Environmental Ponderings – An Alternative Perspective

Last year when we visited my parents in Sarasota, we considered driving up to the Tampa Electric plant to see manatees. The water last year was too warm, so we didn’t go. This year, the Gulf is cooler, so we decided to take the drive and see what we could see.

We could see the steam plumes for miles before we got there.

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Now, I don’t know how you feel about power plants. They certainly don’t have much visual aesthetic appeal. But this one draws in Gulf water for cooling and returns the water to this canal slightly warmer than it went in. On days like today, manatees congregate around this warmer water, and people flock to see them. The power company, Tampa Electric, has built a very nice visitors’ center to accommodate and educate people.

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We did see many manatees. Most of them were a bit too far away to get a really good look at them, but occasionally one or two of them would make their way over to us so we could get a good look.

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We also saw a lot of fish. Some of the, the tarpons, were really big! Some of them seemed to be 5 or 6 feet long. There were quite a few sheepsheads as well. The highlight was that we saw some black-tipped sharks! All this wildlife seemed to be congregating around the warmer waters. It got me thinking about some other times when I’ve learned about wildlife that took advantage of development.

In Alaska this past summer we enjoyed visiting a large marsh called Potter’s Marsh. Again, there were a lot of birds and other wildlife there. It turns out that this marsh was formed as a byproduct of a railroad dike. The Alaska Railroad built the dike for its track, and the marsh formed as a result. The wildlife love it! Years ago I learned that when oil companies build a rig in the Gulf of Mexico, shortly after it is built corals begin to form on the underwater parts of the structure. These corals form the base of a food chain, and pretty soon, all sorts of sea life is found around these oil rigs. I wonder how many more stories like this we could find if we tried: unexpected benefits to wildlife as a result of man’s development. I know this isn’t a politically-correct thing to wonder about, but I wonder about it anyway.

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