“Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention” – Frank Sinata singing “My Way”

I did it my way for eight years, and I still reign supreme as the world’s greatest park critic. (I’ve never met another). Here’s my final column: “And the Winner Is …“.


Where’s Robin Hood? You’ll never find him or this park, but I did.

Patrol Patrol was my creation, although the idea started with Biscayne Times editor Jim Mullin, who simply presented the idea and said, “You’ll figure it out.” I guess we did.

My craziest park experience was in downtown Miami’s Bicentennial Park (now transformed into Museum Park) where a homeless man gave me the “insider’s tour” of the best spots for pooping and pimping.

Check out my penultimate column in the Biscayne Times, where I review Miami’s worst parks in “Good Park / Bad Park.”

The most serene moments happened in almost every park, because they were rarely crowded, and I made a habit of walking the full perimeter to appreciate the park’s scope. Every park has a tree or a corner or a bench that you can claim. Better yet, keep walking and absorb the sensations flowing over you.

Every park has wildlife, and Miami is especially blessed with spiders and amazing aquatic creatures. One time while kayaking back from an island in Biscayne Bay, a man-sized wild dolphin repeatedly performed 10-foot leaps into the air and landed on its back. Probably no more than five people witnessed that feat, even though many thousands live and work in the nearby skyrises. As busy urbanites, we miss almost every moment of wonder.

What nuggets of wisdom did I learn by visiting and analyzing a new park every month for eight years? I guess I could sum it up by saying:

  • Nature creates masterpieces, and humans can only build frames. Light frames around large spaces work the best.
  • The Everglades is not a park, because an ecosystem has no gate. But it needs a park to save what little remains.
  • All children deserve a safe playground in a walkable community. We are not civilized because we’re far, far away from that dream—although a true leader could make it possible (go for it, Donald Trump).

Goodbye my devoted fans (all three of you). Step away from your computer and go take a walk in the park. Now!

Four weeks have passed since my father passed away early in the morning of July 3. Right now a candle burns near a family photo and the thank you note he and my mother wrote to me, about the recent father’s day in June we spent together.

To all readers who have lost a parent, I want to say that I sympathize with you, and that I simply didn’t understand the trauma it causes until it happened to me.

Thank you notes mean a lot. The real, paper ones that you send by snail mail. Thank you so much to the friends who sent notes of condolence to me and especially to the many who supported my mother with kind words. Words on paper that you can hold, place on a mantle, and look at every day. Thank you.

You can read the obituaries I wrote online, and the long version is here, from the funeral home.

Maybe later I can pull together some photos and memories of dad. Suffice it to say, for now, that he is my hero. We celebrated his life on his 85th birthday, July 9, the same birthday as his father, my Popo.

Popo wrote a poem for me when I was born, and the handwritten framed page is my most prized possession. The one I’ll grab when the house burns down. In it he writes: “In you, James, flows the past of all your ancestry, and stronger still the past of your parents and their continuous present; as all has been before, so be you.”

Taped to that framed poem is a note, hand written by my dad after his grand 80th birthday celebration (Popo the lawyer had better handwriting than dad the surgeon). Dad ended the letter with this line:

“It has been my privilege to have you as a son and my love for you can only grow as time passes!”

Thank you, Dad, thank you, Popo, for writing these things for me. I am still here, and you are with me.

Miami—The legendary wisdom of anglers is changing with the times, according to groundbreaking new research published Thursday in the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering. The first study to use personal seafood budgets to reveal environmental orientation shows that South Florida’s recreational fishers have a newfound recognition of climate change and a strong will to open their wallets for high quality seafood.

Old timers remain stingier than newer generations, reveals researcher James W. Harper, who surveyed a selection of Florida’s more than one million registered marine fishers for the the scientific article The New Man and the Sea. But one of the study’s biggest surprises is that poorer people are not stingy when it comes to paying more for sustainable seafood. The online survey found middle to lower class households were just as willing as upper classes to pay a few dollars extra to purchase fish with a sustainability label on it. These residents living near the Florida Reef especially want local seafood, because 80 percent were in favor of higher costs to guarantee seafood caught nearby.

Registered anglers are very wealthy, as they reported income twice as high as the average Floridian. The study’s survey was limited to five counties in southeastern Florida, including the Florida Keys of Monroe County, and the majority of participants owned a boat, went fishing and scuba diving, and expressed high concern about climate change damaging Florida’s coral reefs, a new finding for this community.

The study finds that greater concern about climate change inspires greater spending on sustainable seafood. But Florida’s large community born abroad is not inspired to spend more for seafood from Florida.

More than 90 percent of Florida’s seafood is imported, and imports are the norm across the Caribbean. Commercial fishing in Florida has been shrinking while the recreational boating and fishing industries have grown steadily for decades. New research is finding that recreational fishing has an equal or greater impact on coastal ecosystems as commercial fishing, even though recreational fishing has no federal regulation. Florida’s recreational fishing sector is more than twice as large as the next closest state. But little scientific research has illuminated how this community thinks and acts for the environment it uses.

The open access scientific article is available for free online at: http://www.mdpi.com/2077-1312/3/2/299/html

For more information, contact the author at:

James (Jim) W. Harper



Don’t baby your babies—after two weeks of life, just toss them in the water and see what happens. The results will be 10 times more effective and 25 times cheaper.

These are new claims behind an experimental approach to create an orphanage for coral reefs. Instead of raising young corals for years in a pricey laboratory, remove them soon after reproduction and hurl them onto a natural reef, where they will face menacing microbes and strange sponges. The toughest babies will survive and eventually reach emancipation.

The harsh beginning is like thrusting an infant onto a brutal, muddy obstacle course with thousands of steroid-driven adult competitors. Coral experiments on the southern Caribbean island of Curacao are proving that two-week old infants survive better in the wild than the typical two-year old from the laboratory. But there must be some element of shock.


skip to 15:40 to see Valerie Chamberland discuss the “only specimen in the world in artificial conditions.”

“Oh my God, what is this new world!” says the youthful marine scientist Valerie Chamberland, imagining the reaction of a baby coral moving from the laboratory to the ocean only two weeks after fertilization. She says babies left in the laboratory too long become spoiled and unable to transition into the real, cruel world.

“When you raise baby corals in an aquarium, they get used to it,” she says. “We give them a reality check right away.”

Valerie Chamberland

Valerie Chamberland works with the world’s smallest corals.

At a recent meeting of specialists in Caribbean marine environments, Chamberland reported positive and cost-saving results from a few years of piloting the technique. A true internationalist, the native of Quebec works in Curacao and is finishing a doctorate for the University of Amsterdam, with funding from the German SECORE Foundation.

Taking risks with young corals is paying off.

“We didn’t know if it would work at all,” she says, sitting at a table just a few feet from the beach at the Carmabi Research Station in Curacao. The center celebrated its 60th anniversary last week when it hosted the meeting of the Association of Marine Laboratories of the Caribbean, where Chamberland and nearly 200 other scientists shared their findings.

Coral reefs worldwide have suffered huge declines in the past few decades, and climate change threatens to eliminate them from the planet this century. Researchers are scrambling to create new restoration techniques that might help them recover—or at least buy some time. Similar to reforestation on land, the field of coral gardening is so new that no one really knows what methods will stick.

Smaller than a beer bottle (from Venezuela), these concrete tripods serve as cribs for corals to grow on.

Smaller than a beer bottle (from Venezuela), these concrete tripods serve as cribs for corals to grow on.

Plenty of people can raise corals for aquariums, but few know how to release them successfully into the wild. With a new tetrapod mold designed to fit into natural reefs, Chamberland and her team go scuba diving and deploy the baby corals in ten seconds flat.

“We just wedge them into the reef. It’s super fast,” she says with a smile. The new concrete tiles came from a contest held by the SECORE Foundation, which specializes in the sexual reproduction of corals. Chamberland works with SECORE’s president, Dirk Petersen, and board member Mark Vermeij, who organized the meeting in Curacao.

The initial process of creating coral babies in the laboratory is nearly as involved as humans seeking in-vitro. Divers must wait for the full moon and other cues to predict coral spawning.

“In the field, spawning is dictated by temperature and the lunar cycle,” says Chamberland. “We use a big spawning net and we tent the colonies. On the top is an inverted funnel.”

Although the beach outside was tempting, the scientists stayed inside to listen to their colleagues in the Association of Marine Laboratories of the Caribbean.

Although the beach outside was tempting, the scientists stayed inside to listen to their colleagues in the Association of Marine Laboratories of the Caribbean.

After they catch the buoyant eggs and sperm, divers haul them back to the lab, and mix. Coral larvae must attach themselves onto the palm-sized concrete tiles, which are much larger than previous models. It’s similar to a snail clinging to the Empire State building.

Soon to be published in a scientific journal, the technique has been proven with common brain corals. Now the team is expanding its use for endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals.

The hopeful findings were a trend at the week’s meeting of marine scientists, even though they recognize that threats are severe and growing. “Not everything is dead yet,”said Mark Vermeij, one of Chamberland’s co-experimenters, when introducing a plenary speaker. That speaker’s talk ended with a hashtag: #OceanOptimism.

The smallest of coral creatures are bringing optimism to beleaguered Caribbean reefs, because their harsh childhood could result in a new breed of survivors.

It can’t, but swimmers can.

And swimmers know non-swimmers, who can do even more.

This week I’ve been blogging about Biscayne National Park in preparation for a fundraising and awareness-raising effort that centers around a marathon swim as the hook. Hooked yet? It worked last June when I swam the 12.5 miles around Key West solo: I dedicated it to the climate change activism of 350 South Florida, which I serve as president, and people pulled out their wallets. I was somewhat surprised at how easy it was (the fundraising, not the swim!).

Looking at one of several structures in Stiltsville, within the park.

Looking at one of several structures in Stiltsville, within the park.

Blog posts review some of the reasons why Biscayne National Park needs help:
Jan Brady syndrome
Big and shallow
Nuclear expansion
Disappearing ecosystems

Another reason is to celebrate what the park has and has accomplished. Next year, 2016, is the centennial of the national park system, and Biscayne National Park turns 50 in a couple years. So creating a swim event now and repeating it annually would hit several landmarks and help make “sea”-marks.

Swimmers Too Dry

As a lifelong swimmer and more recent environmentalist, I have been disappointed with the lack of engagement by competitive swimmers with conservation. Can you name one swimmer, or one swimming event, that champions the environment?

Attempts have been feeble. The Olympic champion Aaron Peirsol, a spokesperson for Oceana, tried to use the open water Race for the Oceans as a platform, but it fizzled.

When I competed in 2013 in the St. Croix Coral Reef Swim, which claims to support reef conservation, I saw no efforts to educate swimmers about the highly degraded reef system we swam over.

Water rules.

Water rules.

In the 2014 Swim Around Key West, I scored a small victory by getting samples of reef-safe sunscreen included in the goodie bags. But I couldn’t convince the island’s Reef Relief organization to get invovled.

The connection of swimmers to water is so obvious that it makes me wonder: are we afraid to know what we’re swimming in? Or does swimming in chlorinated pools make us numb to natural aquatic ecosystems?

I think the problem with swimmers is that nobody has asked them to get more involved. So I’m asking. I want to try, where I live, to defend an amazing national treasure. Swim it to save it.

Who’s ready to join me?

With all the world’s problems, who cares about a safe and secure national park?

Plenty of people do, and in this age of political divisiveness, we could all use something that everyone agrees on. National parks, like Everglades and Biscayne, make Floridians and Americans proud, and the possibility of losing them would certainly rally people around a worthy cause.

To do something now, contribute to my campaign to Swim for Biscayne National Park, at http://www.gofundme.com/Biscayne.

In fact, we are losing these two parks. Almost all of the land in both parks will be underwater within a few decades, due to rising seas, and strong hurricanes could be devastating in the shorter term. Then there’s ocean acidification.

Reef Rot

Have you seen this sign? Most visitors don't, because they arrive by boat.

Have you seen this sign? Most visitors don’t, because they arrive by boat.

The coral reefs within Biscayne National Park, part of the extensive Florida Reef system, face 15 rounds of punches from all angles. The changing chemistry of the sea, cause by the absorption of too much carbon dioxide from pollution, puts a slow chokehold on animals such as corals. It will take decades to determine, but acidification could prove to be the strongest force of extinction ever seen by humans.

This year, if predictions about El Nino come true, all coral reefs could be dealing with a devastating warming event. These events only need a few abnormally warm weeks to turn living corals into skeletons. The last major bleaching event in Florida was nearly a decade ago, and the likelihood of the next one keeps rising. If not this year, definitely plan on next year for more coral bleaching and disease. And it will keep getting worse, with no relief from climate change in sight.

Boating in Mud

Beautiful water hides the scars underneath, from boats hitting the shallows.

Beautiful water hides the scars underneath, caused by boats hitting the shallows.

Clueless boaters are a daily threat to Biscayne National Park. Propellers rip through the shallow seagrass and leave scars that are common sights throughout the park.

Fishers leave behind plenty of hooks and line, the most common type of marine debris in the park. When I was snorkeling there in 2013, I came across a large net lodged in a reef. It was too difficult to dislodge, but the authorities were notified.

Just this month, an enormous 6,000 pound plastic pipe washed up on Elliott Key. What a nightmare.

Just as litter accumulates, natural things decrease. Intensive fishing creates ecosystem imbalances by removing large numbers of creatures. For years, Biscayne National Park has been fighting to create zones closed to fishing, but local politicians and their fishing buddies won’t have it.

Money is Tight

You would be wrong to assume that a national park prevents hunting (such as fishing) and that is has plenty of money to operate. The budget for Biscayne National Park is around $4 million annually to fund all its programs and upkeep, about 40 employees, and more than 500,000 visitors. Although it has no entrance fee, Biscayne National Park would only need to charge $8 per visitor to cover its entire budget. Without such fees, it relies on taxes and other sources of income that may prove unreliable.

The park isn’t going anywhere today, but at the same time, its future and its prosperity are not guaranteed. Little Orphan Biscayne needs people to care for it as much as they care about the Everglades. Where are the billions of dollars for restoration of the Florida Reef? Where are the laws to prevent boaters and fishers from hacking the ecosystem to pieces?

Swimmers, stand up and take stock of Biscayne National Park. Maybe our strokes could bring new life and needed attention to this underwater treasure.

Last week, President Obama stood in Everglades National Park

and stated that the region’s water supply and the entire wetland ecosystem are threatened by climate change, and especially sea level rise. If he stood a mere 10 miles away in Biscayne National Park, his warnings would need to be equally if not more dramatic.

Of the many threats facing the area, here are a few on the hot plate:
• the nuclear plant
• reef rot
• boat traffic

The Nuclear Turkey

Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station plant is the most visible eyesore near Biscayne National Park, and news broke last week of Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearings to build two new reactors in the same, waterfront

The dock near Biscayne National Park's visitor center offers clear views of the nuclear plant.

The dock near Biscayne National Park’s visitor center offers clear views of the nuclear plant.

location. The state of Florida approved the project last year, and the NRC will issue the final ruling at some point after the comment period closes on May 22.

Not surprisingly, the park’s superintendent Brian Carlstrom has condemned the project, but he’s up against Florida Power & Light and its extensive lobby. A collection of mayors in Miami-Dade County raise important concerns in this video:

“Who in their right mind would put two new nuclear plants at sea level, with storm surge?” asked Cindy Lerner, mayor of Pinecrest and a strong environmental advocate. Fair question. Yet while storm surge happens infrequently, daily water extraction makes the current twin reactors the largest consumer of water in the county. Turkey Point is so expansive that it ranks as the nation’s sixth largest power plant.

The plant remained mostly intact after a direct hit from Hurricane Andrew in 1992, so wind is not the issue. It’s the water. Turkey Point uses 6,800 acres (about 10.5 square miles) of cooling canals that had previously been pristine wetlands. The winding canals are 168 miles in length. Miami-Dade County has complained about a recent reduction oversight, because Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) removed some of the water management district’s authority.

The accusation of secrecy and consolidation of power within FDEP echoes recent reports of FDEP’s implicit censorship of climate science.

Although the environmental questions around the new nuclear reactors are mighty, the state’s biggest concern is purely economic, because new reactors are extremely expensive to build. If predicted rates of sea level rise prove correct, the plant would not have time to recover its costs. The question now is if the state and FP&L will listen to science and to citizens, or only to their own wishes.

Tomorrow I’ll address some of Biscayne National Park’s other looming threats.


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