Thursday, March 12, 2009

Gulf in Florida will be more deadly if buoys are deserted

Tampa Bay Online: At the same time the Tampa Bay area and much of the country has been saddened by the story of three football players lost in the Gulf of Mexico, the University of South Florida is preparing to dismantle a buoy system that can provide critical information to search-and-rescue missions. Federal funding cutbacks are forcing USF to gradually remove the 14 buoys in the Florida Coastal Ocean Observing System, which monitors coastal waters from Pasco County to Key West. Similar monitoring buoys are being removed in other parts of the country. Already, three buoys have been removed from the Gulf of Mexico. By summer the program that USF oceanographer Robert Weisberg started in 1993 may be halted.

And that would be a shame. The network provides essential information on wind, waves, current, temperature, salinity and tides to scientists studying the ocean, outdoor enthusiasts planning a fishing trip and Coast Guard rescuers trying to locate missing boaters. The loss will significantly diminish the collection of ocean data, which is provided in real-time at

The information helps scientists study climate change, chart red tide, track the movements of fish larvae and nutrients and predict the course of an oil spill. It can alert emergency officials to extreme storms. But it also lets boaters check the weather and fishing conditions. As the Tribune's Lindsay Peterson reports, the Coast Guard search-and-rescue teams utilizes the system to determine the likely course of a drifting boat or person.

And Weisberg says the monitors have tremendously advanced ocean research. "We have learned so much about the continental shelf from this," he says. "We know the response when a storm comes by. ... And the foundation of learning how the ocean works is circulation, which this network reveals to us." The tremendous resource has already been compromised, since needed repairs on the buoys have been delayed.

Capt. Wayne Genthner, a commercial charter boat captain on Longboat Key, says he won't go out into the Gulf without checking the system. "It is the only way to gauge what the weather actually is out there. This kind of data is what lets us see if conditions are safe." Weisberg says it costs about $1 million a year to operate the system, which is primarily funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, though the project also receives grants from the Navy, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and other agencies…..

Bayside Bridge in Pinellas County, Florida, shot by Canadaolympic989

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