USDA announces major water quality effort in Florida

August 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats, Water Quality

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $100 million in financial assistance to acquire permanent easements from eligible landowners in four counties and assist with wetland restoration on nearly 24,000 acres of agricultural land in the Northern Everglades Watershed.

The wetland restoration will reduce the amount of surface water leaving the land, slowing water runoff and the concentration of nutrients entering the public water management system and ultimately Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.

This is the largest amount of funding Florida has ever received for projects in the same watershed through the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) in a single year.

“Protecting and restoring the Northern Everglades is critical not just to Floridians, but to all Americans,” said Vilsack.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates the Obama Administration’s strong commitment to conserve our national treasures, enhance the quality and quantity of our water, and secure the economic opportunities afforded by a healthy Everglades ecosystem.

“This announcement would not be possible without our local conservation partners and our relationship with private landowners who play a critical role in restoring wetlands and protecting wildlife in this unique habitat.”

Vilsack also participated in a signing ceremony with A.J. Suarez of Hendry County Nursery Farms — a landowner who will benefit from the funding.

Suarez signed an agreement with USDA to start the process to acquire the easement rights to 3,782 acres.

After the signing ceremony, Vilsack toured the 550-acre Winding Waters Natural Area, a site restored with $1.5 million from WRP in 2007. The nature area, owned by Palm Beach County, is home to bird species such as little blue heron, snowy egret and great egret, white ibis and Florida sandhill crane.

It also contains large areas of pine flatwoods, Cyprus forests, freshwater marshes and wet prairies.

Under WRP, landowners sell development rights to land and place it in a conservation easement that permanently maintains that land as agriculture and open space.

Article source: http://southeastfarmpress.com/government/usda-announces-major-water-quality-effort-florida

South Florida Farmers Achieve Record Year in Water Quality Success

August 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats, Water Quality

/PRNewswire/ — Farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), south of Lake Okeechobee, achieved a record-setting 79 percent phosphorus reduction in the water leaving the farming region — more than three times less phosphorus than the state requirement.

The South Florida Water Management District, the agency tasked with Everglades restoration, announced today that the EAA’s on-farm Best Management Practices (BMPs), developed by university scientists in collaboration with farmers, are a resounding success. The District praised EAA farmers for being proactive and often implementing more BMPs than what is required.

“We’re proud of farmers’ accomplishments cleaning water, with an average phosphorus reduction of 55 percent over the last 16 years,” said Barbara Miedema, vice president of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative. “When the BMP program was first envisioned in 1991, no one imagined it would be this effective over the long term. It’s an example of the kind of success that can be achieved in partnership with scientists and farmers, who roll up their sleeves to get the job done.”

In addition to improving water quality using high-tech sustainable practices, more than $200 million has been paid by farmers for the construction of Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) to further clean water. Built on 60,000 acres of former farmland, the STAs have reduced phosphorus to the Everglades Protection Area by an additional 1,470 metric tons. That’s in addition to the 2,400 metric tons of phosphorus removed by farmers.

“Along with being stable economic drivers and job providers for our state and county, farmers have a long track record of supporting and implementing Everglades restoration,” said Gaston Cantens, vice president of Florida Crystals Corporation. “Today’s record-breaking results are another example of the proven success of our sustainable practices and demonstrate the significant role our farms continue to play in protecting and preserving the Everglades ecosystem, as the design was intended.”

Florida Agriculture Fast Facts:

  • Supports 766,000 jobs
  • Generates $100 billion annual economic impact in Florida
  • Responsible for $3 billion in tax revenue for local and state government
  • Florida Sugar Industry provides 7,000 direct jobs 23,500 indirect jobs
  • Florida Sugar Industry generates $2 billion economic impact

About Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative and Florida Crystals Corporation

Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative and Florida Crystals Corporation are two Palm Beach County-based sugar producers and owners of the world’s largest sugar company, American Sugar Refining, whose global production capacity is 7 million tons of refined sugar annually. Its products are marketed through its brand portfolio: Domino®, CH®, Redpath® and Tate Lyle®. Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, based in Belle Glade, is made up of 46 small and medium size farms in Palm Beach County. The grower members produce approximately 300,000 tons of sugar from 65,000 acres of land. The primary functions of the Cooperative are the harvesting, transporting and processing of sugarcane and the marketing of raw sugar to one of its American Sugar Refining facilities. Florida Crystals Corporation farms 190,000 acres in South Florida, where it also mills, refines and packages sugar and rice products. The company is the only producer of certified organic sugar grown and harvested in the USA, sold through the Florida Crystals® brand. Florida Crystals also produces clean, renewable energy from sugar cane fiber and recycled wood waste in its Palm Beach County biomass power plant.

SOURCE Florida Crystals

Article source: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/08/11/3831541/south-florida-farmers-achieve.html

Deep-sea coral reefs off Fla. coast a new frontier for marine scientists

January 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

In the Atlantic Ocean off Florida’s coast, at 1,500 feet and deeper, the water is 45 degrees and pitch-black. Yet life thrives there.

Scientists are just beginning to explore this vast secret of the deep sea: extensive coral reefs and the marine creatures that live there because of them.

A scientific mission last month explored more than 800 square miles of ocean, from Jacksonville to the Keys, confirming the existence of several deep-water reefs and charting new sites. One of the scientists involved in the study of the deep-water coral reefs is John Reed of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce.

Like the corals found in shallow, tropical reefs, deep-sea corals help form habitat for crabs, shrimp, fish and other marine life. Growing from the seafloor, the corals have produced massive cliffs through the centuries as new generations of coral grow atop the old.

Scientists already know that deep-water corals attract commercially important fish, offering protection for the young and places to reproduce for sea bass, snapper, porgy and rock shrimp.

Unlike the easily accessible tropical coral reefs, however, these deeper corals have many unknowns. Scientists suspect massive mounds of the corals are still undiscovered and that the habitats are vital to the overall health of marine life. Exactly what role the reefs play for the survival of fish populations and the benefit of people is unknown.

There are a few tantalizing possibilities, though. Early studies indicate that some species found only on deep-sea coral reefs have possible medical uses. A unique sponge, for example, is being used in cancer-treatment studies.

But first, researchers are still trying to answer basic questions such as: What is down there? And what lives there?

“With every expedition, every time we dive, we find more and more coral,” said Steve Ross, a University of North Carolina-Wilmington professor and the expedition’s chief scientist. “These coral reefs are extremely diverse and abundant and widely distributed.”

Research about the deep reefs off the Southeastern U.S. started in earnest only a decade ago, but the reefs are already federally protected. Officials declared more than 23,000 square miles of ocean off-limits to bottom trawling, a fishing practice that has destroyed similar reef systems off the European coast.

Only one commercial-fishing group, a small outfit that catches golden crab, continues to trap the crustacean among the deep-sea corals, and it works with federal managers to limit the impact on the reefs.

For scientists, just reaching the reefs is a big obstacle because the corals thrive in depths of 1,300 feet to 3,200 feet, well beyond diving range for humans.

This year’s expeditions depended on the Jason II, a 9,000-pound, remotely operated vehicle from the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Equipped with several cameras and robotic arms to collect samples, the Jason II was dispatched to the ocean floor for days at a time, exploring seven key reefs.

Carrying the vehicle, 56 researchers and crew for the 15-day expedition was the Ronald H. Brown, the largest ship of the fleet for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA’s coral-reef-conservation program sponsored the trip, which included researchers from seven academic and scientific organizations.

Ross and Andrew David, a research-fishery biologist with NOAA Fisheries, said the Jason II proved invaluable in helping scientists advance their research into the corals.

“Sonar had suggested there was more coral, and we were able to confirm that,” David said. “There are several ongoing studies trying to age the corals using radioactive-carbon dating, which suggests some of these reefs are 2,000 years old.”

Reed, of Harbor Branch, is continuing some studies of a unique sponge with compounds that have shown promise in fighting pancreatic cancer.

“One might ask the basic question of ‘Who cares what is living in the deep ocean a mile down?’ but there are many reasons why that we are just beginning to understand,” David said.

This year’s research will help federal managers refine the protected area and include some of the new reefs that were discovered, Ross said.

But with many hours of video and other data collected, and with rare samples taken from the reef, Ross said some of the greatest insights are yet to come.

“It may be years before the data can be analyzed and some of the big picture comes out,” Ross said. “But it’s so difficult to study these reefs that every cruise we can take, we learn a lot.”

Article source: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2011/jan/06/deep-sea-coral-reefs-fla-coast-new-frontier-marine/