Florida Aquarium in Tampa has spawned endangered coral

I am fond of saying there is a technological solution for everything, but this technological solution to an environmental problem is especially cool:

Scientific history is being made at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa as endangered Atlantic pillar coral have spawned for the first time ever, in a lab setting….

Generating a spawn has never been done for corals native to the Atlantic, so the system was set up to see if it could work. According to Germann, many coral experts even doubted that the aquarium’s efforts would produce successful results.

The team started working on the research in 2014 with the Staghorn coral, but then the focus shifted to pillar coral because of a disease that has been devastating to the Florida Reef Tract. Pillar coral are now classified as almost extinct since the remaining male and female clusters are too far apart to reproduce.

“It’s quite possible that we just had our last wild spawning of pillar coral this year due to the Stoney Coral Tissue Loss Disease,” the aquarium’s coral expert Keri O’Neill said. “But with the success of this project, as a scientist, I now know that every year for the foreseeable future we can spawn Florida pillar corals in the laboratory and continue our work trying to rebuild the population.

According to the aquarium, the coral greenhouses use advanced LED technology and computer-control systems to mimic the natural environment of the coral to subtly signal the corals to reproduce. They spent months mimicking the natural environment of corals using advanced technology to reproduce the timing of sunrises, sunsets, moonrises and moonsets to trigger the animals to spawn.

The spawning now shows that genetic diversity and resilience are possible, and it will help keep the ecosystems, as well as Florida’s tourist economy, intact.

This project is a “head start” program for coral. The Aquarium will raise the juvenile corals long enough to give them a better chance of survival than they would have had as larvae in the ocean.

Our first tropical storm?

It looks like we might be getting our first tropical storm since moving to the Florida coast. We have a 70% chance of formation over 48 hours and 90% chance over five days. (And another might form right after it.)

They’ve suspended the search for the missing fishermen here, which is terribly sad. If by some miracle they are adrift, I hope the currents have carried them north.

Stress and anxiety are not status symbols

I think a lot about how much unnecessary misery our culture creates by mandating how families spend every moment of their day. With the technology that is now easily available in developed countries, there’s no reason more of our workforce should not be able to work from home (or from a sailboat, or from a coffee shop). There’s no reason we should have millions of people sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, spewing horrible toxins into the air we breathe, just so a middle manager can pretend to babysit them all day. There’s no reason that a new mother should be putting her weeks-old infant in a day care center and pumping milk in a maintenance closet. (And politicians think the solution to all of her problems is to help her pay for the day care.)

If you look at the way our country lives now, where ordinary people are so filled with rage they become social media trolls in their private time, where kids want to do real physical harm to their peers, etc., how much of that derives from how mentally unhealthy folks’ daily lives have become? How much of that could be eliminated by allowing people to have more home-centered lives? To be able to get out and do things they love for a little chunk of their day, every day? To not be carrying around this oppressive sense that their days are being eaten away by a million meaningless endeavors? Even our children carry the anxiety of purposelessness around with them.

I’ve met a lot of people who are downright snobbish about being overworked. This is particularly true of women who need to feel good about putting their career before raising a family, as if it is even necessary for those to be antithetical in this day and age. I get depressed on their behalf every time I talk to them. I wish people would stop pretending stress is some bogus status symbol and start advocating for better, healthier, more productive ways of living for everyone – especially for children. Our society desperately needs to stop eroding family units, and as with most things, there is a technological solution for this problem.

One of the best things about being a homeschooling family is that there is no arbitrary school day schedule. You don’t have to wake your child up at 6 a.m. (which everyone agrees isn’t good for developing brains) to get ready; shove a cereal bar down their throat so they can make it until their next scheduled feeding time; hurry through morning traffic so you can sit in a car line (which only exists because schools are now common targets for violence and predators); all so they can sit at a desk and try to pay attention when they’d much rather be sleeping (as they should be). And so you can go to an office and do the exact same thing.

With homeschooling, you can cover within a few hours much of the content that is covered in a traditional school in the course of an entire week. That’s the power of having a 1:1 student-teacher ratio and not having most of the week taken up by administrative affairs, discipline, and just generally wasting time. It’s a simple change that eliminates a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety for both parents and children.

In place of all that, you can substitute things that bring your family joy. This morning, our daughter had her hunter-jumper horseback riding lessons. We drove out to the stables, let her practice, gave the pony a bath together, and returned him to his pasture. We drove back into town and picked up Dad for lunch.

For lunch, everyone wanted a cheeseburger. We live on the ocean in Florida, so we went to Whaam Burger on Flagler Beach. They have the most incredible burgers I have ever tasted, and I grew up in Los Angeles with In-N-Out. We ate our lunch on the boardwalk watching the ocean.

Elise had put on a bathing suit under her clothes so she could play in the surf for half an hour after lunch. This is our version of recess.

We stood in the surf and talked through work issues while she was swimming and chasing sandpipers. It was a gorgeous summer day. Since the traditional school year has started, there were almost no tourists around. Then we showered off all the sand, came home, then Elise hit the books and we went back to work.

We try to use our break times to get out into nature as much as possible. We often go on long hikes or walks in the morning to start the day. (You really can’t do this in the evening in Florida, unless you love the company of mosquitoes.) In fact, one of the reasons we chose to move to Palm Coast was the town has 135 miles of hiking, biking, and walking trails. If you are relatively fit, you don’t even need a car to live here. You can go everywhere in town on a bicycle. You can even take bicycle paths along the A1A to other towns, and from those towns to other towns. (Between that, the pristine beaches, and AT&T Fiber’s ultra high speed Internet, I have no idea why every tech entrepreneur in the country isn’t moving here. But I guess I should keep that to myself if I want it to last.)

This also means our daughter has the opportunity to talk to a lot of people and experience a lot of things she would be missing if she went to a traditional school. She meets people from Portugal, Italy, the Caribbean, and Mexico while out around town. She also gets to see first-hand how we earn a living and navigate the business world. I like to call this a modern apprenticeship.

It seems the biggest obstacle to this way of life being available to all or most families in the US are these archaic notions of how adults should be able to get their own work done.

As much as policymakers and other observers love to debate the seemingly intractable issues that come with having a mental health crisis in this country, it’s amazing no one ever talks about simply encouraging businesses to enable the vast majority of Americans to change their lifestyles and thereby change their kids’ lifestyles. Be around the people they love. Be genuinely social and interact with people in the real world instead of having fake fights online. Be less sedentary.

The chattering class loves the perceived enormity of cultural problems and the talking points they use to convince Americans that enriching them to guide some pointless piece of legislation through Washington will be the panacea everyone needs. Changing gun laws, for example, is not going to cure the problem that there are a lot of kids in the US now that want to hurt their peers. On some level, everyone knows that the real problem is the hate and toxicity that has come to characterize schools. The fact that social media has taken bullying from being chased away from the bus stop to being hectored 24/7, with the cumulative effect being that kids want to destroy themselves or others. The fact that girls are starting to objectify themselves from the moment they can read, to the point that women in their 20s are now the largest demographic getting Botox injections and capped teeth. We’ve created one epic destructive environment for both adults and children, and it seems so pervasive and ubiquitous that the problems it creates seem inescapable except to the most densely partisan people in our country.

The philosopher Aristotle thought the success of the polis traced back to the home. Homes are the cells of social organisms. The fundamental building blocks of life. If our country wants to fix its myriad problems, it needs to start by fixing Americans’ homes.

Hiking through Linear Park

We’ve had Elise doing some intense school work this week. We decided to take her on a long hike this morning so her day would not be completely dominated by school. We woke up early, walked down the Intracoastal Waterway, and up the trails into Linear Park, which is a patch of forest through the interior of our town. It took us two hours, round trip. It’s definitely a lot more fun to walk all these trails when the weather is cooler, but you have to leave the air conditioning sometime.

I love all of the ancient, sprawling oaks covered in resurrection ferns. It makes you wonder how much history these guys have seen.

A brilliant weekend in St Augustine

We have had some hectic weeks with work projects lately. We decided that we would have a bona fide weekend and get out of the house and away from the computers. We ended up spending a lot of time in St. Augustine, which is one of our favorite cities.

Friday night, we drove up to St. Augustine to visit a bookstore there. Elise was in need of some more challenging chapter books to read. I have written before about how she’s something of a kid naturalist, so I have been trying to find books that play to her interests. I highly recommend Jane Goodall’s My Life With The Chimpanzees for children. It talks about being an ethnologist in an extraordinarily conversational and engaging tone, and she provides a lot of details about her childhood that children would love (living in a creepy old manor house, her uncle allowing her to ride his racehorses, her grandmother “giving” her her favorite tree in their backyard for her birthday, her dad’s Aston Martin). I think I am going to try to read The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle to Elise sometime, which Goodall says was the first book she fell in love with as a child. She read the book three times after checking it out from the library, and then was given her very own copy for Christmas. It was then that she decided she absolutely must go to Africa.

I also found Deborah Hopkinson’s The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel, which is a story about learning to control a cholera outbreak. It should be a fun introduction to epidemiology and a transition to our next science book, which is on the history of medicine.

After we had done our damage at the bookstore, we went to Elise’s favorite restaurant on the A1A in St. Augustine Beach, which is Tide’s Oyster Company and Grill. Elise loves, loves, loves oysters, and Tide’s gets these positively enormous oysters from the Gulf of Mexico. They remember her there, the seven-year-old who can put away a dozen raw oysters on her own. The oysters at Tide’s will separate the people who genuinely like to eat oysters from the folks who ritually choke them down “when in Rome.” They are so big you have to consume them in multiple bites. Our server told us that she’s had tables get upset before because they were so freakishly large.

It was the perfect evening to sit outside at Tide’s. There were storms all around us, but they stayed away from the restaurant’s patio. We were able to enjoy the constant, cool ocean breeze and an incredible lightning show in the distance.

Driving home from St. Augustine on the A1A, we saw an amazing moonrise over the water. We pulled the car over and walked out onto the beach at Marineland, in the dark, with only moonlight on the whitecaps.

We often refer to a line from the movie A Good Year, where Russell Crowe’s character talks about how all of his childhood memories take place at or around his Uncle Henry’s vineyard in France. “Are they good memories?” he is asked. “No,” he replies, “they are grand.” I hope this is the way Elise talks about her childhood when she is an adult. She had the kind of parents who would take her to dance on the beach under the Moon at close to midnight, because that’s important to do.

We had so much fun sitting by the beach on Friday that we decided to do it again on Saturday. In the evening, we headed over to Flagler Beachfront Winery, along the A1A in Flagler Beach. To be honest, we went there with very low expectations. Boutique wines almost always taste like Hawaiian Punch to me, and seriously… a vineyard in steamy, hot Florida? But we found a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay that were actually quite fantastic. For dinner, we had plates of meats and cheeses and toasted baguettes. It was wonderful. Elise, obviously, could not enjoy the wines, but she had a grand time tasting and critiquing the array of cheeses. Surprisingly, I think her favorite had been rolled in ground espresso. I am constantly surprised by her palate.

The party behind us on the patio at the winery was there to celebrate a lady’s 29th birthday. It would seem more than a few of the people who showed up to the party were not, in fact, her friends and were simply there for the wine, based on some of their (rather loud) exchanges. She did not seem to be enjoying her birthday at all. Although I initially begged her not too, Elise insisted on walking up to the lady’s table and singing “Happy Birthday” in her sweet, little voice (albeit at the top of her lungs). Everyone around her whipped out their phones to record the kid serenading a total stranger for her birthday. The lady, who turned out to be a school teacher here, was so moved by all the attention that she looked like she was going to weep. “You don’t understand,” her friend leaned over to tell me, “your daughter just made her night. Probably even her year.” Here I thought we were going to be humiliated by the whole thing, but it turned out to be a wonderful act of kindness. We were joking that with Elise’s love of languages and her love of people, she’s probably going to end up an ambassador.

On Sunday, we kept the bona fide weekend going by heading back up to St. Augustine. This time, we went to the A1A Ale Works in historic downtown, overlooking the harbor and the Bridge of Lions. (The lions are a reference to Ponce de Leon, who is ubiquitous in St. Augustine.)

The restaurant/brewery has an upstairs balcony with ornate wrought iron like one might find in New Orleans. It’s sufficient shelter on a stormy night, so long as the storms are coming from the west and not from over the ocean. We enjoyed watching the city and the boats in the rain. (Though not as entertaining, a bride who was posing for pictures with her wedding party on the bridge ended up drenched and fled the downpour over muddy city streets. She will probably have to have her dress emergency cleaned before the big day. Summer storms in Florida are no joke, y’all. You have to watch the sky.)

We had a neat conversation about what kind of communications equipment to get for our future boat with three chaps who had sailed down from Savannah that day. They seemed to be contractors with the Coast Guard, as they were talking about their efforts to locate a missing boat.

Putting away the paella at the A1A Ale Works.

Walking back to our car, the Cathedral of St. Augustine was all lit up for a nighttime service. We had a wonderful view of all their stained glass windows in the darkness. I feel like we are constantly finding new and unusual spots in the Ancient City.

A wonderful weekend playing in the most beautiful corner of the world. We need to do this more often.

A beautiful evening on Flagler Beach

We are blessed to live on a stretch of pristine beach here in Florida. Sometimes it blows my mind that there are still places in the United States where you can walk for miles and miles along the ocean without seeing many people at all, but dozens of sea turtle nests. I love how serious about conservation this state is.

Tonight we saw something I have never seen before – a mother-of-pearl sunset. I have seen many sunsets, but never one that included an iridescent green color. There was a massive storm in the west this evening that I believe was responsible for colors that truly looked like the Northern Lights. (On the radar, the storm had a black-purple center. ‘Tis the season… the lightning crashes from the storms we’ve had this week would just about give you a heart attack.)

We waited until after 6 pm to hang out on the beach because the heat index has been so intense. But even in the evenings, the water feels like taking a warm bath. Here’s a shot of Elise capturing crabs.

Our rough-coat Jack Russell terrier, Sherlock, is now totally accustomed to the ocean. I figure this will be the year that he learns to sail with us. I feel like we can trust him on a sailboat now. He was afraid of the waves as a young pup, but now he wants to play in the surf.

A Florida version of salad niçoise with fresh local swordfish

I knew a girl in college who loved shoes so much that every morning she’d select a pair of shoes from her hundreds of pairs and then try to construct an outfit.

That’s sort of how we are with cooking living in Florida. We have a constant supply of fresh seafood, where the fishmongers either caught the fish themselves or directly know the person who did. We start by looking at what fish are available and then build a meal around that. For lunch we made a curry out of mutton snapper. For dinner I made a salad niçoise with swordfish. This truly is paradise.

I’d say nothing says summer like salad niçoise and chilled wine, but that’s another great thing about living here…. It is the land of eternal summer. Well, it’s usually great. Going out to get the fish today was the only time anyone left the house. When we are not being thrashed about by the squalls, it is so humid that it feels like you are walking around in a cloud. It wasn’t even nominally hot today, but the moisture in the air gave us a heat index of 110 degrees. Not exactly gardening weather.

Anyway, back to the salad…. This is pretty basic if you love to cook, but someone is going to ask me how to make it, so here you go.

I make a vinaigrette of 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, juice from three or four lemons (just try to get about half a cup), 1 minced shallot, a bunch of fresh basil (finely chopped), fresh oregano, fresh thyme, a couple teaspoons of Dijon mustard, and a pinch or two of kosher salt. (It is important to use fresh herbs, and a lot of them – they really are part of the salad.) Let the vinaigrette sit for a while as you cook the rest, so the flavors have a chance to mingle. This makes a lot of dressing, but trust me…. You are going to want that much.

The salad itself is made of 1 and 1/2 pounds of small red potatoes, quartered and boiled with a pinch of salt until they are just tender (watch them closely so they do not get so tender that they break apart or start to lose their skins); trimmed green beans (boil for three minutes and then transfer them to an ice bath); a few medium tomatoes, cored and sliced; a few hard boiled eggs, sliced; a couple tablespoons of capers; and some anchovies (though you could add a touch of anchovy paste to the vinaigrette for the same effect). And of course, olives (you are supposed to use niçoise, but I use kalamata because they are easily available and I love them) and fish. Traditionally, the fish is tuna, but I often switch it out for swordfish. We eat a ton of tuna here, especially when we go out to eat. Ahi is everywhere along the beach.

There is a fantastic restaurant in Flagler Beach called the Flagler Fish Company that makes an outstanding salad niçoise with ahi. I wish I could replicate their Dijon vinaigrette – it sounds simple, but I’m not sure what I am missing. The taste of potatoes and Dijon mustard that is sublime, so I am always pretty heavy on the Dijon.

(It’s hard to explain to people who have tried Dijon straight and hated it that Dijon subtly improves many foods and often in unpredictable ways. For example, when I make quiche, I coat the crust with a heavy layer of Dijon mustard before filling it and putting it in the oven. This has an absolutely transformative effect on pie crust. It does not come out tasting like mustard, but it an unreal improvement. I’ve gotten to where I don’t tell people my trick until they’ve tasted the final product first. Every Southern woman needs a signature dish that people associate with them specifically. My signature dish is quiche, and the grand secret – lol – is Dijon.)

And of course for dessert… A key lime pie. The perfect summer meal. These are good days.