Sunday, November 10, 2019

CERF Report 2019

I just got back from five days at the 2019 Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF) conference in Mobile, Alabama.
View of Mobile Bay from the hotel room

Fancy boat outside the Mobile convention center

Statistics workshop with collaborators after the meeting

I’ve gone to science conferences like this once or twice per year since the early 2000s when I was a graduate student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science Conferences are a place to present your research with a poster or a talk, and to absorb and exchange ideas from others’ research. My usual conference is the Benthic Ecology Meeting (BEM, which is a get-together of marine biologists who specialize in sea-bottom life like seagrasses, corals, and shellfish. This was actually the first time I’ve been to a CERF meeting.
CERF overlaps a lot with BEM in terms of topics and attendees, with a couple of distinctions:
  1. CERF includes more of what’s happening on land; in the “watersheds” that funnel freshwater and pollution into the ocean, and along the coastlines where marine and terrestrial ecosystems interact.
  2. CERF has more focus on “applied research” as opposed to “basic research.” I.e., there is more focus on trying to understand and solve particular environmental problems.
My early-career research addressed a lot of basic issues like how grazers and predators, and biodiversity, per se, affect ecosystem processes. I’m still interested in those general topics, but my research since joining the faculty at Florida Gulf Coast University has been more “applied,” addressing particular environmental problems affecting seagrass beds and water quality in Southwest Florida. Going to this CERF conference, and schmoozing with other practitioners of both basic and applied research, was very helpful in inspiring me and giving me useful research ideas. I’ll briefly review some memorable things I picked up from the conference.
  1. Genetic diversity within a single species can be very important, especially in seagrasses. In 2004, A. Randall Hughes et al. published a highly-influential paper showing that there were many different genetic strains within the eelgrass species (Zostera marina) in California. Hughes also showed that a genetically-mixed patch of eelgrass could resist and recover from environmental disturbances (like goose grazing) significantly better, than any one genetic strain alone. Fifteen years later, Hughes’ legacy was apparent at CERF in the numerous presentations on within-species genetic diversity effects in seagrass beds from all over the world.
  2. Living shorelines” are a growing, green revolution, even though most people don’t know what they are. Sea level rise, subsidence, and erosion are eating away at the coasts of the world, threatening both natural habitats and man-made coastal developments. The old way of dealing with this was by heavy-handed “coastal armoring” (seawalls, jetties, dikes, etc.), which tended to be expensive, bad for the environment, and prone to failure. The living shorelines approach uses natural protective elements like oyster reefs, mangroves, and saltmarsh grasses, in combination with man-made structural elements, to protect coasts in more natural, self-sustaining, and environmentally-beneficial ways. I saw talks showing how various living shoreline projects had reversed erosion, helped absorb nutrient pollution and carbon dioxide pollution, and created naturally-expanding habitats for birds, fish, and shellfish. Southwest Florida has hundreds of kilometers of eroding or unnaturally-armored canals and coasts that are prime candidates for living shoreline projects.
  3. The global trend of seagrass decline from the mid 20th century until now may have finally hit bottom and turned around into a recovery phase. However, this optimistic forecast is driven by a few, positive cases of recovery. Seagrasses continue to decline in many areas. Water quality seems to be a key factor differentiating the happy seagrass stories from the tragedies. Where water quality is naturally good, and/or there have been concerted efforts to improve water quality, seagrasses have spread and algae blooms have decreased. However, where pollution oversight has been lax, repeated harmful algal blooms and other water quality issues have devastated seagrass beds. Below is a rank of several important seagrass ecosystems in the eastern United States from most exciting recovery to most tragic decline in recent decades.
    1. Virginia Coastal Bays- Exciting recovery! The shallow estuaries on the sparsely populated eastern side of the Delmarva peninsula are an ideal place for seagrass, with relatively little pollution. However, they lost all their seagrass in the 1930s due to a combination of hurricanes and disease, and they just had bare mud bottoms from then until the 1990s. It was hypothesized that “recruitment limitation” (a lack of seed supply) was the reason for the lack of natural recovery in the area. This hypothesis was tested in the late 1990s when Dr. Robert Orth’s group of VIMS scientists replanted some seagrass in one of the bays. To their joy, the seagrass rapidly expanded. Subsequent re-seeding efforts were even more successful. 20 years later, as Orth is retiring, he can be proud to have helped restore thousands of acres of seagrass, enhancing fish and waterfowl populations, improving water clarity, and furnishing the other wonderful “ecosystem services” that come with healthy seagrass beds.
    2. Tampa Bay and Boston Harbor- Hard-Won Victories. In the late 20th century, population growth in the Tampa Bay watershed led to severe nutrient pollution from wastewater and stormwater runoff. The nutrient pollution caused “eutrophication” – a chronic overgrowth of algae in the water and on the bottom. In these dark and murky waters, seagrasses perished for lack of light. Managers in the region got serious about upgrading wastewater treatment plants and stormwater infrastructure, and implementing stricter regulations on the sale and use of fertilizer. They started a multitude of projects, large and small, to reduce nutrient inputs. As one of their benchmarks for success they aimed to return seagrass beds to 1950s levels. Sure enough, nutrient levels in the water declined, which caused algae levels in the water to decline, which made the water clear enough for seagrass beds to rapidly expand. Tampa Bay recently surpassed the 1950s-based goal, and now has some of the clearest and fishiest water in generational memory. Another seagrass area in the USA that has a big urban population but has nevertheless made good progress in seagrass restoration is the Boston Harbor area. They made billion dollar investments in upgraded sewage treatment infrastructure, which translated into clearer harbor waters, regrowth of seagrass, and an invigorated city waterfront economy.
    3. Chesapeake Bay- Finally turning the corner? Chesapeake Bay is a huge estuary spanning multiple states, with a watershed area that extends into even more states. The watershed includes many, heavily populated areas, as well as many areas of intensive agriculture, which makes reducing pollution to the bay a huge organizational challenge. The federally-funded Chesapeake Bay Program has been tracking bay health and implementing nutrient-reduction and habitat restoration projects in the area for years. There have been some ups and downs, with climate variation (extreme wet and dry, hot and cold years, etc.) often throwing a wrench in the works. But now, finally, it seems that a signal of recovery is emerging through the noise. Seagrasses in the bay are doing a bit better, though they still have a way to go before they meet the restoration goal. It’s time to seize that momentum and double down on restoration to make sure the positive trend continues and stabilizes. One encouraging thing to think about is the developing synergy between different types of habitat restoration effort in the bay. For example, restoring oyster beds along shorelines and channels in the bay increases the bay’s filter feeding capacity, which improves water clarity and can indirectly benefit seagrasses.
    4. Florida Bay- Still Dicey. Florida Bay is the shallow expanse of water between the Everglades and the Florida Keys. It has relatively little nutrient pollution because of its unpopulated surroundings and the fact that most of the freshwater that enters it has been filtered through the extensive wetlands of the Everglades. The seagrass beds in Florida Bay are some of the largest in the world. However, Florida Bay periodically suffers from massive seagrass dieoffs related to hypersalinity (excessive saltiness). These hypersalinity events are worse now that much of the freshwater flow of the Everglades has been diverted for human uses. After a seagrass dieoff in Florida Bay there are after-shocks that can lead to more seagrass dieoffs. For example, dead and rotting seagrass releases nutrients into the water that fuel dense algal blooms. Furthermore, the lack of seagrass allows mud to be stirred up from the bottom by wind waves. The resultant plumes of dark, murky water kill more seagrass and other sea-bottom life, such as sponges, which are important filter feeders and habitat-providers. Everglades restoration projects are supposed to eventually deliver more freshwater to Florida Bay and reduce the hypersalinity events. Unfortunately, restoration progress is slow, and held up by contentious debates about things like how low the nutrient levels in the freshwater must be to prevent damage to the Everglades and the Bay. In the meantime, Florida Bay seagrasses die whenever there is a drought exacerbated by the unnaturally low freshwater flow.
    5. Southwest Florida (Lee and Collier County)- Missing the recovery train. At the CERF meeting there was an ironic juxtaposition between my gloomy talk about “collapsing” ecosystems in SW Florida, and the talk that immediately followed mine, which was a sunny one about “recovering” ecosystems in SW Florida. Really we were both right; we were just talking about different parts of SW Florida. The other guy was talking about the northerly part of SW Florida that includes Tampa Bay but not Lee and Collier County, and I was talking about the southerly part of SW Florida that includes Lee and Collier County but not Tampa Bay. Anyway, seagrasses in my study areas are dying due to a combination of water quantity issues and water quality issues. The water quantity issues are well-known and related to artificial discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River, which did not historically connect to the Lake. High discharges make the water of the Caloosahatchee Estuary and other connected estuaries too fresh for most seagrasses to survive, and also deliver dark, tannic waters, high nutrients, and sometimes harmful algae blooms to the estuaries and Gulf of Mexico. However, at other times the Caloosahatchee River flow is withheld for human uses and saltwater creeps abnormally far upstream, killing freshwater plants. While we have been obsessed with our bipolar water quantity problem and its complex solutions (which involve expensive changes to clean Okeechobee water and send more of it south into the Everglades again), we have been developing an equally serious water QUALITY problem that is more local in origin. I.e., sprawling development related to the ballooning population of SW Florida, in combination with weak regulations on both urban and agricultural nutrient sources, have led to rampant eutrophication of SW Florida’s estuaries. Our water is becoming too murky for seagrasses to grow, even at shallow depths, and gunky seaweeds are taking over formerly seagrassy places like Estero Bay. Furthermore, we have become the epicenter of a variety of recurring harmful algae blooms, some of them very dangerous to humans and other animals, and all of them related at least in part to our nutrient pollution. I asked one of the Tampa Bay restoration scientists what folks in “true SW Florida” could do to emulate Tampa Bay’s story of improving water quality and seagrass. He said, simply, “Start doing projects.” I think that’s excellent advice. It’s going to take lots of small and large nutrient-reduction projects to fix our water quality problem, so let’s start now and try to build momentum. While we’re doing little restoration things in our yards and communities, we can ask our leaders for big sewage system upgrades to “tertiary treatment with coupled nitrification-denitrification,” which removes most of the harmful nutrients and is what Tampa has, for the most part.
    6. Indian River Lagoon- Paradise Lost. There’s one major seagrass system in Florida that is doing even worse than SW Florida, and that is the Indian River Lagoon (IRL)- a long, narrow estuary that runs parallel to the coast from Palm Beach to Cape Canaveral. The IRL is significant as the most biologically diverse estuary in the United States, because it spans from the temperate zone to the tropics and has a blend of species from both zones. A lot of those species depend directly or indirectly on the seven species of seagrasses found in the IRL. Up until 2011 the seagrasses and water clarity were slowly declining as a result of nutrient loading from human population growth in the areas around the IRL, combined with water quantity and salinity problems related to various canal systems and water diversions. But in 2011 the shit really hit the fan with a so-called “superbloom” of phytoplankton. The plankton darkened the waters and wiped out a majority of the IRL’s seagrass beds. Since then there have been all kinds of other nasty phytoplankton blooms alternating with nasty seaweed blooms, fish kills related to low oxygen, and even a super duper bloom in 2016 that was bigger than the original super bloom. It’s going to take a lot of nutrient reduction work, including septic to sewer conversions, new regulations on agriculture and suburban fertilizer use, wetland restoration, and other projects to restore the IRL. Needless to say, stricter limits on growth and sprawl are also desperately needed in the IRL watershed, as they are in SW Florida’s watersheds.  PS- Another Florida East Coast estuary that I’ll lump in with the IRL is Biscayne Bay, the high salinity estuary off of South Miami. It recently lost almost all its seagrasses as the culmination of decades of chronic nutrient loading and declining water quality. To preserve delicate ecosystems like seagrasses and reefs next door to a heavily populated area takes a serious investment in nutrient reduction infrastructure and regulation. Boston and Tampa did it fairly well, but SW Florida and SE Florida have dragged their feet to dire effect.
  4. Climate change effects are showing up all over the place. A lot of research was presented on climate change impacts such as warming, sea level rise, and species range shifts. One of the sea level rise impacts examined was the shift of coastal forests to saltmarshes as saline water inundates roots. There were also tons of studies of the expansion of the black mangrove (Avicennia germinans) northward into former saltmarsh habitats. If the trend continues mangroves will eventually replace most of the saltmarshes along the Gulf of Mexico coastline. Seagrasses are also undergoing species range shifts. For example, in North Carolina where the temperate seagrass Zostera marina is at the southern end of its range and the tropical seagrass Halodule wrightii is at the northern end of its range, the ratio of the two coexisting species is shifting in favor of the tropical one. My own research colleagues presented data from turtlegrass (Thalassia testudinum) beds from Panama to Bermuda, which suggested that the intensity of grazing by tropical grazers is increasing in some areas, possibly due to warming.
  5. Academia is a mixed bag. This is something I got from talking to a lot people I hadn’t seen since graduate school. Some were happy with their current lot, others were very frustrated. It seems that academic institutional cultures and pressures vary a lot from place to place. Some of my peers are flourishing in professional and supportive environments, while others are changing jobs in angst or leaving academia entirely due to shitty work environments. One of the stresses that some institutions seem to handle better than others is the teaching – research tradeoff. Expecting faculty to do a lot of both doesn’t seem to work well, and institutions transitioning from more teaching oriented to more research oriented sometimes jerk their faculty back and forth a lot through this process. I realized I’m pretty lucky to have landed at FGCU, where the teaching-research balance suits me pretty well.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Red tide house of horrors in SW Florida, Halloween 2019

Last year we had an unprecedentedly bad run of harmful algae blooms in Florida, fueled by rampant nutrient pollution. (See my July 2018 post.) The most widespread of those HABs was a nightmarish Karenia brevis bloom that that affected every shore of the Florida peninsula but was worst in my area, Southwest Florida. After killing scores of dolphins, sea turtles, birds, and manatees, and literally tons of fish and invertebrates, the bloom finally dissipated over the winter. Following that, we had a relatively dry 2019, and a less than usual amount of regulated discharge from Lake Okeechobee to SW Florida's Caloosahatchee River. Folks crossed their fingers that the algae nightmare was gone. But marine biologists and other careful observers knew that nutrient pollution was still flooding into our waterways in the form of poorly managed agriculture, chemical-soaked urban/suburban landscapes, badly maintained stormwater ponds, overloaded sewage and septic systems, etc.

Though the coastal waters looked fairly clear for much of the spring and summer, if you stuck your head under the water you'd see the signs of trouble. The bottom was covered in piles of macroalgae (seaweed) and stringy billows of filamentous cyanobacteria. These bottom-dwelling algae were feasting on nutrients released from decaying organic matter, submarine groundwater discharge, and other sources. The thing about nutrients is that they never really go away- they just cycle through different forms as they slowly move through the environment. If the cycle is in balance, fine. But when we keep adding extra nutrients to the cycle, the excess grows cumulatively, year on year, and the harmful algae blooms grow stronger with each return. The only solution is major reduction in man-made nutrient loading (much less fertilizer, much better sewage treatment, etc.), combined with major increase in nutrient removal (through the protection and enhancement of vegetated habitats like wetlands that absorb nutrients and take them out of circulation).

The sadness of our recurring red tide situation was emphasized to me today by what I saw, smelled, and felt when doing fieldwork for an oyster restoration project in Naples Bay. Red tide concentrations were high enough in the bay to be clearly visible as a maroon haze in the water, and dead fish were floating belly-up everywhere. (High concentrations were also measured quantitatively in the area, as indicated on Yet, at the Naples City Dock marina there were no warning signs or anything posted, and patrons at "The Dock" restaurant were dining inches from the dead fish and toxic algae, apparently completely in the dark about its health risks. I didn't have much choice about getting in the water because it's my job as a marine biologist, but it seemed absurd to me that people would be paying to put themselves in that environment.

The immediate symptoms of exposure to red tide toxins are obvious. Exposure to the aerosolized toxins (e.g., from boat wakes or breaking waves) causes coughing, burning eyes, headaches, etc. Exposure to higher concentrations of toxins through contaminated seafood is worse, resulting in neurotoxic shellfish poisoning. However, what troubles me more is the less-known long term effects of red tide toxin exposure. Last year after the big blooms I got the longest-lasting and worst cough/bronchitis I've ever had. I would wake up in the middle of night every night with terrifying, suffocating coughing fits. I'm not just a crybaby hypochondriac who makes shit like this up, either. This really happened to me. Also, just about everybody I know who was around the water a lot last year had similar respiratory complaints. So I'm inclined to think that red tide exposure is a lot more dangerous than our state's cavalier attitude about posting warning signs and such leads residents and tourists to believe.

PS- Some particular actions that would reduce harmful algae blooms in Naples Bay, and which we should strongly lobby our leaders to take, are:
1) stricter and better-enforced fertilizer rules for both agriculture and urban/suburban environments,
2) better management of the canals and stormwater ponds that feed into Naples Bay; i.e., stop killing the beneficial wetland plants with mowing and poisoning,
3) pony up the cash for septic to sewer conversions and upgrade the capacity and treatment level of wastewater plants,
4) moratorium on new development in wetland and shoreline areas,
5) reintroduce "living shoreline" elements like mangroves and oysters along developed waterfronts to filter nutrients and algae out of the water,
6) re-route the drainage expansions that increased the watershed area of Naples Bay from 10 sq miles to 130 sq miles so that it's not overloaded with more freshwater and pollution than the ecosystem can handle.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Just a picture of a guy windfoiling

The other day my photographer buddy Greg and I were doing wind-powered hydrofoil things in Estero Bay and Greg took this good picture with his GoPro camera. It's me with a 4.7 sail on an old Exocet formula board equipped with a Slingshot Hoverglide FWind1 with 76 cm Infinity wing. The wind is in the 10-15 knots range.

Greg took the picture while balancing on his tiny 6'6" SUP board with a GoFoil Maliko 280 hydrofoil, which he has been riding with a 5.0 Duotone handheld wing. Greg is rapidly improving on that setup, which I can testify is not that easy to use- especially not in light, shifty, or gusty wind, where the self-supporting stability and precise control of a windsurf sail is nice to have.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Windsurf sail mounted to 14x23 SUP Raceboard

I tried mounting an 8.0 windsurfing sail on my 14'x23" Rivera RP SUP raceboard today. I had to do a lot of fiddling to get the universal joint attached to the carry handle on the SUP, but once I was actually on the water it was a lot of fun. I filmed some video of sailing it with my version 1.0 universal joint attachment, which was pretty wobbly, but worked. The location is the north end of Lovers Key in Bonita Springs, Florida, where there is a bridge over Big Carlos Pass, which connects the Gulf of Mexico to Estero Bay. There's some red tide beginning to affect the area again, and beachgoers including myself were coughing a bit.

After filming I redid the mast base attachment and went out for a second round of sailing. The new attachment felt a lot more secure, and emboldened me to circumnavigate Lovers Key on the craft (see GPS track). Under sail power the board felt light and sleek, and had a smooth transition from gliding to planing. It went upwind OK considering that it didn't have a daggerboard.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

I tried "WINGsurfing"

Yesterday I tried the latest wind-powered watersport- WINGsurfing -thanks to my buddy Greg letting me play with his 5.0 Duotone inflatable "wing". It was pretty easy to use with my 10'4 Angulo windsup with a center fin. We were able to jibe and tack and even sort of get planing in the ~15 kt winds.

The gps track is from my first run out, whereas the video is from my second run out. I think I was doing better in the video than on the GPS track.

It was harder when we tried it at another spot later on Greg's tiny 6'6 Jimmy Lewis hydrofoil board with a GoFoil Maliko 280 hydrofoil (not shown in the video, but GPS track posted). I did get some foiling runs, but had lots of awkward falls. The Maliko 280 foil wing floats so it turns the board on its side and makes it hard to remount. Weirdly, the Jimmy Lewis board seems to be set up with the presumption that you'll always ride with the same foot forward, contorting yourself when you change from port to starboard tack rather than switching your feet. The GoFoil Maliko 280 was super duper lifty and pretty slow, and I felt overpowered on it in the gusty 10-25 knot winds where we were riding.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Future people will be appalled by what we now accept as "normal"

Things we once accepted as totally normal, but we now realize are very harmful:

Driving without seatbelts for yourself or the kids
Not letting women vote
Smoking tobacco
Playing with drops of Mercury
Trusting celibate male priests to watch the kids

Things we now accept as normal, but future generations will find appalling:

The fossil-fuel burning economy
The ubiquity of single-use plastics
Prescribing heroin-strength pain pills like crazy with no precautions against addiction
Citizens of wealthy countries dying of treatable diseases because health care is prohibitively expensive
The cavalier use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides
The expectation of never-ending fast growth of populations and economies
Eating animals
The insanely high risk of dying in a car accident
Expecting men to wear suits in summer and women to wear skirts in winter
The USA still not using the metric system in 2019

Monday, August 12, 2019

Neighborhood stormwater ponds and water quality

Something that would help address water pollution and harmful algae blooms in Florida and elsewhere is better management of detention / retention ponds. Unfortunately, typical pond management today turns these pollution-removal features into pollution-producing features that pose a danger to humans and nature alike. I put together a little presentation about this issue, intended to reach home owners association (HOA) groups. My environmental activist friend Vik Chhabra filmed the presentation. Please share. Thanks.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

A Foiling Jibe!

I am REALLY enjoying hydrofoil windsurfing, which I think is worthy of a big new branch on the growing tree of human- and nature-powered water sports. Since windsurfing was invented there have only been a few other "branches" of innovation that compare in terms of significance: the advent of shortboard windsurfing in the 1980s, the light-wind shortboard revolution around 2000, and the spread of kiteboarding and standup paddleboarding also in the early 2000s. Hydrofoil windsurfing (aka "windfoiling") is not just a minor advancement or change in style. It's a revolution in terms of how little wind/sail power it requires compared to shortboard windsurfing, and it's a revolution in terms of how it overcomes the catch-22 of conventional windsurf design, which was always that your setup could either be maneuverable or powerful but not both. (In this way hydrofoil windsurfing gains some of the advantages of kiteboarding.) ALSO, foiling above the water is just a very cool, different feeling from planing atop the water- it's super smooth and quiet.

My windfoil setup, which is a Slingshot Fwind 2019 hydrofoil mounted in an old "formula" style windsurfing board, can get going in about 8 knots of wind. That is similar to the planing threshold of the formula board when equipped with a conventional fin. The foiling setup can go upwind and downwind at angles similar to what the conventional formula setup can do. The amazing thing is that the windfoil does this with an 8 meters squared sail, whereas the conventional formula setup would need a much heavier and more awkward 11 meters squared sail to perform in 8 knots of wind. And whereas the conventional formula windsurf setup maneuvers like school bus, when levitating on a hydrofoil the same formula board maneuvers like a sports car. In full disclosure, the one remaining area where the hydrofoil, or at least my hydrofoil, doesn't match the conventional windsurf setup is in pure speed. I might close the gap as I get more experienced, but right now it's hard for me to get the foil going over 15 knots, whereas it's pretty easy to get to 20+ knots when powered up on a conventional windsurfing shortboard. That's OK with me though.

Anyway, as with my past explorations of new (to me) branches on the water sports tree, there have been fun/scary challenges and skill-acquisition milestones in my windfoiling journey. Just getting up on the foil for the first time was one. That was mainly a fear thing- once I tried it the board popped right up. The next milestone was being able to stay on the foil indefinitely without touching down. Then there were some minor things like being able to get going efficiently, use different sail sizes, use the footstraps and harness effectively, sail upwind and downwind in control, etc. Actually, learning to sail the foil deep downwind was a significant milestone, because you have to confidently carve through a scary "power zone" when going from upwind to downwind.

Definitely the hardest thing I've attempted on the windfoil so far, though, is the foiling jibe. The planing jibe on a regular windsurfing board is hard enough, but on a foil board it's harder still, because the board is so sensitive to where your weight is distributed when you're up on the foil. It's not that hard to carve the foil board when you're securely in the footstraps, but to carve it smoothly as you're stepping across it to the other side and flipping the sail around is tough. My first few dozen attempts all ended in me either touching down on the water or breaching out of the water (and then crashing down). But during a great foil session in smooth water on Thursday night, I finally made it around once or twice without touching (or with just barely touching) the water. Woo hoo! I still have a very long way to go get my foiling jibe completion rate from 1% to 100%, but this is a start. The good jibes are towards the end of this video:)

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Race Report: Key West Classic 2019

Surfski finishers on the podium-

More photos on their facebook page- I haven't bothered to put them in my blog post.

Race: The Key West Paddle Classic, organized by the Lazy Dog, sanctioned by the WPA, and benefiting the Monroe County Special Olympics.

Date it happened: 4 May 2019

Location: Higgs Beach, Key West, Florida.

Distance: 20.67 km (12.84 miles); around the entire perimeter of Key West. This was about two km longer than usual because the Fleming Key bridge was damaged by a boat collision and we had to paddle all the way north around Fleming Key instead of just around Dredgers Key. In addition to the full rounding, there was the option to do it as a relay in three legs, so some of the racers were doing that.

Conditions: It was breezy and choppy, but not to the extreme extent that it has sometimes been in the past. The wind was from the SE at 10-15 knots. The meant that the first 2.8 km of the course was roughly downwind, but everything else was side-wind or upwind. The tide was coming in the whole time, which gave us a boost going through the broad channel on the west side of the island, but slowed us down through Cow Key Cut on the east side of the island. The biggest nuisance part of the conditions this year was large amounts of floating Sargassum seaweed, which seemed to be getting stuck even on supposedly weed-shedding fins and rudders. This seaweed occurs naturally in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean, but it has been occurring in unprecedentedly large and increasing amounts since 2010. Scientists suspect that climate change and increasing amounts of man-made nutrients entering the ocean are stimulating these blooms.

Participants: 147 people completed the race, including 129 who did it not as a relay. Of the 129 there were: 52 14' SUPs, 24 12'6 SUPs, 8 non-race SUPs, 15 prone paddleboards, 15 one-person outrigger canoes, 4 two-person outrigger canoes, 1 three-person outrigger canoe, 5 surfski kayaks, 3 sea kayaks, 6 regular kayaks, 1 special rowboat for someone who used a wheelchair.

Results and Gear: The top six finishers overall were-
1:51:01 South African Kevin McLellan on a Fenn Elite S surfski with an over-stern rudder
1:54:31 Tahitian Tetauira "T" Putoa on a rudderless Va'a outrigger canoe
2:00:00 Darian Hildreth on a standard outrigger canoe
2:04:40 Garrett Fletcher on a standard outrigger canoe
2:05:01 James Douglass (ME!) on a 610x46 cm Stellar SEI surfski with an 18 cm "weedless" rudder
2:07:00 Mark Athanacio on a Puakea Kahele outrigger canoe with a small rudder

The top six SUP finishers were-
2:18:39 Brazilian Eri Tenorio on a 14x22 Flying Fish
2:20:43 Steve Miller on a 14x22 Flying Fish
2:28:15 Tim Warner on a 14x22 Flying Fish
2:32:16 Zach Rounsaville on a 14x?? Infinity Blackfish
2:32:23 Kimberly Barnes on a 14x22 Flying Fish (first female SUP)
2:32:35 John Batson on a Starboard?

Other notable finishes included-
2:12:54 Floridian William Miller, first non-surfksi kayak by a large margin
2:13:04 Floridian Bill Mussenden, outrigger canoe, a buddy of mine who is getting pretty darn fast
2:16:25 Floridian Matt Kearney, outrigger canoe, a good buddy who I carpooled and camped with
2:24:29 South African Murray Hunkin, my surfski mentor who is usually much faster than me but had capsizing issues
2:52:34 Floridian Cindy Gibson, first 12'6 SUP, a frequent training buddy
3:06:41 Floridian Meg Bosi, 14' SUP, a big promoter of paddling in SW Florida

Play by play: This was the third time I've done the Key West Classic, but it was a "first" in multiple ways. 1) First time doing it on a surfski kayak instead of a SUP. The race is horribly long and brutal on a standup paddleboard, especially in the upwind sections, but it's not that bad on a fast, sit-down watercraft. 2) First time camping. Matt Kearney and I stayed Friday and Saturday night at Boyd's Campground on Key West, which was economical and convenient. Since we weren't rushing in and out, we did a nice snorkel outing on the way down Friday, and another on the way back Sunday. Friday we paddled out to moor and snorkel at Cheeca Rocks off Islamorada, and Sunday we snorkeled from shore off Bahia Honda State Park in the lower keys. 3) First time getting a "podium" result in my division, though that's mainly due to the field not being so deep in surfski as it is in SUP.

The last two times I've done the race I've gotten screwed at the start, which is disorganized and spread out. This time I made sure I was ready early, and I stalked the starter boat to be sure I was ready to go the moment they dropped the flag. I had a lot of adrenaline at the start, increased by the excitement of having a lot of wind swells to ride. The angle of the wind and swell was about 45 degrees off from true downwind, but it was close enough to still take advantage of the ocean's energy, and I actually made it to the western corner of the island in first place. Woo hoo!

Shortly after turning north along the western side of the island, I saw eventual winner Kevin McLellan appear between me and the shoreline. I tried to keep pace with him and inch over to maybe get in his draft, but he was simply too much faster than me, so I gave up on that by the time we reached the cool shadow of a moored cruise ship on the western side of the island. I was dimly aware that various other paddlers might be creeping up on me, but I didn't see any sign of them until I got near the tip of Fleming Key, at which point I was caught by a drafting pair outrigger canoes: Tetauira Putoa and Darian Hildreth. They had better speed than me, especially as I began to feel the drag of a shallow water section, and even more so when we turned east and into the wind. Heading through the upwind sections they pulled away, especially Tetauria. Kevin had become just a dot in the distance, too. Approaching Dredger's Key, Garrett Fletcher got ahead of me, and I watched as he caught up to Darian.

After a brief respite from the wind in the lee of Dredgers Key was the worst grind of the race, straight upwind, up-current, and through shallow water towards Cow Key Cut. I realized that these flat water, high-resistance sections were my weakest spot, where the paddlers who were stronger and had better technique were kicking my butt. I need to work on efficient surfki paddle technique so that I'm properly using whatever muscle I have, and I probably also need to work on developing more strength through weight training. Equipment-wise, it might help for me to get a narrower, lighter surfski, but don't tell my wife I'm thinking about that. Can't afford it right now, anyway.

The flat and somewhat wind-sheltered waters of Cow Key Cut were still a grind because of the tidal current and shallow water. To avoid the current I hugged the edge of the channel as much as possible, but this was also where there were huge wracks of floating Sargassum. It's quite likely that I acquired some Sargassum at this stage, but I can't be certain how much of my slow-down was due to the current, how much was due to my fatigue, and how much was the weeds.

I looked forward to emerging from Cow Key Cut into the open Atlantic, and hopefully having a great final downwind leg, maybe even stealing back a place or two. Unfortunately, the angle was significantly worse on the final ocean leg than it was on the initial ocean leg. Almost directly sidewind with bad shallow water and reflected seawall chop and horrendous Sargassum. I did manage to catch up to Garrett Fletcher, but only because he was having to stop periodically to shed weeds from his rudder. I stopped once to shed weeds, too, but I think I regained them in 10 seconds. It was frustratingly hard to catch bumps that I thought I'd be able to catch, and frustrating to still seem speed-limited even when surfing down a bump, so I'm pretty sure I did have weeds on the rudder. Anyway, Garrett powered harder than me through that last unpleasant stretch and finished a few seconds ahead.

When I got out of the boat at the shallow, weedy water of the finish line I was so unsteady on my feet that I needed to hold one of the race organizers' hands to walk out of the water. But I was still super stoked to have finished 5th overall and 2nd in the surfski class. My goal for next year is to try to finish in less than 2 hours.

There was plenty to eat and drink and good vibes and pageantry after the race. This is one of those races that is a major achievement to finish even if you don't finish it fast, especially for the SUP paddlers. The organization and adminstration of the race is also top-notch. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

40th birthday wavesailing session video

I turned 40 yesterday. Among the things I had to be grateful for was breeze and bumps suitable for a Gulf of Mexico wavesailing session. I launched from an unusual spot because I assumed my usual beach (Wiggins Pass State Park, parking lot #5) would be too crowded with Easter weekenders. The unusual spot was Dog Beach, on Lovers Key State Park. It gives access to the Gulf of Mexico through a tidal inlet called New Pass, which can be tricky to negotiate because of strong tidal currents and wind somewhat blocked by the mangrove trees. This was the first time I have made it through on a shortboard. Once out of the pass, there is a long stretch of sandbar making for interesting bump and jump / wavesailing conditions.

Here's the GPS track from the sesh.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Boom mount windfoiling video

I'm having some more luck at windfoiling, with my best session so far being today with an 8.0 sail in light winds not exceeding about 10 knots. Check out the video.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Coral Reefs and Hydrofoil Windsurfing- SO AWESOME

I was sitting at an open-air bar on a Friday night, March 22nd, 2019. I don't drink, but since I was dining alone at the only restaurant in the Florida Keys town of Layton, it was the place to sit. It felt cozy after a long day of snorkeling and a 10 km kayaking workout. The patron next to me was a sociable retiree, well in his cups. When he asked what I was doing in town I said I was a college professor from Florida Gulf Coast University, and I was leading a marine biology class field trip at the FL Keys Marine Laboratory down the block from the restaurant. The man paused for a minute then told me in a kind but serious way, "I hope you know, you're blessed."

I said I knew, because I do. It really is a great privilege to be able to do the things I love- not only in my free time, but also through my job. Likewise, it's a blessing to live in sunny Florida, to be married to stunning Rhonda Mason, to have loving, living parents and in-laws, to be "dad" to a cute dog, to have a shed full of water toys and friends to use them with, and to be fairly fit and healthy for a guy about to turn 40. This post will review two of my recent blessings: the Florida Keys Trip, and an early-birthday addition to the toy shed.

The Florida Keys trip happens every semester that I teach Marine Ecology. Though my own research has centered on seagrass and seaweed communities, not coral reefs, I've been learning as much as I can about Caribbean coral reef ecosystems since I first taught the class in 2012. My basic teaching goal is simple: to get the students to snorkel as much as possible and identify as many of the species they see as possible. They have already learned about the ecology of reefs through lectures and student reports in class, but learning to actually identify the species they see underwater makes it more "real." I don't want the students to see just a bunch of pretty colors- I want them to have some understanding of what each species is, what it does, and what its presence (or absence) indicates about the health of the environment. I want them to be aware of how special what they're seeing is so they can experience that same feeling of awesome wonder that I get when surrounded by this amazing ecosystem. Below is a facebook photo album of some of the pictures I took in the keys this year. The captions explain a little about what is going on in each. Feel free to ask me questions about anything else you see in the pictures, or what I think about problems facing reefs today, etc.

So, the other thing that is filling me with a heady sense of awesomeness is the new water toy: a windsurf-mounted hydrofoil. The "foil" is a Slingshot Hoverglide Fwind 2019. It's mounted in place of my fin on one of my windsurf boards- the Exocet Turbo Formula II. "Formula" boards are short and wide in order to plane across the water easily, and they have deep, sturdy fin boxes to hold the bases of large fins. So they adapt well to use with hydrofoils. A hydrofoil puts more strain on the finbox than even the largest conventional fins do, though, so the first thing I did after I decided to buy the hydrofoil was reinforce the top of the finbox with four extra layers of fiberglass. (They also make special, hydrofoil-ready boards, but I wanted to be frugal and try to use the board I already had.) In addition to reinforcing the finbox, I glued some foam blocks onto the nose, in anticipation of having hard crashes from altitude that would catapult my sail and body into the nose and damage it. It looks wacky, but it seems to be working so far. The other safety feature addition was a strong kite line tied from one of the footstraps of the board to the top of the hydrofoil's "mast" to hopefully catch it if it busted off because my finbox failed. Pics:

The maiden voyage of the hydrofoil was to be late in the afternoon on the Sunday after I returned from the Florida Keys. (I'd spent all day sanding the fiberglass, fussing with the nose pads, shopping for some longer stainless steel bolts to mount the foil, etc.) Unfortunately there was ZERO wind when I got to the beach, so all I managed to do was pose the board for a few glamour shots. Monday I teach until 6:20 so I couldn't get to the beach for another try. But Tuesday there was good wind, and I was free. The feeling I had before the first session was adrenaline-pumping fear. It was similar to the excited apprehension I felt leading up to my first kiteboarding session years ago, and I suppose before my first forays into high winds on my windsurfer even more years ago. Anyway, with the wind around 15 knots and the Gulf of Mexico looking pretty choppy, I made what I thought was a conservative rig choice: a 5.5 m2 sail. Normally I would use a 6.8 m2 sail in those winds, but Britt Viehman of North Beach Windsurfing in Tampa told me that with hydrofoils you should use a sail about 1.5 m2 smaller. My good pal Matt Kearney showed up at the beach to take pictures of the first outing. I also filmed it with a GoPro camera mounted to my helmet.

My first shock was how quickly and easily the board accelerated and popped up out of the water with the foil on it. My second shock was how sensitive the foil was to my weight distribution on the board, and how challenging it was to maintain a steady altitude and heading. I had the slingshot foil set up in the "C" configuration, which puts the front wing as far forward as it goes. This is supposed to make for early takeoffs and good jibing, but it can make it harder to keep the nose down and requires a front foot heavy stance quite different from what I was used to. I did a lot of "overfoiling," which is when the foil wings breach the water and suddenly lose lift, dropping you down instantly. Thankfully, the nose of my board was curved up enough that these crashes didn't usually cause me to fall off. I would just smack down, then bounce back up, then smack down again like a drunken porpoise. The relatively short foil mast that I was using (2 feet long; 61 cm), combined with the choppy water and my lack of skill, exacerbated the overfoiling problem. But I wasn't ready to run switch to the 90 cm mast that also shipped with the hydrofoil, because the idea of crashing down from a greater height was intimidating. Anyway, I finished my first foil session humbled, but encouraged by enough success to be VERY stoked.

Foil session #2 was the the next day, and it was quite windy with more of an offshore wind angle. That meant the waves weren't as high, which helped reduce my overfoiling. Two other things also reduced overfoiling were that I wasn't as overpowered (I used a 4.7 m2 sail), and I switched the foil to the "B" configuration which puts the wings a bit further towards the tail of the board and favors a stance with more weight on the back foot (more similar to the normal windsurfing stance). The more back-foot-favored stance allowed me to get in the footstraps more, including sometimes getting in the outboard back foostraps instead of just the inboard "chicken strap". My altitude control was OK, but I still felt frustrated with overfoiling too much in the chop, and decided it would be worth trying the 90 cm mast.

Foil session #3 doesn't count because the wind was so light that I mostly just slogged around, with only about 20 seconds getting up on the foil. It was my most relaxing foil session at least.

Foil session #4 (today) was my first time using it successfully with the 90 cm mast and an 8.0 m2 sail. The wind was only 5-10 knots, and more often at the lower end of that range. With a conventional fin on the formula board I would have needed my largest 11.0 m2 sail to have any hope of planing in those winds. But the foil showed amazing power to get the board up and cruising with just the 8.0 sail. Because of the room for error in altitude control afforded by the 90 cm mast and the flat water surface, I was able to get some wonderfully long runs without touching down. Silently whooshing over the sparkling blue sea, even slicing over boat wakes without the usual "smack smack" of the board contacting the waves, is SO AWESOME. Figuring out how to distribute my weight properly between my feet and the harness, and going upwind and downwind in varying wind strengths, is still quite challenging for me. I also haven't successfully foiled through any jibes. But I'm eager to get out there and work on that stuff.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Notes on the Green New Deal (GND)

The “Green New Deal” is an ambitious economic and environmental conservation proposal currently gaining traction among congressional democrats in the United States. I recently read the text of the “Green New Deal” on the US Green Party’s web page.

The GND text is not super detailed, but I think it’s detailed enough to make a convincing case for the proposal. From my perspective as a marine scientist focused on how ecosystems work and how they respond to human impacts, the GND proposal makes much more sense than most political “deals” related to the environment. Below are my somewhat-disorganized notes on the GND. I have bolded certain quotes or concepts from the GND, and commented on them in non-bold text:

The GND contends that the fossil fuel economy is “decaying.” Personally I wouldn’t say that it is decaying, but I agree that it is unsustainable because:

1) We will eventually run out. Our fossil fuel reserves took hundreds of millions of years to form, but we’re burning them at a rate that will use them up in just a couple of centuries. So even if fossil fuels didn’t pollute at all, we would need to transition to other energy sources in the not-so-distant future.

2) Fossil fuels cause several very serious pollution problems, which are cumulative and will continue to worsen if we continue to burn fossil fuels. I agree with the text of the GND that Global Warming, in particular is a major threat to human civilization.

  • Toxic air pollution (smog) is created from all kinds of fossil fuel burning, but is especially bad from coal and small engines like cars. Smog contains NOx compounds that rain to earth and cause algae blooms, SO2 that causes acid rain, volatile organic carbon compounds that sicken people and animals, and particulate matter that causes respiratory diseases.
  • The carbon dioxide produced (CO2) reacts with ocean water to form carbonic acid (H2CO3), lowering the pH of the oceans and interfering with marine organisms’ body chemistry and their ability to create calcium carbonate shells and skeletons. This “ocean acidification” phenomenon is particularly deadly to coral reefs.
  • The carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuel burning is a greenhouse gas, which increases the “greenhouse effect” of the earth’s atmosphere by acting like a blanket preventing heat from radiating away into space. The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has gone from 280 parts per million in the 1850s to over 410 parts per million now, and global average temperatures have already increased by about 1 degree Celsius over that same period. With further temperature rise we’ll see significant sea level rise and major “weirding” of weather and climate, in addition to higher average temperatures worldwide.

*Transition to 100% green renewable energy (no nukes or natural gas) by 2030.

  • 2030 is 11 years away. That is pretty soon, but I think we can do it if we combine energy conservation (using less energy overall) with redirecting all funds now directed to fossil fuels to development of green energy. The GND recognizes the importance of energy conservation to reduce demand. “Going to 100% clean energy by 2030 means reducing energy demand as much as possible.” That is something we can begin immediately. 
  •  I agree that natural gas (methane, CH4) mined from the earth is unsustainable. Burning it produces just as much CO2 as is produced by burning any other fossil fuel, and the fracking and other techniques we use to get it out of the ground are very polluting to groundwater resources. Also, the methane that gets loose is an even worse greenhouse gas than CO2.
  • I agree that nuclear power should not be included in the “green” energy category. Though nuclear power generation does not produce any greenhouse gases, the nuclear waste it generates is a very dangerous material for which there is no safe, affordable long-term disposal solution. Also, the risk of disastrous radiation releases like from Chernobyl and Fukushima is always present.

*The GND’s plan to transition to 100% clean energy by 2030 is the only program in any US presidential candidate’s platform that even attempts to meet the scientific goal agreed to in Paris. Yes, this is true. “Business as usual” is not getting it done. When we evaluate the merits of the GND we should remember that the alternative we’re comparing it with is our current state of doing almost nothing, or even putting out MORE pollution, all while the environment and climate system goes to heck.

*"It’s not just a question of what kind of world we want, but whether we will have a world at all." This is overly dramatic, but I don’t entirely disagree. There will still be a world even if we don’t change course on fossil fuels. I.e., there will still be a big rock orbiting the sun. It’s just that it will be a very unpleasant world, rife with environmental, economic, and humanitarian crises, and lacking the richness and relative stability of the natural ecosystems that we enjoy today.

*"Immediately halt investment in fossil fuels." This makes sense because:

  1. Fossil fuel companies are rich enough that they don’t need government help. 
  2. Instead of putting money into something that is unsustainable (unhealthy, won’t last) it’s better to channel investment into things that will last and improve our situation in America and on earth in general.

*Guarantee full employment / End unemployment for good. That would be a good thing, but seems like an exaggeration if not an impossibility. However, 20 million new, living wage jobs seems reasonable.

  • The extensive and diverse technology development and infrastructure upgrades involved in the GND will absolutely add a huge number and variety of jobs to the economy. 
  • The public jobs program seems legitimate, too. We have other “public jobs programs” like paying soldiers, teachers, police, etc. We might as well pay people to clean up the earth, too, because it benefits the workers and the rest of us enough to be worth the tax money. Even most conservatives would probably agree that the government paying someone to do a job that improves the community is better than the government paying the person welfare without any work involved. 
  • The replacement of the general unemployment office with “local employment offices” could help local municipalities put federal support to better use by creating jobs that will improve the local environment and other aspects of the local community. If I was out of work, I reckon I’d be happy to be able to get a temporary job in my area, even something like picking up trash out of the ditches or planting trees. Nothing will ever end all unemployment, but employing people in green energy enterprises is an excellent idea. The “renewable” nature of green energy means that green energy jobs are a renewable resource, as well.

*Make wars for oil obsolete. I mostly agree with this. While “wars for oil” may be an oversimplification of our expensive conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, few would deny that our enormous military expenditures and dubious alliances with authoritarian regimes in the region have been “justified” by our desire to secure our supply of oil.

*Revive the economy. This is an interesting contention, because by some measures like GDP, employment rate, and stock market growth rate, the US economy is doing great and doesn’t need any reviving. However, these most common measures of economic health fail to capture the economic struggles and threats to well-being that everyday civilians experience. What good is it to be employed if you’re working three jobs just to pay the rent on your tiny apartment, you’re lonely, sleep deprived and deeply depressed, you’re being exposed to toxic air and water pollution, and you can’t afford to go to the doctor? By measures that integrate economics and human well-being, such as the “genuine progress indicator (GPI), the US has actually been declining since the 1970s. Even without a numerical indicator like this, older liberals and conservatives agree that things aren’t as good as they used to be. We DO need a revival.

*Fight the corporate takeover of our democracy. Another thing that both liberals and conservatives tend to agree on is that our political system is being seriously corrupted by soulless corporate entities, leading to laws that benefit those big businesses and hurt everyday people. Legislation is written by and for moneyed interests, with disregard for the general public. The subsidies, tax-breaks, and lax environmental laws enjoyed by fossil fuel polluting industries are the direct result of their decades of corrupting our democracy. In Florida, even environmental ballot measures clearly supported by the majority of the voters are ignored by the corrupt politicians. We must identify and rectify this corruption.

*"The transition to 100% clean energy will foster democratic control of our energy system, rather than maximizing profits for energy corporations, banks and hedge funds." I don’t know if I would agree with the implication that clean energy is inherently more democratic and less “big money” than dirty energy is. I think it’s up to us to make sure that clean energy development doesn’t happen by the same corrupt monopoly route that dirty energy development did.

*"The Green New Deal not only saves us from climate catastrophe. It also pays for itself through health savings alone." I don’t know if the numbers support that the GND would be totally paid for by the health savings alone, but I agree that the health saving from environmental protection would be SIGNIFICANT. I remember being on a biology class fieldtrip to an autopsy, where we examined the lungs of a smoker, and the lungs of non-smoker who had lived in Tacoma, Washington near pollution-belching paper mills. The smoker’s lungs were worse, of course, but there were lumps of black pollution goo in the non-smoker’s lungs, as well. The links between pollution and human health are numerous. Toxic effects of harmful algae blooms and photochemical smog, both of which related to fossil fuel burning as well as other factors, worsen many illnesses.

*"Right now, our federal subsidy programs benefit large agribusiness corporations and the oil, mining, nuclear, coal and timber giants at the expense of small farmers, small business, and our children’s environment. We spend billions of dollars every year moving our economy in the wrong direction, turning our planet uninhabitable while imposing the greatest harm on communities of color and the poor. The Green New Deal will instead redirect that money to the real job creators who make our communities more healthy, sustainable and secure at the same time."

  • Shifting taxpayer subsidies from polluting industry to green industry is one of the compelling, common-sense things about the GND, which makes it both affordable and logical. Instead of putting taxpayer money into polluting industries, we’ll put it into sustainable ventures.

*The creation of a “Commission for Economic Democracy” and other GND proposals intended to foster local, public involvement (for example, small businesses, small farmers, and local energy cooperatives) instead of distant, corporate and big-government control. I think this is generally a good thing. By getting more people aware of and involved in green projects specific to their area, they are more likely to have a personal sense of investment in the ventures, and more likely to be better stewards of their environment and economy.

*The creation of a Renewable Energy Administration to “provide technical support, financing, and coordination to more than 900 municipal cooperatives.” Though this work might also be done through existing agencies like the DOE or EPA, I like the general idea of having a federal-level organization to help guide and fund the smaller local groups that are carrying out the green energy changeover.

*"closed-loop cycles that eliminate waste and pollution, as well as organic agriculture, permaculture, and sustainable forestry." These are big things that my colleagues in the Marine and Ecological Sciences department at FGCU discuss a lot. They make a ton of logical sense. For example, instead of synthesizing nitrate and phosphate fertilizers in factories, then blasting them into the environment where they build up and cause algae blooms and other harmful pollution, we should be extracting the nitrate and phosphate from the polluted environment and reusing it as fertilizer. We do this to a small extent now by using nutrient-filled wastewater to fertilize some farms and golf courses, but the problem is that we still use synthetic fertilizers on those lands, too, so the buildup of nutrient pollution continues to increase.

*Paying for the GND. Obviously the GND would be incredibly expensive at $700 bn to $1 tn / year. However, a lot of that would be from shifting spending rather than from new taxes. E.g., ceasing our subsidies of polluting industries would free up billions of dollars, cleaner air and water would improve human health and reduce healthcare costs, and ending “wars for oil” would save enormous sums.

  • Carbon tax. Because the effects of carbon dioxide pollution are a burden on all people, it makes sense that there be a carbon tax such that the people who are producing the most carbon dioxide pollution be contributing the most to dealing with that shared burden. The combination of ending fossil fuel subsidies and levying a carbon tax will lead to more “true” pricing on fossil fuel products, reflecting the costs of all the pollution they create, and market capitalism will do its thing and adjust. However, I am glad that the GND recognizes that there must be measures to ensure that the carbon tax burden doesn’t fall unfairly on poor and middle class people. Otherwise we’ll have problems like with the “yellow vest” protest in France that were in response to a fuel tax that disproportionately hurt working class people. The carbon tax should not be a “regressive” tax.
  • Progressive tax rates. At face value it seems unfair to “punish” rich people by taxing them at a higher rate than middle class and poor people. But before we shed tears for those poor, poor billionaires, let’s consider the dynamics of how personal wealth is actually accrued. Wealth comes from saving your earnings, then investing those savings. When you’re poor or middle class, most of your earnings go to paying your essential bills for housing, food, healthcare, transportation, etc. You have little or nothing left for savings or investment, so it’s hard to grow your wealth. However, when you’re starting out rich (your rich parents paid for your expensive education, bought you your first car and home, and used their connections to set you up with a cushy white-collar job), your income is much bigger than your essential bills, so you have much more leftover for savings and investment. Therefore it’s inherently easier for the already-rich to get richer than it is for the poor and middle class to get richer. Without any counterbalance to that “rich get richer” effect, it only takes a few decades for society to polarize into the super-rich who can do whatever they want, and the poor people trapped in poverty. Sure we can point to the occasional "rags to riches" story to try to say that this is still the land of opportunity and it's just a matter of how hard you work, but I think that's mostly a bullshit myth. The reality is much more "rags to rags" and "riches to riches." So while progressive tax rates and taxes on large inheritances are not “fair,” per se, they are a essential to prevent the permanent division of society into a born-wealthy upper class and a stuck-in-poverty lower class. They also generate the necessary revenue for programs that benefit all, like public education, and infrastructure development programs like the GND.
  • Other times of high tax rates on the rich were prosperous times in the US, like the 1950s through the 1970s when our economy boomed, we advanced in the space race, stayed on top in the cold war, cleaned up the environment through the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Magnusson-Stevens Fisheries Act, etc. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Naples Wavesailing Video

I used to post a lot of windsurfing videos but have been doing it less often lately. Here is why:

1. I don't windsurf as much anymore now that I live in SW Florida where it's not windy very often.
2. When it is windy, I'm often "downwinding" on a paddle-powered craft like my SUP or surfski kayak.
3. I've gotten out of the habit of taking my GoPro and filming videos because it seems to take a long time to edit them afterwards and I'm always busy with other stuff like work.
4. All my Vimeo videos disappeared because my account got nuked for having unlicensed music in some of the videos. Perhaps I'll repost some of the best ones without music by uploading them to youtube. Putting music to the videos was the fun part for me, but I guess it's no fun for the artists to have people using their songs without paying, and it's not nice to break the law, etc.
5. The mac laptop I've used for video editing since 2009 has been slow since it forced me to update its operating system, and the mac video editing software no longer works. Now I'm editing videos on the PC with Windows Movie Maker which I'm not so familiar with and doesn't seem as friendly.

Anyway, here is a short edit of a delightful, rare, strong wind windsurfing session at Wiggins Pass State Park in Naples, FL. I was using a 4.7 Hotsails Fire and 83 liter starboard Evo. The setup worked pretty well in the onshore conditions, though I wish I had added more downhaul earlier, and I think I might want to update the fin since the one I have is maybe too grunty and not maneuverable enough to make good on the maneuverability of the board.