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CARPHA and the Coronavirus

Well, it seems that everyone and we mean everyone is concerned about the spread of the coronavirus. The island nations of the Carribean are no exceptions.  A recent press release from the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) lays out their plans to keep the island paradises and their tourism-based economies virus free.

The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) was established in July 2011 by an Intergovernmental Agreement signed by Caribbean Member States and began operation in January 2013. The Agency is the region’s collective response to strengthening its health systems approach so that it is equipped to address public health challenges.

The risk to the Caribbean is low it isn’t stopping them from staying on their toes and taking cautionary measures. The Caribbean Public Health Agency established the world’s first Tourism Health Program in 2015 to collaborate with the private and public organizations to constantly observe and evaluate public health threats to the islands and supply guidance to businesses in the tourism industry.

“CARPHA is recommending that Caribbean Member States be proactive and vigilant. They must step up surveillance measures at points of entry, communication strategies which emphasize good hand hygiene, and measures targeted at reducing the importation of this new virus to our shores,” stated Dr. St. John, who underscored that currently, there are no restrictions to travel to the Caribbean.

We will be watching the Department of State travel restriction carefully in the next couple of months but have confidence in CARPHA’s ability to prevent the spread of the virus in the Caribbean.

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A Sea Safari for Sea Cows

Amanda having a close encounter in Crystal River, Florida with the kindest creatures in the sea.

Last weekend, we had the chance to check another experience off our list of Florida adventures: getting up close and personal with the manatee.

What is a manatee, you might ask?

Manatees are large, fully aquatic, herbivorous marine mammals commonly referred to as sea cows. You can find three different kinds of gentle sea creatures: the Amazonian, West Indian, and the West African manatee. The average manatee grows to 13-14 feet long and weighs around 1,500 pounds. You might think at first you are seeing a large seal but you’d be mistaken, seals are a completely different species.  The manatee has short, stubby paddle-like flippers and the one thick large flipper as a tail. You often see them swimming slowly in the shallow coastal waters where they graze on seagrass, much like cows do on land.

Now that you understand what we are talking about, we should tell you about the experience. We hooked up with Birds Underwater Dive Center, which offers manatee tours in the spring-fed canals of Crystal River. Visiting the manatees is best in January and February when air and water temperatures are cooler and the manatee swim into the springs and canals in order to stay warm. You have to remember even though it’s Florida, the water in the Gulf of Mexico is still only 63 degrees. The water in Crystal River is 72.  The air temperature is a little cool and despite the 72-degree water, you’ll want to wear a wetsuit since you’ll get in the water and just stay there for a couple of hours. The neoprene also helps you remain buoyant since the trip is classified as a float trip, not a dive or a swim. You are not supposed to dive down to manatees, swim with manatees, or proactively approach manatees because of state and federal protections. You can, however, float and observe which as we found is enough to get some real close encounters. Manatees are curious creatures with poor eyesight, so they routinely invade visitors’ personal space.

In fact, I was nearly run over by the large creatures and came within two inches of one as we went face to face. I know, with the approval of our knowledgable guide, Amanda was able to pet one. The experience was truly amazing. We swam with dolphins and that was cool, but the dolphins were part of a research program. The manatee, on the other hand, is truly a wild creature existing in its own habitat. I think it was more like being on safari. We were in their world and needed to be mindful of that.

Should you take a manatee tour? Yes! The manatee has quickly become one of my favorite animals.

 

 

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A Close Encounter with the Kind (Coming Soon)

We had a long day that involved lots of swimming and lots of driving. We can’t wait to bring you the full story next week.

Amanda having a Close Encounter in Crystal Springs, Florida with the kindest creatures in the sea.

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Visiting Some Mermaids

The Entrance to the Park

The Host of the Underwater Show, notice she doesn’t have a tail but fishnet stockings.

We decided to take a spur-of-the-moment trip Saturday to check off one of our Florida “must-see” sites, the mermaids at Weeki Wachee State Park. The mermaids perform shows 16-20 feet below the surface of the natural spring to an audience in a theater behind large windows looking out on the underwater world. The amazing underwater performances are set to music with interludes as the mermaids tell us all about their world, somehow talking underwater so we can hear them. We have a feeling that the dialogue might be pre-recorded and the mermaids are just lip-syncing, but that’s just a guess.

We should probably give you a little history of the legendary tourist stop in southwest Florida. Weeki Wachee is a Seminole Indian phrase the means “little spring.” The name in itself is a bit of a misnomer; the surface of the spring may be only a little more than an acre or two but the true depth of the spring is unknown. You’d have trouble reaching the bottom even if you’re an experienced diver since the current coming up from the bottom is pretty swift. 117 million gallons of water bubble up to the surface each day.

The mermaid show was the brainchild of former Navy Frogman Newt Perry. He built an 18-seat theater six feet below the waterline and taught some beautiful and pretty athletic girls how to breathe through free-flowing air hoses supplying oxygen from an air compressor. It created the appearance that they lived underwater. The first show was on October 13, 1947, a day before Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. The mermaids sometimes had to be sirens, standing along the less-traveled US 19 in their bathing suits to lure the audience in and then diving into the spring to perform.

The 400-seat auditorium 20 feet below the water.

In 1959 the spring was purchased by the American Broadcasting Co. (ABC) which built the current theater. It seats 400 and is embedded in the side of the spring 20 feet below the surface. ABC was responsible for making the shows more elaborate, having mermaids do whole shows like an Underwater Circus, Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz.

The tradition continues to this day even though the spring and show are owned by the State Park System of Florida. During our visit, they were preparing to perform the most appropriate of all stories for the setting, The Little Mermaid.

Our trip to the former roadside attraction and now state park was magical. We gained a new respect for the athleticism of the mermaids. We also enjoyed this nostalgic look at a wholesome form of entertainment that brings wonder and smiles to all ages.

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Bush Fires in Australia: Animals Need Our Help

We know a lot has been going on in the news during the past several weeks and it’s been hard to keep up. One of the many headlines is the more than 100 fires burning in Australia, scorching 12 million acres. To put that in perspective, the Amazon fires that were huge news earlier in the year burned just over 2 million acres and the California wildfires burned 250,000 acres. These Australian fires are absolutely massive.

A big contributing factor to the blazes is the extremely high temperatures in combination with dry conditions and strong winds. The death toll is currently at 19 with dozens missing and over 1,400 homes destroyed. The images of some seaside residents taking refuge on the beaches and being rescued by the Australian navy as their homes and businesses are destroyed have a truly apocalyptic look.

It is estimated that since the outbreak started in September at least 480 million animals, including some of the most iconic species in Australia, have been killed by the inferno. The koala population in New South Wales alone is estimated to have lost over 8,000 members or 30% of the species of slow-moving, tree-dwelling marsupials.

The images of these lovable animals and other wildlife suffering are heartbreaking. The following links are to organizations helping these creatures. If you’re able, please help their efforts with a donation.

The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital 

The RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) of New South Wales

 

 

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An Unexpected Career Change

Well, a lot has happened in the past year. We left Pittsburgh for the warmer weather of Tampa, Florida, but not before being extras in a film about Mr. Rogers. Amanda finally became manager and with that took on the task of whipping her own social media team into shape. We found our literal dreamboat but had to give up on the purchase of the 40′ sailboat when we realized it would not fit under the bridges in upper Tampa Bay. I even made a career change, something I promised to expand on that in an earlier post, so here we go.

We moved to Tampa knowing I didn’t have a job lined up and that we’d be okay on Amanda’s salary. I put my skills out on the freelance market but wasn’t making any headway. I never considered myself unemployed since my writing was bringing in a little money but the frustration of constantly applying for jobs and not hearing back or getting a letter telling me that they decided to pick another candidate, even when I was more than qualified, was disheartening. As the school year began, I decided substitute teaching might be a good option to make some money until landing a “real” job. The work of a sub is tough, I knew that going in. Even so, I still nearly walked off the job at one school due to the frightening number of disciplinary problems. The money wasn’t great, either. I eventually found the schools that worked for me and settled into a grove. I came across a long-term assignment to teach computer science and almost didn’t take it. I’m not a computer science major and I don’t have any real expertise in the field. I decided to call the school and ask them about the class and what they were teaching to help me prepare for the assignment. The funny thing was the apologetic tone in the department’s head voice when he said, “I’m sorry. It’s not all computer science. You’ll also have two classes of TV Production.”

I don’t remember my exact words but the feeling was HOLY CRAP! WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY SO? I explained that I spent my career in TV News and video production and was now really excited about the job. I took over the classroom of a teacher who decided to leave after the first semester and did not leave me much to go on. I was playing catchup the moment the bell rang on my first day. I was planning lessons for each class a period ahead of time in some cases. The strangest thing happened: I didn’t want to run away. Even better, before the first week was over that the department head and the assistant principal both told me they wanted me to stay and asked if they could start the paperwork to bring me on full time.

It wasn’t like they could wave a wand and “poof” make me a certified teacher. I had to do some serious work, too. I had to take a state exam for Business Education to get my temporary certificate. The test was hard. I studied and studied and studied… and passed. I wouldn’t have thought in a million years that I’d be teaching business, but here I am, in Florida, teaching computer science, TV Production, and digital information technology for the business department in a high school. I’ve got a lot of other hoops to jump through to make my certificate more permanent but I’m well on my way.

What a year it’s been. I had considered teaching very early in my career but that was decades ago and far from my mind. I guess that goes to show you that even when things get so frustrating you just want to give up, they can occasionally turn out okay — even if it’s not what you expected.

 

The TV Production Studio, home of our daily Morning Announcements.

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Merry Christmas

We are both under the weather and we still need to hit the road to head home for the holiday. So, life is a struggle at the moment. You can at least see Storm is prepared to hit the road in her new camper all decorated for the holidays. We wish you all the best in the new year.

Storm in her new Holiday Rambler Travel Trailer.