Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Edward Abbey and Leslie Marmon Silko

Edward Abbey’s “The First Morning” describes Abbey’s experiences with nature while watching the sunrise. Abbey has a deep connection with nature, more so than with humans at times. (“I’d sooner exchange ideas with the birds on earth than learn to carry on intergalactic communications with some obscure race of humanoids…”)

Abbey’s use of imagery and personification in describing the scene around him connected me to his writing. At times it seems as if Abbey is the only human on earth. (“I put on a coat and step outside. In the center of the world, God’s navel, Abbey’s country, the red wasteland.”) This sense of seclusion is almost peaceful. I believe that Abbey prefers the quiet life over the hustle and bustle most of us are used to.

In Leslie Marmon Silko’s “Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination,” a spiritual viewpoint is expressed. Silko portrays nature and life as fragile. Silko believes that all forms of life should be treated with care, and that all forms of life are connected since they are all derived from the Earth.

Silko said that when an animal or plant dies their body decomposes and is born to become something else.

Personally, I felt more of a connection to Abbey’s writing. He seems to have a great sense of appreciation for the land around him. The way he writes makes it seem like it is only him and nature, and it seems almost peaceful, not having to deal with the “obscure race of humanoids.”

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sunshine Week: Public Records Audit

According to the Florida Sunshine Law, the general public is permitted to view governmental documents if they request it. In many past cases, some members of the public were not allowed access to some of these documents.

As part of Sunshine Week, we as normal people--not reporters--were sent out on a mission to various locales in Pensacola to see if we were granted access to specific documents that should be available to the public. We were unable to give out identification unless absolutely necessary.

I was told to travel to Pensacola’s City Hall and gain access to e-mails between the city manager and city commission for the past week. Before rushing off to Pensacola’s City Hall, I decided to do some research. I visited Pensacola’s official Web site to see if the e-mails I was looking for were available on the website. I found a search engine on the site that enables the person to search for council files, minutes, ordinances and resolutions.

I did not find what I was looking for so I looked up the directions for City Hall and made plans to head over there. The website said I would possibly be directed to the city clerk on the seventh floor, so I was hoping I was right in my prediction.

Being the procrastinator that I am, I managed to find a ride on Monday morning—four hours before the due date. As I was sitting in the car I was wondering how long this experiment would take and what would happen if I managed to screw up. One of my biggest worries of the morning (apart from not having eaten breakfast) was being interrogated because of what I was asking for.

In all honesty, I would be a bit creeped out if somebody walked up to me and asked for other people’s e-mails. But that’s not the point.

I arrived at City Hall at 9:22 a.m. and asked the bored, sleepy woman at the front desk where I needed to go to get access to general documents. Without asking me what for, she told me I could find what I needed on the seventh floor (I knew it).

I took the elevator up to the seventh floor and took a left, where a woman was sitting behind a desk (I praise myself for not getting lost for the first time ever).

The woman asked me if there was anything I needed and I said that I would like to view the e-mails sent between the city manager and city commission. Surprisingly, she did not look at me weirdly or ask me why I needed this information. She skipped that part and asked me what time frame I was looking for in the e-mails and I said this past week if possible.

I asked her if it was possible to have the e-mails printed out now, but she said she had to look up the e-mails first—something that takes a while I guess.

She asked me for my name and I asked her if it was necessary. She said she needed contact information from me so she could send me what I needed. I gave her my first name only, as well as an e-mail to reach me at. She jotted this down on a post-it note and stuck it near her computer.

The woman told me she would notify me as soon as possible and would send it to me. She included that if the e-mails were too big, I would have to come back and retrieve them in person.

I thanked her for her time and went back down to the lobby. The bored, sleepy woman was staring into space so I made her snap out of it by yelling good-bye to her from the opposite end of the building. Whoops.

Upon leaving the building, I realized that this wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The two people I talked to at City Hall were very nice and friendly, and didn’t think to question me at all. They didn’t ask me why I was here, why I needed this information, etc.

It also didn’t take up too much of my time either. I got home before 10:00 a.m. 

So does Pensacola’s City Hall comply with the Florida Sunshine Law? Yes, it seems like it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Shelley Alexander on the loss of Sea Grass

Shelley Alexander, Manager of the Northwest Florida Aquatic Preserve Office, spoke to the University of West Florida’s Environmental Reporting class on March 17 about the decline of sea grass in Pensacola.

Alexander said that sea grass was not only just underwater d├ęcor, but an important habitat for fish and aquatic sealife.

“Sea grass grow in non-secluded, wave-free areas,” she said.

The Aquatic Preserve is responsible for managing the 40,000 acres of submerged land in the Ft. Pickens area. They also manage the Yellow River Preserve (a class 3 preserve strictly meant for fishing and recreation), the Rocky Bayou Preserve and the St. Andrews Preserve in Panama City.

Alexander said that large industrial point sources made in the 50s and 60s were a detrimental cause to sea grass declination. Chemicals such as NH4 and PCB were being released into the water.

The result of overfishing is also a large cause, which can be sited in the smaller catch rates that can be seen in trophy fish over the years.

When overfishing occurs, large predators are gone, leaving small predators. The loss of mesograzers in the area lead to an increase in algal epiphytes, a fungi that destroy sea grass.

Hypoxia, the result of the oyster removals done in the past, is also another cause to the decline in sea grass.

“We still have hypoxia in deeper portions of the bay today,” said Alexander. Hypoxia and fish kills in the late 70s lead to plans of action.

Alexander also said that the freshwater sea grass of Pensacola disappeared, having moved to the southern shore of the Gulf Breeze Peninsula, as demonstrated on a map.

“Gulf Breeze needs to keep sea grass at its restoration state,” she said.

As of 1992, the sea grass that is still present does not exceed two feet.

Alexander said she is currently at work trying to restore sea grass in nearby areas by method of transplanting units where prop scars (spaces with no sea grass) are present. Thallasia is the plant being used to restore sea grass. She said its slow growth rate of about 20 years will take a while to observe.

In the mean time, other forms of awareness are being thought of to prevent sea grass destruction.

One such form of awareness are the “No combustible engines” signs placed in sea grass territory.

“This has been proven to help protect the sea grass,” Alexander said.

$1000 dollar fines are also being issued to those who refuse to obey these signs.

For more information on the Northwest Florida Aquatic Preserve, visit the main Web site at http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/yellow/.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Seagrass discussion questions and summary of 1999 report

According to a report of the Special Grand Jury on air and waer quality (1999), Escambia's water quality was deemed, "degraded" by the grand jury.

The probable causes for Escambia's degraded water are industry discharges, sewage treatment plants and stormwater runoff.  These are the same causes for bad water quality in the area today, so it can already be seen that not much has changed in about 10 years.

The report said that the water would continue to deteriorate as growth continued to occur in the region.

The Department of Enivornmental Protection and the local government are at fault for not enforcing environmental laws and spreading awareness of the issue.

Many kinds of garbage (animal carcasses and garbage from households) have been affecting the bodies of water in this region, affecting the seagrass.

Today, guest speaker Shelley Alexander, of the Northwest Florida Aquatic Preserve Office, will be holding a discussion about the Seagreass decline in the Pensacola Bay. Below are my questions for the discussion:

1.  After 10 years, do you think there has been any improvement in Escambia's waters?
2.  Is the decline in seagrass an important environmental issue?
3.  What are you doing to preserve Pensacola Bay's seagrass?
4.  Has there been recent public awareness concerning this issue?
5.  Why has the DEP not been doing its job of enforcing environmental laws? Could the decline in seagrass have been avoided if environmental laws were enforced?
6.  What do you do at the Aquatic Preserve Office?