Writers, nature enthusiasts gather in St. Petersburg

02/09/09 Concetta DeLuco
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Natural Florida was up for discussion on Saturday at the St. Petersburg Museum of History. Several Florida writers gathered to highlight some of the features of the state’s vast environment and share their outdoor experiences.

The general consensus among the writers who sat at the roundtable-style discussion is that Florida’s environment is very unique compared to those of other states.

Gary Mormino runs the Florida Studies Program at USF St. Petersburg. He said that regardless of the current economic crisis, Floridians have the advantage of living in a state with an exceptional environment. Floridians need to get outside more and take advantage of it all, he said.

Tim Ohr is the author of the Florida Fabulous Series, which include the works Canoe and Kayak Trail Guide and Natural Places. He said it is Florida’s climate that sets the state apart from the others and enhances its natural environment.

In recognizing the need to nurture Florida’s delicate ecosystems, the writers addressed several of the problems that threaten the natural environment. Ohr said one of the most harmful contributors that are affecting Florida’s many waterways is runoff. And the most amazing thing, he said, is how easy it would be to correct the problem, such as by setting septic tanks further away from waterways or creating natural buffers by planting vegetation along the waterways. However, the problem, he says is that there is no budget for it, so the effort must come through volunteer efforts.

Terry Tomlin, St. Petersburg Times Outdoor Editor, said among the issues that Florida faces, the most devastating has been the government’s complete disregard for the coastline. Tomlin said the people in charge of building on the beaches should be put in jail, but instead they are civic leaders and today Floridians are suffering from it.

Today, Florida’s population exceeds 18 million, making it the fourth largest state in the nation. And in the next decade, the population is expected to more than double.

Joe Murphy is the Florida Program Director for the Gulf Restoration Network. He said he recognizes the damage that negligent development is causing to Florida’s environment. And as the state continues to grow, Murphy said we need to find a balance between preserving natural habitats and housing people.

Virtually all of the speakers said that the biggest problem in Florida is that people do not get outdoors. Tomlin, said it is difficult to discuss some of the issues that Florida is dealing with when people do not know what you are talking about and do not care.

The writers encourage Floridians to get involved with local grassroots organizations to help preserve Florida’s nature.

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