November 28, 2012

Holiday Lights at the Florida Botanical Gardens

8,500 people attended this year’s opening weekend of the Holiday Lights at the Florida Botanical Gardens. With over 500,000 LED lights, this floral wonderland is aglow, and so are visitors’ faces, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. from November 23 until January 1.

Home-grown entertainers perform nightly and food and beverages are available for purchase. Kids can meet Santa and Mrs. Claus there each Friday, Saturday and Sunday (except December 8.) Parking is free. A $2 donation is suggested for adults.

The winding paths feature seasonal lighted fountains and laser displays framing the lush variety of plants that visitors enjoy year-round. Garden enthusiasts will enjoy seeing the full blooms of dogwood bushes and the Christmas Ornament tree with its unique fragrance. This year’s new dedication is a vinery garden.

The Florida Botanical Gardens is located at 12520 Ulmerton Road in Largo. Visit for more information.

All of the ornamental lights have been converted to LED strings for greater energy efficiency. LEDs are considered environmentally friendly, since they contain no mercury. Larger LEDs are effective inside the home, as they produce very little heat and their lifetime is not affected by frequent on/off switching.

Visit the Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project (PEEP) booth for information about LED lighting and other ways to save energy at home. PEEP will be there giving out free hand-powered flashlights, while supplies last, on November 28 and December 1, 5, 7, 12, 15, 19, 21, and 29. PEEP offers free classes on how to reduce your home energy bill.


Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project web page

UF EDIS Factsheet: Introduction to LED Lighting

November 26, 2012

Want to become a Master Wildlifer?

New Master Wildlifer Program Begins January 29

Landowners, land managers and wildlife enthusiasts can learn how to manage wildlife on their land by participating in the 2013 Master Wildlifer Program.

The award-winning Master Wildlifer Program brings together a panel of renowned wildlife biologists, conservation experts and habitat managers for educational sessions on wildlife ecology and management and will include sessions on white-tailed deer, coyote, wild hog, non-game wildlife conservation and wild turkey.

This series of interactive seminars is delivered live to your computer   every Tuesday evening from January 29 through February 26, 2013, from 7 – 8:30 pm (EST).

Landowners without computer access or broadband internet may be able to view and participate in the 2013 Master Wildlifer Program at live sites available through select county extension offices.

Master Wildlifer is a continuing education program designed to provide the latest research-based information to landowners and managers to help in designing sound approaches to managing wildlife. The cost for the course is $100 and includes access to all five live sessions, recordings of each session, and program materials.

For more information about live site locations contact your local county extension office at: 727-453-6905 or 

November 19, 2012

Thankful for Volunteers

Ramona Madhosingh-Hector,  
Urban Sustainability Agent  

As I work on my annual report and reflect on the many accomplishments over the year, I am thankful for the volunteers in the Sustainable Floridian program. Sustainable Floridians is a pioneer program from the University of Florida that seeks to build sustainability awareness. Since its pilot launch in 2011, the program has been well received by our citizens, and in two years, we’ve trained 66 participants. Our volunteers have donated more than 1,800 hours to extending the reach of the Extension Service in our county. As Program Coordinator, I am indebted to the pioneer participants who remain committed to Extension and its mission.

Thanksgiving is a time to express thanks and gratitude and our volunteers have become part of our family here at Extension. One of our newest volunteers, Margot Hogan Glenos, reflected on her recent experiences with Sustainable Floridians and it illustrates what the University of Florida and its instructors hoped to achieve with the development of this program. I am thankful to Margot for sharing her reflections with us and I hope you enjoy reading her perspective.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Having retired from a long teaching career, I decided to heed my own advice given to my students- follow your heart and do what makes you happy. As a teacher, I was constantly involved in community projects that involved some type of environmental awareness or conservation. There was great excitement when the students planted trees or gardens on the school campus. They became downright vigilantes when people dropped litter around on “their playground”. It was rewarding to see the students look at the environment through new eyes and know that a seed of conservation and stewardship had been planted in their minds.

When I moved to Florida last April, I wanted to be a part of my new community and pondered where to start. I came across the Sustainable Floridians Program that is offered through the Pinellas County Extension Service and the University of Florida. The course description looked perfect for my needs–sustainable practices tailored to my new home.

The seven week course began with an awareness of the ecological problems facing all of us on a local and global scale. It was hard to visualize scarcity and carbon footprints while gazing out at the beauty of the Brooker Creek Preserve. I watched butterflies float lazily past the panoramic windows as Ramona or Mary presented distressing facts. Squirrels happily foraged for food among the palmettos and oak trees while my classmates and I discussed sustainability.

It was on a trip home that opened my eyes to the development in Pinellas County. Highway 19 stretched on for miles with one town blending into another. It seemed that there were endless shopping centers between Tarpon Springs and Seminole. The traffic was steady and fairly heavy. I realized at that moment how truly important sustainability is to everyone around me. Comprehension dawned in my mind of what a million people living and working together in a space called Pinellas County really looked like. I was momentarily intimidated by the immensity of it all.

The classes began to calm my concerns about sustainability in the world (and Pinellas County). We learned about solutions found in other communities. When our classes took us on an exploration of water and electricity conservation, I really took it personally. It was at this point that I accepted the challenge of reducing my power and water consumption.

I purchased an umbrella clothesline and stopped using the dryer. There is something strangely meditative about hanging laundry on a line in the sunshine. I can hear all sorts of birds calling to each other. The wind chimes around the neighborhood create a unique orchestra of tube melodies in the gentle breezes. My dogs enjoy sitting in the sunshine, watching me fuss with each article of clothing.

Besides using a solar clothes dryer, I have been setting up a rain barrel to help save water for my plants. This is another direct benefit from the Sustainable Floridians. They bring in resource people to teach us how to do things such as building rain barrels. All I need now is some rain to fill up the barrel.

Another area of sustainability that piqued my interest in this course was saving on driving. I have been keenly aware of my ‘car-bon’ tire track for a number of years now. When I was commuting 75 miles every day, I needed a car that would get optimum mileage. After much research, I chose a Prius. It not only gets about 50 miles to a gallon of gas but has nearly zero emissions. Since retiring, I do not drive as much as before. However, the Sustainable Floridians course made me start thinking about my driving habits. Just because I have a low mpg car does not mean that I do not have to be conservative. I plan trips based on needs rather than impulse. If I need to go to the store, I combine it with something else that needs to be done. I am becoming vividly conscious of my driving habits and gas consumption.

Part of the requirement for the Sustainable Floridian course is volunteerism. I am looking forward to getting involved in community events around Pinellas County. It is exciting for me to have the opportunity to work with others who have expertise and experience in the many areas for which I am interested in volunteering.

These are a few of the benefits I gained from Sustainable Floridians. However, the greatest benefit was in getting to know others with a passion for living sustainably. Our class was comprised of people from all ages, backgrounds, interests yet we found common ground in this course. Ideas were exchanged, support and encouragement was offered, and new friendships developed. Knowing that there are other people in the community who feel the same about preserving our world and living sustainably is a huge boost to my own efforts.

I am grateful to the Pinellas County Extension for providing such a valuable course to the public. It was just what I needed to help guide me along a more sustainable path.

November 16, 2012

One Fish, Two Fish, “Red” Fish, Dead Fish?

Credit: Florida Fish and
Wildlife Research Institute
Libby Carnahan,  
Pinellas County Sea Grant Extension Agent  

We all remember the Gulf of Mexico beaches of 2005 littered with decaying fish. The fish kill was caused by “red tide” and recent reports of a patchy bloom of Florida Red Tide in southwest Florida from southern Pinellas County through Lee County is causing concern. So what is red tide and what are the impacts to us? 

Red tide is the result of a harmful algal bloom (HAB) of a tiny single-celled dinoflagellate algae called Karenia brevis. Red tide in Florida is a natural phenomenon, originating offshore from algae lying dormant as cysts in the sediment. It is unclear what causes the cysts to awaken and multiply. HABs occur under a particular combination of biology, chemistry, and physics.

Many red tides produce toxic chemicals that can affect both marine life and humans. The Florida red tide organism, K. brevis, produces brevetoxins that can affect the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates, causing these animals to die. Fish can acquire the toxins through direct uptake (planktivorous fish), or by bioaccumulation through the food chain. Often the animals themselves do not exhibit any visible sign of contamination. Predatory fish, birds, marine mammals and humans that eat this fish can become poisoned. Blooms of K. brevis can kill millions of fish and birds in a few days, and blooms can last for weeks.

The red tide toxins can also accumulate in molluscan filter-feeders such as oysters and clams, which can lead to Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning in people who consume contaminated shellfish. Red tide also causes respiratory irritation in humans as K. brevis cells release toxins into the air as they are broken down by wave action. For people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions, such as emphysema or asthma, red tide can cause serious illness.

Although the occurrence of a red tide cannot be predicted, scientists can forecast its movement using wind and water current data once a bloom is located. Scientists also monitor the concentration of the red tide organism by collecting water samples routinely and in response to blooms. The information provided by forecasting and monitoring allows citizens to make informed decisions regarding their beach-going activities.

Some precautions that can be taken to avoid disease and/or discomfort due to red tide HABs include:
  • Stay away from the water where HAB conditions have been identified or if water is foamy or discolored or contains dead fish. 
  • Do not eat, use or collect any fish, crabs, shellfish, other life or items from those waters. 
  • Do not let pets swim in or eat fish from those waters. 
  • If contact is made with the water, rinse as soon as possible with fresh water. 
  • If you suffer respiratory discomfort when near the water, moving a short distance away from the shore may alleviate the symptoms. In more severe cases, stay indoors in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible. 

Red tides can last as little as a few weeks or longer than a year. The duration of a bloom in nearshore Florida waters depends on physical and biological conditions that influence its growth and persistence, including sunlight, nutrients and salinity, as well as the speed and direction of wind and water currents. HABs can have consequences on human health, the environment, local and regional economies, and can impact natural ecological communities directly and indirectly.

For more information on active red tide events, visit the FWC website and access the resources below. 


Rey, Jorge R. 2008. Red Tides. University of Florida, IFAS, EDIS ENY-851 (IN766),

Staugler, Betty. 2012. Red Tide 101. University of Florida IFAS/ Charlotte County Extension. EAS-010412-002.

Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project at Science Center

Energy-saving kits
for class attendees

Don’t miss the free 60 minute class in advanced energy saving while attending the sustainability event at the Science Center of Pinellas County on Saturday,  November 17 at 6 p.m. Learn how much energy is wasted in the home every day, around the clock. Participants receive free equipment and materials (while supplies last) to help cut energy costs, and save money each month.

Located just west of the Tyrone Square Mall on 22nd Avenue North, the Science Center is now the Science + Technology Education Innovation Center (STEIC). This Saturday's activities include planetarium shows, a yard sale and an outdoor movie at 7:30 p.m. Visit the STEIC web site for more information, or call 727-384-0027.

Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project is a grant-funded educational program of Pinellas County Extension. Extension programs are open to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, age, disability, religion, or national origin.