Monthly Archives: February 2016

Great Calusa Blueway is great for water sports

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The Great Calusa Blueway is a trail through the coastal waters of Lee County which covers open waters through the Gulf of Mexico, small rivers, estuaries, and preserves in and around Bonita Springs, Estero, Ft. Myers Beach, Cape Coral, Sanibel and Pine Island. The Blueway was created by the Lee County Dept. of Parks and Recreation as a way to attract people to the area for the water sports and ecotourism opportunities. The Great Calusa Blueway consists of over 190 miles of trails that are marked by the county.

Water Sports and eco-tourism generate a lot of business for the area hotels, restaurants and small businesses. 1 in 5 jobs in Lee County is dependent on tourism and tourism related activities. Statewide, eco-tourism activities generate over $38 billion dollars annually.

Some of the spots that I have kayaked include the Caloosahatchee River in Ft. Myers, Pine Island Sound off Sanibel Island, Estero River and Manatee Park in N. Ft. Myers. There are a lot of tour operators that rent kayaks, canoes, stand up paddle boards and wind surfers. The non-profit association Paddle Florida recommends that you check out these tour operators before renting out their equipment and make sure they have liability insurance. They also recommend looking at Trip Advisor for customer comments and suggestions.

The pictures I have taken above include some of the areas along the Great Calusa Blueway.

 

 

 

Conservation 20/20 Land Conservation

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The popular land conservation program in Lee County known as Conservation 20/20 Land Conservation will be put back on the November ballot in order to be reconsidered by voters for it’s extension into future years. The 5 Lee County Commissioners voted 4-1 to put the program back on the ballot so that voters can decide if they want to keep taxing themselves to purchase, restore and manage environmentally sensitive land.

The Conservation 20/20 Land Conservation program has been in existence since 1996 when a referendum was put on the ballot and was subsequently approved by voters. Concerned citizens back in the early 1990’s were worried that environmentally sensitive land was being gobbled up by developers and our green spaces and aquifer recharge areas were being lost. The 20/20 program has spent $316 million dollars since the programs inception to buy 24,931 acres of land in Lee County. That is a little under 5% of the total land area in Lee County which has 520,629 acres within it’s boundaries.

Some early advocates of the land conservation program stated that other counties in Florida set aside over 10% of it’s land for preserves and open spaces. The Lee County Commissioners thought it wise to let voters and citizens reevaluate the program and decide for themselves whether they want to continue being taxed to buy land as they become available. Last year, many people were upset that county commissioners used funds from the program to cover shortfalls for the general county budget needs. The citizens of Florida passed Amendment 1 in last years elections to buy environmentally sensitive land for restoration, water storage and wildlife habitat areas. Lee County’s Conservation 20/20 program has a website at leegov.com/conservation2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Okeechobee lowers water levels to protect Levees

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The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District began opening the flood gates to Lake Okeechobee to lower the water levels in the lake which have risen to over 15 ½ feet. Anything over that level is deemed dangerous to the levee system which surrounds the lake. The water is being released down the Caloosahatchee River at a rate of 70,000 gallons per second. The heavy rains from this winter season have saturated the lands which drain into the Kissimmee River water basin where the lake gets much of it’s water supply.

Lake Okeechobee is surrounded by a levee system of dirt and concrete steel berms that extend for 143 miles around the lake. Lake Okeechobee is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the United States and is 730 sq. miles. across its surface. The levee system was started in 1915 and enlarged by the Army Corp. of Engineers to protect the people and town south of the lake from flooding when the lakes’ waters traditionally overflowed its banks and travelled south towards the Everglades. Hurricanes in the 1920’s and 1940’s caused massive flooding when the levees were breeched and flood waters from the lake resulted in loss of life for the people living near the lake. The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers were connected to the lake to create a navigable waterway between the east and west coast of Florida and to create spillways for lake water when Lake Okeechobee gets too high.

The problem with the massive water releases from the lake into the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie River Estuaries are the large amounts of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous that are in the lake water which causes algae blooms and fish die-offs when it reaches the brackish and salty waters in the river and the Gulf of Mexico. City leaders on Sanibel and Ft. Myers Beach, home owners, environmentalists and tourists are not happy when they see the river and beaches fouled  by dead fish, and brown colored water. They want the state and federal government to speed up the process of creating water basins which can be used to hold some of these water releases instead of the rivers being used as spillways and discharge points. The problem seems to be the cost of creating these water storage basins along the river and south Lake Okeechobee which can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. State legislators and the federal government have been hard pressed to spend the extra money which is needed to protect our fragile environment.

 

 

 

 

Burmese Python Snake Hunt

Burmese-Python-Snake - Picture Courtesy of SWFWMD

Burmese-Python-Snake – Picture Courtesy of SWFWMD

 

 

 

 

 

The annual Burmese Python Snake hunt in Florida began in January and has so far brought in 68 of the non-native reptiles. The largest caught so far measured 16 ft. 10 inches. and was caught by an official of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The first year that this event was held was in 2013 and had 800 people registered and brought in 68 snakes. The Burmese Python snake is very difficult to find because of it’s camouflage skin and it’s ability to hide in the thick brush and water of the Everglades.

The snakes are having a harmful effect on Florida Wildlife because they have no known predators except very large alligators and they kill and consume all kinds of wildlife including deer, raccoons, rabbits, birds, rats and other animals. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates that there are tens of thousands of the snakes in South Florida and were brought here originally as pets. Officials think they were let loose in the Florida Everglades by the hurricane that hit Florida in 1992 (Andrew) and by pet owners who could no longer care for their snakes as they got too large. The Burmese Snakes are native to Southeast Asia in countries such as India, lower China and the Malay Peninsula. They thrive in South Florida because of our warm and humid climate. To learn more about this invasive species, visit Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website.