-wide, ground-level circle. Holes carved in the limestone base were postholes for a round structure, some archaeologists believe. However, there is controversy over the age and purpose of the site.

Indeed, well-known Florida archaeologist Jerald Milanich suggested the holes were nothing more than a sink for a modern septic tank that was part of the apartment complex. But John Ricisak, a Miami-Dade historic preservation specialist, disagreed. Ricisak says the complex plans called for septic flow into the Miami River so a sink wouldn't have been needed.

Many artifacts have been found at the site, including pieces of burnt wood that have been carbon dated to 1,800 to 2,000 years old.  Archaeologists continue to debate the Miami Circle and continue to study it. It's a debate that's likely to continue for a long time, they say.

You can read more about the Miami Circle here and here.

Bear hunting in Florida? Maybe

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
About 3,000 bears roam rural Florida from the Florida Panhandle to the Everglades. 
Florida's black bear population has rebounded so much in the last 16 years that bear sightings in residential areas have become an increasingly common occurrence.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is seeking public comment on a draft of a Florida black bear management plan designed to grapple with the issue. The FWC says it wants a healthy bear population that stays in the forests, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Part of the FWC plan includes consideration of reopening bear hunting, which was banned in 1994.

Hunter Newton Cook of Tequesta thinks that's a good idea. "The meat's good, the hide's good," Cook told the Sun Sentinel. He thinks hunting would be a sensible way to reduce some bear populations.

"Hunting is a legitimate sport, very important to maintaining the proper balance of both prey and predator in the wild," said Cook, executive director of the United Waterfowlers of Florida, a duck-hunting group.

Laurie Macdonald, Florida program director of Defenders of Wildlife, opposes the idea. "This is still a threatened species, and we will not support hunting of a species whose future is still questionable," she told the Sun Sentinel.

• See Jeff Klinkenberg's report and video on Jarhead the bear cub in the Ocala National Forest in the St. Petersburg Times.