Sunday, August 30, 2009

Red and Black Mangroves (VIDEO)

South Florida is home the 2nd largest mangrove forest in the world. The largest is in Indonesia and typical of mangrove forests the diversity of trees is low. The forest is often dominated by Red, Black or White Mangroves and in the following short video I explain the difference between the reds and the blacks.

All mangroves grow in a salty or brackish water and each has a unique adaptation to survive there. Red Mangroves are capable of blocking salt water from entering their roots, while
Black Mangroves excrete salt trough their leaves. Below you can see the salt crystals on the leaf.
Below are leaves from the four main species found in a mangrove forest. From left to right - Black Mangrove, Red Mangrove, White Mangrove and Buttonwood.
Mangroves grow from Tampa on Florida's west coast around the pennisula and north to Jacksonville. Well....rumor has it they have one mangrove tree up there. We'll count it. But the majority of the mangroves cap the bottom of the Everglades and makes up what is known as the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge - a vast wilderness made up of well over 15,000 small mangrove tree islands. Can you blame someone for stopping their count at 10,000? I've simply outlined the area below.

View Mangrove Forest in a larger map

Videography and editing by Patricio Garcia and Jose Espaillet

Monday, August 24, 2009

Demographic Content - Hey Baby!

While readership of Jungle Pete's Earthbound blog grows like mold on cheese, the diversity of readers couldn't be greater. The blog is read on 5 continents (come on Africa!) and nearly all of the continental United States except the ones with free range pig laws. What's most exciting is to hear that even toddlers "read" the blog, or just look at the pretty pictures. This is the demographic I'm after since most 2 year olds don't notice my misspellings and grammatical mistakes.
Happy Birthday baby Carter!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Chinese Roulette

Buying a house in Florida these days is like playing Russian Roulette. You might get a break on a foreclosure. You might get a house at 50% of the asking price from 2 years ago. And you might get a house tainted with Chinese Drywall.

As MaLe and I continue to search for an escape from the beehive (apartment complex) here in Fort Myers, we have had to cast a wider net to find the "house of our dreams" which doesn't exist because no one builds tree houses with vine elevators and bamboo cascade plumbing. Instead we're searching in an apocalyptic wasteland of vandalized homes and newly built horrors laced with sulphuric toxified drywall.

Throughout 2007 and 2008 I would decry the Lee County housing boom to my Everglades tourists as we escaped the urban sprawl and headed into the majestic swamp that I love. I despise the growth and never could understand how an economy driven by construction could be sustainable in what was once a natural landscape. Tourism needs to be king.

Lee County was one of the top 5 growing areas in the US from 2004-2008. Not so coincidentally it is now in the top 5 for foreclosures. During that time of catyclstmic growth, the US ran out of drywall and began importing hundreds of millions of sheets from China. It stands to reason that the top areas for residential growth would use the lion's share of Chinese drywall. We have a lot here and we have no idea where it all is.

Early in 2009 reports began to surface of foul smells eminating from the walls of dozens of homes in the area. The problem became a national crisis when it was determined that the sulphuric stench was coming from the drywall rending thousands of homes unlivable. Clearly drwall should not do this and as to date they have no good idea as to why it's off gassing. Nor do they have an idea of how to fix the problem. Builders are hesitant to step in although some have. Home Owner's Insurance does not cover this issue and governmental agencies are seemingly sniffing the gas themseleves and have been slow to react to the wideing crisis, although there are some efforts to support home owners. I'd love for some support for home buyers too.

The fumes are toxic. It corrodes electronics. It eats away at galvanized nails. It burns lungs and causes watery eyes. Some people have no choice but to live in their homes this way.

I feel for the people that live in these homes and have to pay mortgages. I also wonder if those that lost homes to foreclosure consider themsleves lucky to be out of the situation.

For us, the problem is growing more frustrating each day. We have been looking for houses for 5 months now. There are few in our price range and those that are could have Chinese Drywall. Sellers don't always disclose the presence of the toxic drywall. Sometimes they don't know if the house contains it. The new horror is flippers buying houses - tearing the toxic drywall out and rebuilding. They can sell a house that had Chinese Drywall without the buyer knowing. And who knows what the long term effects of the toxin will be even after the drywall is replaced.

I haven't even touched on the issue of 450 million sheets of Chinese Drywall and where it will end up.....

Putting an offer on a house tomorrow. 5 months. Time to pull the trigger.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Left Foot - Beach Edition

If you did not have the full function of your arms or legs how would you manage? You might have the opportunity to regain certain abilities. You might remain in that condition for the duration of your life. I've thought about it and my mobility is something I don't take for granted. Nor do I dismiss the great achievements of those that have overcome a perceived disability.

Birds will tuck a leg up under their fluffed plumes to conserve energy while at rest. I've overheard many bird watchers point out a one-legged bird, only to be surprised when the second leg miraculously appeared. Sunday night we walked on Fort Myers Beach and watched a Willet dart back and forth with the inhalation and exhalation of sea foam. Clearly this one has both legs.
Further down the beach we spotted another Willet behaving rather strangely.
It had only one leg. The other leg could have been bitten off. Maybe it was tangled in monofilament fishing line, restricting blood flow and causing it to fall off. Maybe it was born without it. It did have a small stump which was noticeable as it hopped around.
The bird did not feel sorry for itself. It asked for no favors. It simply hopped about in the surf in a very un-Willet like gait, feeding on invertebrates and such. We watched it feed for several minutes, impressed by its determination, balance and grace. It occurs to me that you can do anything when you must. Survival is harsh and beautiful all at once.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I Give Up

Why is Jungle Pete riding the leg of a 26-foot tall aluminium nurse in this photo? Static electricity experiment? Publicity stunt for the Meat Blog? Bad Mexican food? Do you give up?

The statue "Unconditional Surrender" brings dimension to the famous World War II photo of a sailor smooching a nurse in Times Square. The classic impromptu moment captured the thrill of victory as Japan announced their surrender. Subsequent photos reveal the nurse pulling pepper spray from her skirt and spraying the anonymous sailor in the face.

None of this explains my bucking calf ride.

The statue was first unveiled in New York City in 2005 before it came to the shores of Sarasota, Florida. It remained there for the "art season" before the colossal creation was shipped off to San Diego. Residents of my birthplace of Sarasota were so elated that the steel curtain was falling on this 3-D peep show that they brought it back. Sort of.

Yes people hated it. But enough people enjoyed it that a Category 3 hurricane-proof aluminum replica was created as a modern day Colossus for Sarasota Bay. Although the size pales in comparison (the statue of Helios, aka the Colossus of Rhodes was over 4x the size), the cost to the city drew a few more detractors. At $700,000, the price tag to keep the piece of art was more than the community was willing to bear. Case closed. Haters go home happy...until an 88-year old WWII veteran came forward and offered to pay for the statue which will now apparently remain in the city of.... in the city that.... what the hell is Sarasota famous for???

Which brings me back to the original question - Why am I riding the leg? Friends Rebecca and Eric Gordon, who will remain nameless brought MaLe and me here over the weekend to enjoy the spectacle. As we approached, a passenger in a car passing by yelled "that statue sucks". I disagree and to finally answer the question - I'm riding the leg because there wasn't a sign that said I couldn't.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


OMG! I went to step out into the garage to bring laundry out and a 4 1/2 foot Komodo Dragon Lizard was on the entry ramp!

This was my Aunt ReRe's Facebook status update Sunday night. I laughed when I read it. She lives in SW Ranches in Broward County, FL. I figured it was an Iguana or a Basilisk.

I must apologize I stand kind of corrected.

While a Komodo Dragon would be CNN worthy (or America's Funniest Videos worthy), when she sent the picture I was surprised to see a Nile Monitor next to her A/C unit. Monitor's are the smaller cousins of the Komodos. We have an unfortunate population of them in Cape Coral on Florida's west coast, but I wasn't aware of any on the east coast. The USGS reports regular sightings in the Coral Springs and Tamarac area just north of SW Ranches.

In Cape Coral the monitors feed on the eggs of native Burrowing Owls and Gopher Tortoises as well as other reptiles, birds and mammals. Supposedly they help control the feral cat (and domestic cat?) population in Cape Coral. Score! (Since domestic cats are the #1 cause of songbird decline in the U.S.)

The big lizards are native to Africa

and are highly adaptable, living in a variety of habitats that have a water source nearby. Similar to Alligators, they have sharp teeth as juveniles and blunt powerful teeth as adults. They also have nostrils on the upper side of their snout which means they're good to go in the water. Florida Fish & Wildlife suggest removing them from the wild here in the state might not be feasible.

I walked my aunt and uncle's property on Monday and turned up nothing. I've yet to see a wild one.

Good news for my aunt - this one is probably a stray - maybe an escaped pet - and a small one at that - they can grow another 2 feet reaching lengths of 6 1/2 feet. I'm used to 4 inches Geckos outside my apartment. If I stepped out and saw a Nile Monitor I'd probably wet myself...and then wonder how it climbed the stairs.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

One Fish Two Fish, Hoodfish Trunkfish

Part three of my never ending series of fish that just brushed up against your leg is the Trunkfish a member of the Boxfish family.
They are essentially hydrodynamic, floating squares with wee little fins and bony armor plates that protect them from prey. The one in hand is a juvenile.

The Trunkfish is basically the turtle of the fish world - a slow moving, creature with protective plates. They come from a family of fishes that secrete a poisonous toxin called ostracitoxin that not only can kill would be predators but can also kill themselves. They don't make good aquarium buddies.
In their natural environment they would blend in well with the sea bottom. In a clear hold tank, not so much.

The white line pattern on this one gives it the appearance of sun passing through water.

(photo by Bryan Fluech of the Florida Master Naturalist Program)
Here you can see the tiny little fins that the Trunkfish uses to row its way through the water. They are not fast but with all of that protection - they don't need to be. They may be good whistlers.