Archive for the ‘Florida’ Category


Investigators have identified the remains of a suspected burglar who was killed by an alligator. Police say it appears 22-year-old Matthew Riggins was hiding from law enforcement when the incident occurred.

Brevard County deputies have determined that Matthew Riggins, 22, was killed by an alligator in Barefoot Bay lake on Nov. 23 while possibly hiding to avoid law enforcement.

Investigators say that Riggins had told his girlfriend he would be in Barefoot Bay to commit burglaries with another suspect who is now in custody but not cooperating with officials, according to Maj. Tod Goodyear with BCSO.

Deputies responded to calls in Barefoot Bay on Nov. 13 that there were two men dressed in black walking behind area houses, who ran from responding officers. Later that day, Riggins was reported missing to the Palm Bay Police Department.

Police searching the area reported hearing “yelling” but could not determine the source that night, Goodyear said. Ten days later, Riggins’ body was found in the lake.

Sheriff’s dive team members encountered an 11-foot alligator behaving aggressively while recovering the body, according to BCSO.

“When the body was found, it had injuries that were consistent with an alligator attack,” Goodyear said. “We had trappers euthanize the gator and when we opened it up, there were some remains inside that were consistent with injuries found on the body.”

Riggins died from drowning and bites were discovered along his legs and body that led investigators to determine he had been dragged underwater by the massive animal.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/12/08/alligator-kills-florida-burglary-suspect-hiding-cops/76966512/

hand
giant snail

In the 1960s, a boy vacationing with his family in Hawaii pocketed a few giant African land snails (Lissachatina fulica), a mollusk that grows to a foot long and a full pound. Hawaii had been battling the pest, and so too would Florida, where the boy returned with his new friends. Once home, he quickly grew bored of the snails and handed them over to his grandmother, who set them free in her backyard.

What ensued was an invasion by rapidly reproducing critters that have over the last century spread out of their native East Africa into tropical climes all over the world, from Asia to South America, as stowaways on ships or as pets brought home by people with a thing for snails. In Florida, eradication took seven years. Other places, like Brazil, have not been so lucky in their efforts.

You see, the giant African land snail is a hermaphroditic love machine. “Snails have female bits and male bits,” explained biologist Robert Cowie of the University of Hawaii, “a single pore, through which if you’re acting as a male, a penis extrudes, or if you’re acting as a female, through which the other snail puts its penis in. And in some cases they can do it reciprocally.”

Thus the giant snail never meets another snail it can’t get busy with. Once fertilized, the snail will bury several hundred eggs a few inches below ground, and because of the incredible size of the species, the young will emerge far larger than native varieties, making them that much more resistant to predation.

Alas, four decades after evicting this enormous, fecund snail, Florida finds itself overrun once again. The creature was reintroduced here in 2011, and this time, according to Cowie, it may well be “bizarre, voodoo-like religious proceedings” to blame. The snail’s slime, he says, is coveted in certain South American rituals, and practitioners may have released the giant snails into their Miami-area backyards, hoping they’d breed freely.

The USDA and U.S. District Attorney’s Office are investigating this. It probably doesn’t help the ritualists’ case, though, that the year before the current outbreak, authorities questioned a Florida man said to have convinced his followers to drink the fluid from live giant African land snails, which he sliced open before squeezing the slime into their mouths. If you can believe it, the victims fell violently ill — ironic, what with this being a healing ritual.

Anyway, if it was indeed the practitioners who released the snails so they (the snails, not the practitioners) could multiply rapidly, it worked. Big time. Florida agriculture officials have collected 137,000 giant snails in just over two years. Compare that to the relatively few 17,000 collected in the first eradication in the 1960s, and you soon see the magnitude of this problem.

Today, Miami is simply overrun with the things. Not only do the giant snails chow on some 500 economically important plants in the area, they’re devouring houses. It seems they have a taste for stucco, which contains precious calcium. Without a ready supply of the stuff to fuel their amazing growth, they’ll simply turn on each other — at least in captivity.

A long time ago I had some African snails in the lab, in an aquarium-type tank,” said Cowie, “and apparently I wasn’t providing a sufficient source of calcium, and they would just eat each other’s shells. These snails produce big shells, they need a lot of calcium, and a lot of people these days when they keep snails they’ll put a bit of cattle bone in the terrarium for the snails to chew on, just to get the calcium.”

And because I know you were wondering: Yes, you can eat giant African land snails. But cook them well. I mean really well. Just boil them for a month. Grill them with napalm if you have it. Because like many snails and semi-slugs, this species carries the deadly rat lungworm.

As its name suggests, the parasite attacks rats, which pass the larvae in their feces. Snails that eat this waste are infected, as are folks who eat the snails. In humans, the larvae attack the brain, leading to meningitis and often a pretty horrible death. This has been documented as a particular problem in China, where people may not be cooking giant snails sufficiently.

But for all the folks who cook their giant snails properly, still others ingest them accidentally. All manner of critters could very easily end up in your Caesar salad, for instance, since cooks don’t always peel apart the lettuce before chopping it. “And it could just as well be a little baby African snail,” said Cowie. “OK, it’s a bit crunchy, but so is the lettuce a bit crunchy, and you’d never know. So that’s the way people generally get infected in places where they don’t habitually eat raw snails.”

With such health risks combined with the damage to agriculture and the snails just being a public menace — with shells so big and sharp that they can puncture tires that run them over, for instance — Florida is sinking millions of dollars into its eradication measures. The state has 50 full-time staffers assigned to the project, said Denise Feiber of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which is leading the effort.

By deploying common over-the-counter snail poison and advertising a hotline residents can call to report sightings, authorities have so far been able to contain the critter to Miami. And no, pouring salt on them is in no way an acceptable option for homeowners. It’s a horrible death. Osmosis pulls the water out of the snail, killing it of dehydration. Just don’t do it. Ever.

But it’s possible, according to Cowie, that the giant snail could well spread to other Gulf states, though luckily they probably can’t tolerate the cooler weather in Georgia and other states farther north (contrary to popular belief, Hotlanta is not in fact always hot — most of the time it’s just Atlanta).

Cowie knows all too well the explosive population growth these things are capable of when left unchecked. In Hawaii, where he lives, the giant African land snail was introduced in the 1930s by Japanese immigrants who wanted to keep them as pets. They have since essentially assumed ecological control, tearing through agriculture and muscling out native species.

In 1950s Hawaii, “there were stories of on a rainy day, when the snails all came out and crawled all over the road,” Cowie said, “the cars would squish them and cars would end up skidding on the squished snail. Dead, crushed snail and slime, sort of all mish-mashed together by the cars. So that was when Hawaii got serious about trying to control them. And we’ve not been successful at controlling them.”

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2014/01/absurd-creature-of-the-week-foot-giant-african-land-snail/

UtahReducesHomelessness011814

Earlier this month, Hawaii State representative Tom Bower (D) began walking the streets of his Waikiki district with a sledgehammer, and smashing shopping carts used by homeless people. “Disgusted” by the city’s chronic homelessness problem, Bower decided to take matters into his own hands — literally. He also took to rousing homeless people if he saw them sleeping at bus stops during the day.

Bower’s tactics were over the top, and so unpopular that he quickly declared “Mission accomplished,” and retired his sledgehammer. But Bower’s frustration with his city’s homelessness problem is just an extreme example of the frustration that has led cities to pass measures that effective deal with the homeless by criminalizing homelessness.

•City council members in Columbia, South Carolina, concerned that the city was becoming a “magnet for homeless people,” passed an ordinance giving the homeless the option to either relocate or get arrested. The council later rescinded the ordinance, after backlash from police officers, city workers, and advocates.

•Last year, Tampa, Florida — which had the most homeless people for a mid-sized city — passed an ordinance allowing police officers to arrest anyone they saw sleeping in public, or “storing personal property in public.” The city followed up with a ban on panhandling downtown, and other locations around the city.

•Philadelphia took a somewhat different approach, with a law banning the feeding of homeless people on city parkland. Religious groups objected to the ban, and announced that they would not obey it.

•Raleigh, North Carolina took the step of asking religious groups to stop their longstanding practice of feeding the homeless in a downtown park on weekends. Religious leaders announced that they would risk arrest rather than stop.

This trend makes Utah’s accomplishment even more noteworthy. In eight years, Utah has quietly reduced homelessness by 78 percent, and is on track to end homelessness by 2015.

How did Utah accomplish this? Simple. Utah solved homelessness by giving people homes. In 2005, Utah figured out that the annual cost of E.R. visits and jail stays for homeless people was about $16,670 per person, compared to $11,000 to provide each homeless person with an apartment and a social worker. So, the state began giving away apartments, with no strings attached. Each participant in Utah’s Housing First program also gets a caseworker to help them become self-sufficient, but they keep the apartment even if they fail. The program has been so successful that other states are hoping to achieve similar results with programs modeled on Utah’s.

It sounds like Utah borrowed a page from Homes Not Handcuffs, the 2009 report by The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and The National Coalition for the Homeless. Using a 2004 survey and anecdotal evidence from activists, the report concluded that permanent housing for the homeless is cheaper than criminalization. Housing is not only more human, it’s economical.

http://www.nationofchange.org/utah-ending-homelessness-giving-people-homes-1390056183

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

whales-everglades-jpg

Wildlife workers in boats struggled Wednesday to coax nearly four dozen pilot whales out of dangerous shallow waters in Florida’s Everglades National Park, hoping to spare them the fate of 10 others that already have died.

Four of the whales had to be euthanized Wednesday, and six others already had died, said Blair Mase, the marine mammal stranding network coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. At least three could be seen on the beach, out of the water.

Park spokeswoman Linda Friar said rescuers were trying to surround the whales with boats about 75 feet from shore and nudge them out of the roughly 3-foot-deep salt water back to sea.

“They are trying to herd the animals out to sea,” Friar said. “They are not cooperating.”

Workers tried to nudge the whales out to sea a day earlier with no success. The whales are stranded in a remote area that takes more than an hour to reach by boat from the nearest boat ramp.

“This scenario is very challenging because of where they are,” Mase said. Officials typically have access to heavy equipment to rescue stranded whales, but that isn’t an option where the whales are now.

Furthermore, the area is so shallow that it’s difficult to get the mammals enough water to propel them back to sea. A team of biologists was still assessing the whales Wednesday.

Officials don’t know how long the whales been stranded or how they got there. The whales usually swim together in large groups and tend to follow a dominant male leader, so it’s not uncommon for multiple whales to get stranded at once.

At least one other group of whales has stranded in the park in the past 10 years.

“It’s not uncommon,” Friar said. “But it’s not something that happens a lot.”

Mase said the whales are known to inhabit deep water, “so they are very out of their home range.”

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/dec/04/whales-trapped-everglades-florida-park

Thanks to Dr. D for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

swede

Doctors are looking into the mystery of a Florida man who awoke speaking only Swedish, with no memory of his past, after he was found unconscious four months ago at a Southern California motel.

Michael Boatwright, 61, woke up with amnesia, calling himself Johan Ek.

Boatwright was found unconscious in a Motel 6 room in Palm Springs, Calif., in February. After police arrived, he was transported to the Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs where he woke up.

Hospital officials said Boatwright may have been in town for a tennis tournament in the Coachella Valley. He was found with a duffel bag of exercise clothes, a backpack and tennis rackets. He also carried four forms of identification — a passport, a California identification card, a veteran’s medical card and a Social Security card — all of which identified him as Michael Thomas Boatwright.

Palm Springs police have documented his information in case anyone lists Boatwright as missing or wanted, authorities said.

In March, doctors diagnosed Boatwright with Transient Global Amnesia, a condition triggered by physical or emotional trauma that can last for several months.
The rare mental disorder is characterized by memory loss, “sudden and unplanned travel,” and possible adoption of a new identity, according to the Sun.

After an extensive search, medical personnel and social workers have been unable to locate Boatwright’s next of kin. Authorities are still unsure of his birthplace, listed on his ID as Florida — photos show him in Sweden at a young age.

Boatwright doesn’t recall how to exchange money, take public transportation, or seek temporary housing like homeless shelters or hotels, the social worker assigned to his case, Lisa Hunt-Vasquez said.

He doesn’t remember his son and two ex-wives, either.

He has no income or insurance, further complicating his treatment at Desert Regional. And he has little money he can access — only $180. He also has a few Chinese bank accounts, but can only access one account, which holds $7, according to the newspaper.

Doctors don’t know how much longer he will be able to stay at the centre — aside from his amnesia, Boatwright is in good health. The hospital is currently looking for alternatives that would keep him off the streets. For now, Boatwright is unsure of both his past and his future.

“Sometimes it makes me really sad and sometimes it just makes me furious about the whole situation and the fact that I don’t know anybody, I don’t recognize anybody,” Boatwright told the newspaper.

Last year, a North Dakota college student who went missing for nearly a week before turning up in Arizona said she had a bout of amnesia and didn’t know who she was.

Amber Glatt, a 22-year-old Valley City State University student, vanished on the Fourth of July, prompting aerial searches. She contacted her mother five days later from the Grand Canyon. Her mother said Glatt has had recurring amnesia since suffering a head injury years ago.

Glatt told WDAY-TV that after she lost her memory she met a man in a bar who let her tag along on his trip to the Grand Canyon. She said the man eventually saw online that she’d been reported missing and alerted her.

Glatt regained most of her memory.

http://www.theprovince.com/news/Florida+wakes+with+memory+past+speaking+only+Swedish/8666679/story.html

ftn of youth

Jackie Snow
for National Geographic
Published July 23, 2013

Five hundred years ago in June, the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon started his journey back to Puerto Rico from Florida after becoming the first European to land on mainland America. After exploring the east coast of Florida, he circled the peninsula and explored the west coast, including modern-day Charlotte Harbor, most likely the location he chose for his second voyage.

According to legend, the explorer set out in search of the fountain of youth, a fabled stream that would extend the life of anyone lucky enough to drink from it.

Thanks to the myth of Ponce de Leon’s trip, Florida—known for its large population of retirees—is now awash in “fountains of youth.” Dozens of bodies of water claim the title of the one legendary fountain, from mineral springs to deep-water wells, not to mention water from a variety of sources that is piped into various built structures.

Only one, however, is known to be radioactive. And, oddly, it might be actually extending life.

In Punta Gorda, a town on Charlotte Harbor, a blocky, green-tiled fountain abuts an empty lot near the harbor. A spigot juts out near the top to release water from the artesian well below. Each of the four sides features a picture of a ship, a tribute to Ponce de Leon.

On the side facing away from the street, a public health notice warns that the water “exceeds the maximum contaminant level for radioactivity.”

The water from the well is also heavy in sulfates, which give it a distinctive smell of rotten eggs. This hasn’t stopped the locals from drinking from it regularly.

“I drank out of that well every day,” said Gussie Baker, a resident of Punta Gorda for all of her 78 years.

Baker used to live down the road from the Hotel Punta Gorda, whose guests would frolic in a pool filled with water from the same aquifer. Baker learned to swim in the pool and passed the fountain on her way to school.

“I love artesian water,” she said. Baker doesn’t live as close to the fountain anymore, but says she would drink it if she were nearby.

Punta Gordians proudly declared the existence of a rejuvenative fountain as far back as 1894. In 1926, they mounted a collection drive to pay for the stout little structure that stands to this day. At the height of its popularity, in the mid-20th century, the handle on the tap had to be replaced every six months.

The environmental movement threatened to put a stop to the locals’ enthusiasm for the fountain. In 1974, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to determine safe levels of a variety of contaminants, including radium. All public water sources were to be tested.

Punta Gorda’s water clocked in at 9.2 picoCuries of radium-226 isotope per liter when it was tested in 1983. This exceeded the recommended radium limit, set at 5 picoCuries per liter.

As a result, in 1986, the city council mulled plugging the well, moving the fountain, and hooking it up to city water. But locals fought back.

“They’ve tried several times over the years to close it down, to seal it up, to move it or hook it to the city water, and the public has always defeated that,” said Wilson Harper, a 71-year-old former water utilities supervisor better known as “Water Bill.”

“The last 15 years it’s been as quiet as a church mouse,” he said.

Lindsay Harrington has worked across the street from the fountain in a real estate office and watched the comings and goings since 1997.

Visitors “usually come with lots of plastic bottles, or big plastic jugs that hold maybe five or ten gallons,” he said.

“We did have an occasion where a gentleman would wash his car there, and I always thought maybe he was hoping it would lengthen the use he would get out of it,” he said. “It was his own automobile fountain of youth.”

Radium shows up in 3 to 4 percent of water around the country, according to a recent study by the United States Geological Survey. Many areas have no radium in their local water. Radium mostly turned up in places that had certain rock formations with particular water chemistry that created the perfect radium sink. Florida made up the third most likely area in which to find radium-laced water.

Zoltan Szabo, a co-author of the study who has worked at the United States Geological Survey for 28 years, explained that Florida’s water is frequently encased in limestone, which doesn’t absorb or store radium. “It’s like a bad paper towel,” Szabo said of the common Floridian rocks.

Artesian water supplies are especially low in oxygen, which also helps draw radium out of the water. Szabo hasn’t looked at the Punta Gorda water supply in particular but says the levels of radium at which the fountain tested are not especially dangerous.

The EPA’s recommended levels are very conservative, Szabo said, and are based on drinking a liter a day for 70 years. Even if that was the amount and length of time someone drank the water, the chance of getting cancer is still low, Szabo said, in the range of 1 in 20,000.

“You’re taking a quantifiable risk,” he said. “If you’re smoking a cigarette, you’re taking a quantifiable risk. Probably more than drinking that water.”

But radium isn’t the only thing that turns up in the water. In fact, a much more humdrum ingredient might hold the secret of its appeal. The water from the aquifer is high in magnesium, the second most common mineral in the body after calcium.

More than 80 percent of Americans are deficient in magnesium, which helps the body regulate heart muscles and control high blood pressure. The World Health Organization recommends that drinking water contain at least 25 milligrams of magnesium per liter, and a U.S. Academy of Science study from 1977 found that 150,000 deaths a year in the United States could be prevented with additional magnesium in water.

According to Carolyn Dean, author of The Magnesium Miracle, the fountain’s 46 ppm of magnesium puts it on par with other mineral waters like San Pellegrino.

The compound magnesium sulfate also makes an appearance in the water. It’s better known as Epsom salt, which has been used in baths to ease aches and pains for years.

Magnesium is regularly removed from many bottled waters by a process known as reverse osmosis. And the fluoride added to many public water supplies counteracts magnesium, too.

Magnesium is especially good for older people: Magnesium deficiency increases with age as the body stops being as efficient in absorption, and many drugs senior citizens take interfere with the body’s ability to digest magnesium.

“Water Bill” Harper has noticed that the fountain is especially popular among Punta Gorda’s older folk.

“One of the problems with city water is we have to maintain a chloride disinfection. It makes everything taste funny,” he said. “The people have learned they can go down and take that water, which is not chlorinated, and let it sit in the refrigerator.

“It’s tasty; it has no reaction with any of their medication. Also, [magnesium sulfate] keeps you regular.”

To Harper’s knowledge, the fountain’s water has not been tested for at least 25 years—although the EPA recommends biannual testing.

When this reporter sent the water off recently to be tested, it got a reading of 14.4 picoCuries per liter, plus or minus 6.4. This is, according to Szabo, within the range of what showed up in the previous test. According to the EPA website, zero is the goal for radium levels.

Between this warning and the ubiquity of bottled water, the fountain is much less popular today. Harrington says days will go by without him seeing anyone at the fountain. But there are still some dedicated drinkers.

Margaret Baumherdt has been drinking from the fountain since 1967, years before any warning went up. Baumherdt, who is now 88, moved to the area when she was in her early 40s and remembers having to wait in line to drink the water.

She gets her daughter to drive her to the fountain from her home in nearby Port Charlotte, the town across the harbor, and fills up as many as 40 gallon jugs at a time. She drinks the water exclusively and even uses it to cook meals like spaghetti. Tap water’s chlorine content doesn’t sit well with her. The fountain water, however, is just right.

“I love the taste,” she said.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/07/130719-florida-fountain-of-youth-radioactive-magnesium-health/

dog

When fourth-grader Emma Bartelt wanted to wow the judges at her elementary school’s science fair, she knew she had to do something unexpected.

All she needed was a box, a jar, three dogs … and an ounce of cocaine.

These days, vinegar and baking soda is so passé.

In what Miami-Dade school district officials are calling a first, Emma tapped her connections with Miami-Dade police to show how a dog’s sense of smell helps it find narcotics.

“The student’s science project involved a very unusual set of circumstances, including having a parent who is a well-respected police detective with experience in training dogs that sniff for illegal substances,” school district spokesman John Schuster said in statement.

Earlier this month, Miami-Dade police Det. Douglas Bartelt and his colleagues let Emma sit in while they put three drug sniffing canines through a search exercise at their narcotics training facility. There was Roger, a springer spaniel; Levi, a golden retriever; and Franky, a retired chocolate Labrador.

The dogs were individually timed as they searched for 28 grams of cocaine — worth an estimated $1,300 on the street — locked in a metal canister, hidden in a box somewhere in a single room. The exercise was then repeated in a second room.

In the end, Franky came out first, sniffing out the cocaine in 43 seconds. At no time did Emma handle the drugs or the dogs, a Police Department spokeswoman said.

Cocaine is not specifically banned from use in district science fair rules, the Miami Herald reported.

The project earned Emma first prize at her school, Coral Gables Preparatory Academy, and a chance to participate in the county science fair at Miami Dade College on Jan. 26. She received an honorable mention there, district officials said.

Emma explained “the purpose of this scientific investigation was to find which dog would find the cocaine fastest using its sense of smell,” according to the Herald.

http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-sci-sn-student-cocaine-science-fair-20130131,0,1052960.story