Save the Fishies

SpongeBob and Saint Patrick Star, Too

Ever since the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005, the ritzy Town of Palm Beach has been angling to pull off a $9 million project to widen a section of the beach known as Reach 8. The battered stretch starts at the town's public golf course and extends south of Lake Worth Beach (but skips Lake Worth, because its city commission voted down the idea). The reason for refurbishing it? To enhance and protect oceanfront condos.

Beach fans and fishermen regard these kinds of projects the way divers look upon plastic bags and rusty beer cans in an otherwise-pristine ocean. They typically use sand dredged far offshore. This isn't the coarse, warmly-colored sand we usually romp on, says Florida Sportsman magazine founder Karl Wickstrom, it's "a silty goo that kills marine life and then washes away anyway."

Even proponents of the Reach 8 project concede that, due to natural wave action, their dredged sand will bury eight acres of a nearshore coral reef. Sportsmen say this will kill animals that live there, like baby snook, grouper, and snapper.

Palm Beach's proposal essentially countered, So what? We'll spend another $8 million to build an artificial reef to make up for it.

An expensive solution, worthy of a community of mall-hopping Marie Antoinettes — but not good enough, critics say. Limestone boulders placed far offshore are hardly the same as a natural coral reef. They won't provide the same habitat for fish, and even if you wanted to, you couldn't snorkel to them. This is not "kind-for-kind mitigation," not biologically, not recreationally.

The town wanted to start dredging before May 1, when turtle nesting season begins (will these annoying sea creatures never desist?) and construction has to halt. It pushed to get the approvals it needed from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Protection. The Army Corps is waiting until at least sometime this week to rule. The DEP, meantime, has said, Sure, the proposal meets state requirements. So the town was about to go ahead and issue its own permit — until two nonprofit groups, the Surfrider Foundation and the Snook Foundation, stepped in with their lawyers, asking for a formal administrative hearing, which effectively stalled Reach 8.

Surfrider's Ericka D'Avanzo told Tailpipe that beach renourishment isn't necessary. "The beach isn't even critically eroded." Beaches are naturally diminished by storms, she said, but they're replaced by sand transport over time. "A lot of people don't understand beach dynamics. Our barrier islands — this is what they do: They come and go. They look worse in winter, but sand returns in the summer." Tax dollars would be better spent on preventive measures, she said, like improved inlet management.

So some beach fans have prevailed for the time being. Realizing it would be dumb to rush Reach 8 with their objections pending, Palm Beach called off the contractors.

Town Manager Peter Elwell told the Palm Beach Daily News the town was "deeply disappointed that a small group of objectors has prevented the town from protecting town residents and their property from potentially serious damage in future storms." Mayor Jack McDonald vowed to carry on, hoping the town would gets its permits and resume the project in October, or if not, next year.

There's a lesson there, 'Pipe thinks: Never underestimate the determination of a group of condo owners, even when it comes to reconfiguring a beach and the ocean floor. They'll toss out the baby snook with the ocean water. That's why 'Pipe is praying to SpongeBob, patron saint of little fishies, to keep the condo crowd at bay.

Pachyderm, Pack It In

What better way to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus than by appreciating up close the beauty of an exotic wild animal?

Well, maybe not.

Pastor David Hughes of the Church by the Glades in Coral Springs arranged for an elephant to visit their three-acre property on Easter Sunday.

Judy the elephant was part of the church's "relationship rehab" counseling series. "She's supposed to represent 'the elephant in the living room'" that couples deal with, Hughes said, adding that the Church by the Glades is "constantly looking for creative and fun ways to get people's attention and help people."

Maybe, but it's not fun for the elephant, says People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which has spent the last decade protesting at circuses, among other places, chiding ticket-buyers about the way performing elephants are treated.

"These animals are trained through domination, fear, and punishment," said Daniel Hauff, a Chicago-based animals-in-entertainment specialist for PETA. "Sharp metal bullhooks and electric prods are the standard training tools for the industry. Besides beatings, captive elephants are subjected to confinement for extended periods of time."

Hauff couldn't comment on Judy specifically because he doesn't know enough about her circumstances, but, he said, "the fact still remains that these animals are trained with bullhooks. These are sharp, painful weapons. A lot of people don't realize because they're so big, but elephants have very thin skin — about like ours."

Hauff wrote a letter to Hughes last week saying he should reconsider Judy's appearance. At the same time, PETA posted an "action alert" on its website telling supporters to urge the church to cancel the event.

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