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Florida Farm Bureau offers grants to local schools for agriculture, gardening projects

Florida's teachers have an opportunity to grow their classroom budgets this school year by snagging one of dozens of mini-grants from the Florida Farm Bureau Federation (FFBF) -- but they'd better hurry to beat the Sept 15 application deadline.

The organization is awarding $9,500 in grant money for creative school projects that teach students from Pre-K through high school about the importance of one of the state's top industries.

Core academic subjects like math, English and science are essential to agriculture, and the grants are meant to encourage teachers to incorporate it into their curriculum, says Michael Rogalsky, Field Services Director for the Federation.

"The idea is to familiarize children with where their food comes from," says Debra Jones, Rogalsky's assistant.

Teachers are asked to think outside the box, and the Farm Bureau will kick in up to $250 to help fund each project chosen.

Last year, 57 Florida teachers received grant funding for agricultural projects ranging from schoolyard gardens, to projects involving honeybees, fish and quail eggs, says Jones.

Pizza gardens, where students grow the ingredients needed to make pizzas they prepare for the class, are especially popular, she adds.

Last year, many of the schools in the FFBF's District 5 -- which includes Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk, Pinellas and other Central Florida counties -- opted to grow hydroponic gardens.

Among them: a class at Young Middle Magnet School in Tampa, 4th and 5th graders in the gifted program at Valleyview Elementary in Lakeland and Plant City High.  

Jones says she was surprised to discover that only five schools in District 5 have applied for a grant for the 2015-2016 school  year, and she encourages teachers to make the most of the opportunity.

The mini-grant program is part of the Florida Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee’s push to support agricultural education in the state's classrooms, and recipients will be selected by the committee.

But the funding doesn't stop there, says Jones.

"A lot of our county farm bureaus will pick up the ones we don't fund, just to get gardening back in the classroom."

Grant applications are due Sept. 15. Winners will be notified by Nov. 15 via email. Teachers can apply for the grant by visiting the Florida Farm Bureau Federation website.

Tampa exhibit features photos of sealife, oceans

Something fishy is going on in downtown Tampa.  

Marvels of the Reef opens Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts (FMoPA). The exhibit was produced in collaboration with the Florida Aquarium and runs through the end of the year. 

The collection, which showcases “mysteries of the sea” by seven international photographers whose work has appeared in National Geographic, is also intended to highlight the importance of environmental protection and environmental studies, a theme of relevance to the Tampa Bay community. 

“We are surrounded by water, which is important for every aspect of day-to-day life, [yet] it can be overlooked how important our bay is in Tampa,” says FMoPA executive director Zora Carrier. The exhibit, she says, “places the viewer at the scene of interaction; the images emphasize the spectacles of deep sea life and appreciation for aquatic nature.”   

“It’s an honor to partner with the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts on this exhibit,” Thom Stork, president and CEO of The Florida Aquarium said in a press release. “Through this exhibit, our community has yet another way to revel in the beauty of the ocean and hopefully become inspired to protect this very important asset.” 

A portion of the show’s proceeds will go toward the Florida Aquarium’s conservation efforts including the rescue and rehabilitation of animals.

About a five-minute drive from the Aquarium in the Channel District, The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, is located inside the Cube next to the Sykes building in the waterfront arts district in downtown Tampa. It is one of fewer than 10 museums in the United States dedicated exclusively to photography and one of two such museums in Florida.

Carrier says the two museums are working on putting together a weekend to give free admission to members of the opposite organization. 

Team beer challenge at St. Pete Shuffle to benefit Florida's waterways

Sip freshly poured beer, say hello to a new friend or neighbor, and support local Florida waterways during the Great Beer Challenge on August 29 in St. Petersburg. Do all of this while teams of four compete in a shuffleboard showdown at the world’s largest and oldest shuffleboard court – St. Pete Shuffleboard Club, which opened in 1924.

The inaugural Great Beer Challenge, sponsored by Atlanta-based Sweetwater Brewing Company, will feature craft beer from the brewery, an array of games, and the opportunity to meet other locals.

Chris Favaloro, one of the event’s organizers, says that staging the special event at St. Pete Shuffle “was an easy choice. The City of St Pete is exploding and the community is friendly, strong and together.”

That sense of community, combined with the talking point distinction of being the oldest and largest shuffleboard court in the world, makes the group "happy to be there," Favarolo says. "With our enthusiasm for craft beer and meeting new people, we saw this as an opportunity to introduce something exciting and reinvent the weekend events that Tampa Bay loves." 

Other, similar events “are typically places where you go with your friends to have a few drinks, try some food and go home. You never end up meeting someone new," Favaloro explains. But during the Great Beer Challenge, Favaloro says that event organizers hope to see new friendships form.

To help ease participants into working together or mingling, Favaloro says that event organizers will employ an array of “social ice-breakers to encourage meeting new people outside of your team.” 

The Great Beer Challenge is anticipated to bring out between 40-60 teams of four, giving locals the opportunity to meet and mingle with around 150-250 participants. For $30 in advance or $45 at the door, challengers in the event can score commemorative swag from local sponsors or vendors; enjoy games like cornhole, flipcup, and, of course, shuffleboard; or simply attend the event as a spectator (tickets are $20).

A limited amount of teams can participate in the shuffleboard events, so head over to the event website to learn more or sign up. Groups of four who register together will save $10. Don’t have a team of four? No problem; event organizers will assign you to a group.

"Our event is focused around meeting new people and having fun,” Favaloro says.

When it came to selecting an event sponsor, “we have done our due diligence,” he explains. “Sweetwater Brewing Company was born with the same mission in mind: to connect good people with good beer.”

Another one of the reasons that the group called upon Sweetwater Brewing Company to sponsor the Great Beer Challenge is the beer brewery’s connection to the Sarasota-based nonprofit group Suncoast Waterkeeper.

Suncoast Waterkeeper “focuses on protecting and restoring the Florida Suncoast’s waterways,” Favaloro explains. “We love this and support this.”

Five dollars from each ticket sale will be donated to the organization.

The Great Beer Challenge will be held from 2-5 p.m. on Saturday, August 29, at St. Pete Shuffle, 559 Mirror Lake Drive N in DTSP. To purchase participant or spectator tickets, visit the event website.

“The goal of the Great Beer Challenge is to introduce a new type of social event to Tampa Bay,” Favaloro says.

HART CEO earns White House recognition as innovator in transit

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) has a slogan: Driven to Serve You.

The public transportation authority serving Hillsborough County is currently experiencing record numbers of riders, expanding the TECO streetcar line, employing innovative technology and enabling young professionals to go carless.

Now HART CEO Katharine Eagan is garnering national attention for HART with her nomination for the White House "Champion of Change" program as an innovator in transportation for the future.

Eagan is recognized in the category "Beyond Traffic: Innovators in Transportation." The U.S. Department of Transportation and the White House Office of Public Engagement will host the winning White House “Champions of Change” focused on this category at an event on October 13, 2015; selected individuals will be notified in late September.

For consideration, individuals must have shown outstanding leadership in transportation and innovation in developing and implementing strategies for enhancing transit systems for the future.  

Eagan credits “the hard work of our entire team” at HART for the recognition.

“As a team, we are incredibly proud that our efforts to be a change agent and a transportation agency of choice have been noticed on a national scale,” she says. “Personally, I’m honored to be considered, and excited to build on this momentum as we keep moving forward.”

One of the drivers behind Eagan’s nomination: technology. HART is pursuing updated fare technology for eight Tampa Bay area counties, Eagan says.

If implemented, Hillsborough, Citrus, Hernando, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties would utilize the same fare technology – including “smart cards and bus passes that you purchase from and scan on your phone,” Eagan explains. 

HART, which was founded in 1980, will also be the first transit agency in the state to be ISO 14001 certified, Eagan says, “which draws environmental stewardship and sensitivity into all aspects of how we deliver service.”

Eagan credits HART’s innovation in tech and transit to necessity: “We don’t have the time to wait! Like many public agencies, we shrank our administrative staff during the recession, but technology kept evolving and new challenges arose in transit and transportation.”

Business as usual, Eagan says, wasn’t cutting it. “So what would?”

Solutions like a low-cost semester pass for Hillsborough Community College students “made transit more affordable and didn’t require a special fee,” Eagan explains. “That’s been a very popular innovation.”

Another example of change: HART’s newly revamped website.

One of the first agencies to use real-time bus arrival tool OneBusAway, HART has also developed partnerships with MegaBus and RedCoach to bring more routes to downtown Tampa from across the state; additionally, the MegaBus Orlando-Tampa route will expand to include Burnett Park and Ride in eastern Hillsborough County.

HART routes include fixed and express bus service, as well customized services like HARTplus, which offers door-to-door paratransit in vans, and HARTflex, a neighborhood connector route. The agency is seeking partnerships with taxis to make these services even more viable, Eagan says.

A partnership with “private transit providers [including private cabs, Uber and Lyft] to provide a rideshare-style program as part of our 'first mile, last mile' solution” is being considered, Eagan says.

Eagan, who earned a BA in history at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and an MPA at Angelo State University, has been HART CEO since May 2014. Eagan has earned prior recognition for her leadership and track record in transportation: she was placed on the 2012 Mass Transit 40 under 40 List and was named the National Association of Women in Construction's Rookie of the Year in 2012. 

Concentrating efforts on the goals of increasing ridership, refining HART’s community image and setting “the transit agency bar higher as a trendsetting innovator” led to success for the agency, Eagan says.

“Thanks to the great work of our over 750 employees, we are better positioned today to provide the Tampa Bay area with quality service and choices.”

In other words, Eagan – and HART – is driven to serve you.

St. Pete startup aims to save lives with surfboard leash tourniquet

Save a limb for around $50.

That’s the idea behind OMNA Inc, a St. Pete-based startup company that has developed water-friendly tourniquets, which can be used in a sticky situation.

OMNA Inc. Founder and CEO Carson Henderson devised the combination product as a way to help safeguard surfers and swimmers against bleeding injuries from shark attacks or other water hazards.

The idea of an amphibious tourniquet leash, or tourniquet leg rope, came to Henderson after a close encounter with crocodiles and other predators during a 2012 Costa Rican vacation.

Henderson, who was working as a security contractor for the U.S. military in Iraq at the time, explains, “I went surfing with some friends I made there, and we took a boat across a river to get to a surf break. The surf ended up being so good that day that we surfed until it was dark out. When we got back to the river to take a boat back, all the boats were gone.”

No problem – except for the sharks and crocodiles that are known to linger near the mouth of the river. So the group took a chance, gathered their boards into a tight formation, and paddled to safety as quickly as possible.

Although nothing happened, it got Henderson thinking: How many people in the water had run into trouble due to shark attacks or other hazards that cause massive bleeding injuries? As it turned out, enough to warrant a fresh new solution: a surfboard leash with a built-in tourniquet.

“I started researching and identified a recurring problem of people in the water needing tourniquets. I subsequently sketched, filed patents, and began prototyping,” Henderson says.

Along with a tourniquet leash aimed at surfers, Henderson devised an amphibious tourniquet leg rope, which could be used for water-related activities from diving and spear fishing to performing lifeguard or first responder duties.

OMNA “is in the business of saving lives,” Henderson says.

A former recon Marine who was selected as the June Commander’s Call award recipient from veteran business funding organization Street Shares, Henderson earned an AA from Florida State College in Jacksonville and a BS in Organizational Leadership online course work from National University of La Jolla, CA.

“I did the majority of my online coursework from Iraq and Afghanistan in my off-times, when I was not running missions,” he explains. “I was doing coursework chipping away at my BS degree.”

After completing a Certificate in Business Administration from Bond University, Gold Coast in Australia, Henderson left his MBA studies to pursue business fulltime.

The term OMNA comes from Henderson’s days as a recon Marine; it stands for “One Man National Asset” and refers to “people who could do everything. Recon Marines also identify with the jack-of-all-trades slogan, and the company name pays homage to that heritage.”

The startup company has a Prefundia page and may launch a Kickstater campaign. Currently, the bootstrapped company consists solely of Henderson and the occasional freelancer.

Pricing for the Omna Tourniquet leash ranges from $34.99-$59.99. Pre-orders for the leash are now available, with general sales set to begin in fall 2015.

“Our pricing strategy is by price and not volume,” Henderson says. “We are offering two products for one, so we believe this price is fair for the value and quality we provide for our customers.”

Henderson anticipates that product delivery to customers who pre-order will begin in September. Post-general sales launch, Henderson plans to develop partnerships with retailers and wholesalers to sell the leash in stores.

While the tourniquet leash fulfills a niche market role for water board sports, Henderson would like to see OMNA’s amphibious tourniquet stocked by “traditional sporting goods and hunting stores.”

“We want to get these products to people to help enhance life-saving capabilities, in and out of the water,” Henderson says. “A person can bleed out in as little as three minutes. A tourniquet can be worn for roughly one to three hours without the loss of limb. You will not lose a limb if you use a tourniquet.”

Eckerd College alum launches eco-friendly sunscreen, cosmetics line

Each summer, boatloads of sunscreen are sold to beach-goers throughout the country. But where do the contents end up? Often, in the oceans.

Studies have shown that the chemicals found in many sunscreens or skin care products that contain sunscreen can contaminate, and even kill coral reefs (some can also cause problems for humans).

Enter Stream2Sea, a St. Petersburg, Florida-based startup company that aims to revolutionize the way we swim with eco-friendly sunscreen and skin care products that have been deemed safe for marine life.

Entrepreneur Autumn Bloom, who received a chemistry honors B.S. from Eckerd College in 1997, founded Stream2Sea. After starting and later selling off specialty cosmetics company Organix South, the Eckerd alum dove into the idea of protecting endangered ecosystems from human activities.

“Over 6,000 tons of skin care products enter coral reefs from tourist activities alone,” Blum explains in a blog post on the Stream2Sea website, adding that additional contamination products entering waters through runoff or sewage are not included in that statistic.

And even though other sunscreen brands on the market today may call themselves " 'ocean friendly,' many contain ingredients that are known to harm the fragile ecosystems and marine life of our waters,” Blum writes.

After developing Stream2Sea’s initial line of eco-friendly sunscreens and body care products, Blum, with the help of the Eckerd College Alumni Relations department and her mentor, Dr. David Grove, selected a team of scientists and students at Eckerd to conduct testing and research.

The research team, which included Assistant Professor of Biology Denise Flaherty and Assistant Professor of Biology and Marine Science Koty Sharp, along with several of their students, worked with Blum on scientific trials refine her products.

“It was wonderful working with the knowledgeable professors and students at my alma mater,” Blum writes. “Watching the students apply their lab skills and education to my ‘real world’ requirements, proving the safety of Stream2Sea products, was an incredible feeling.”

Flaherty, who tested the products on fish with her students, says in a news release that the opportunity to work on applied research in the field and in the lab was a special one for students.

“Being able to see a project like this all the way through was very meaningful,’’ she notes.

Sharp’s team, which included Eckerd College marine science seniors Takoda Edlund and Samantha Fortin, spent a week in the Florida Keys collecting coral larvae samples to use for testing the Stream2Sea products. While sunscreen had been tested before on living corals, tests had never been done on coral larvae, Sharp says.

Stream2Sea products were tested on coral larvae and fish at the Mote Marine Laboratory’s Tropical Research Laboratory in Sarasota. Tests concluded that the Stream2Sea products showed no evidence of harm to fish or to corals.

Participating students were so excited to see the positive results that “they actually cheered when every single fish was still alive after 96 hours of swimming in the shampoo-laced foamy water,” Blum writes.

Stream2Sea has identified a list of ingredients to avoid, such as nano particles that can flake off of skin as we swim as well as an ingredients dictionary to help consumers make sense of biodegradable cosmetics that are eco-friendly. 

Moving forward, the company will continue to invest significant funding into testing, Blum writes, “so that we can state, with complete confidence, that we are the safest product on the shelves.”

Stream2Sea sunscreen, shampoo, conditioner and lotion are in stock on the company website. Prices range from $3.95-$16.95.

Gulf Coast Innovation Challenge announces finalists in blue economy competition

The Gulf Coast Community Foundation (GCCF) has announced five finalists in the Gulf Coast Innovation Challenge competitive grant opportunity. Thirty teams submitted proposals that focus on key issues surrounding the “blue economy” of Florida’s Gulf Coast, including seafood sustainability, eco-restoration, marine-based medicine and technology. 

The following teams were chosen to proceed to the next stage of the challenge with their proposals to sustain and stimulate our blue economy:
  • Advanced Solar-Powered Filtration Technology for Marine and Freshwater 
  • Antibiotics from the Sea 
  • Cancer Therapies from Sharks 
  • Healthy Earth-Gulf Coast: Sustainable Seafood System 
  • Taking Back the Lion’s Share

“Gulf Coast selected these five finalists because of the potential for their business solutions to have a real economic impact in our region,” says GCCF Director of Marketing and Communications Greg Luberecki. “We engaged a panel of experts to review all of the applications, along with Gulf Coast staff. … It will be up to the finalists to now show us how they can positively affect our blue economy and provide a community benefit in the process.” 

Challenge finalists “Healthy Earth-Gulf Coast” and “Taking Back the Lion’s Share” will explore fishery-based solutions for native mullet and invasive lionfish, respectively, to restore and sustain the marine ecosystem and economy of the Gulf of Mexico. 

“Cancer Therapies from Sharks” and “Antibiotics from the Sea,” two projects backed by Mote Marine scientists, explore the biomedical potential of sharks and marine bacterial organisms to develop medical treatment options to fight cancer and infections. 

“Advanced Solar-Powered Filtration Technology for Marine and Freshwater,” another Mote-backed project, seeks to refine solar-powered filters to provide affordable, clean water around the world.

Read more about the Challenge competition is this 83 Degrees feature.

The GCCF has awarded each finalist team a grant of $25,000 to develop a prototype and refine its business plan, which the foundation’s judging panel will review in November. The winning team will be awarded a grant of up to $375,000 from the GCCF to fully develop its blue economy solution. In the meantime, Luberecki says the public is encouraged to follow the finalists on the Gulf Coast Challenge website as they make periodic progress updates. 

The Gulf Coast Community Foundation recognized Innovation Challenge team “Living Shorelines” for having the most online votes and community support. The foundation awarded the team a $5,000 People’s Choice Award grant to pursue its seawall restoration proposal.

“All of the ideas submitted for the Innovation Challenge had merit. Each was original and rooted in great thought,” Luberecki says. 

“We have seen momentum build behind several that weren’t named finalists, and Gulf Coast will do what it can to help propel those ideas as well. That’s a great byproduct of this challenge: We are focused on our five finalists moving forward, but the other teams have had a great platform to promote their ideas, and many have garnered real interest outside of our challenge.”

Tarpon Springs launches new water treatment system

Tarpon Springs is the latest Tampa Bay area community turning to an alternative water treatment system to ensure that residents have a safe, affordable supply of drinking water far into the future.

A new reverse osmosis water treatment facility is designed to take brackish or slightly salty groundwater from the Floridan aquifer and send it through a series of filtration systems and treatments to make it safe to drink.

The project has been in the planning stages since 2002, when the city first undertook a feasibility study. It was approved by a local voter referendum in 2006 and groundbreaking took place in 2013. The Southwest Florida Water Management District provided $20.1 million in funding.

Combined with city-owned fresh groundwater treatment facilities, the new reverse osmosis treatment facility will boost Tarpon Spring’s water supply to 5 million gallons of drinking water per day, a quantity that is expected to meet the city’s water needs for the next 20 years, say city officials.

In comparison, the previous system relied on water purchased from Pinellas County and Tampa Bay Water, along with city-owned fresh groundwater treatment facilities, to deliver some 3.2 million gallons daily.

According to Judy Staley, City of Tarpon Springs Research and Information Officer, construction of the reverse osmosis water treatment facility will allow Tarpon Springs to achieve greater water supply independence and more local control over costs, water quality and planning for future needs.

Earlier this summer, Clearwater cut the ribbon on its own reverse osmosis water treatment facility – the second one that is now in operation in that community. In addition, Clearwater is undertaking a pioneering project that will recharge the Florida aquifer with up to 3 million gallons per day of reclaimed water that’s been purified to higher than drinking water quality. Tracy Mercer, Director of Public Utilities for the City of Clearwater, says that project “is like banking water for the future.”

Tampa also announced plans this summer for a proposed project that would allow the city’s reclaimed water to be filtered naturally over time through SWFWMD wetlands.  That project still requires permitting and is not expected to be completed until some time in 2020.

Tampa hotels plan to conserve millions of gallons of water by 2016

Local hotels and motels could begin to conserve 5 million gallons of water by 2016 – all without impacting the guest experience.

The Hillsborough County Hotel Motel Association (HCHMA) has joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WaterSense H2Otel Challenge Initiative. Through a voluntary effort, HCHMA aims to reduce water consumption in the Tampa Bay area lodging industry.

“We have a unique opportunity to have our larger hotels lead the way in this effort,” HCHMA Executive Director Bob Morrison said in a news release.

Clearwater-based Terlyn Industries, which specializes in industrial water treatment, will help HCHMA “modify existing building cooling systems in such a way that those properties will see significant improvements in water consumption efficiencies,” Morrison explains.

Large hotels use cooling towers to treat the condensation water that gathers in central air conditioning units. The towers can account for 25 percent of a hotel’s total water use, so updating them to operate more efficiently can decrease energy and water consumption.

Terlyn Industries is offering Tampa Bay hoteliers a complimentary cooling tower water conservation study. For more information, visit the conservation study website.

HCHMA, which represents county hotels, motels and resorts, was initially organized in 1937. Prior to setting the goal of conserving five million gallons of water by 2016 for the EPA’s WaterSense H2O Challenge, HCHMA members made voluntary water conservation efforts through the Water Conservation Hotel and Motel Program. The “Water CHAMP” effort was developed through a partnership between Hillsborough County, Southwest Florida Water Management District, and the City of Tampa; it focused on efforts to conserve water through retrofitting toilets and faucets in local hotels, as well as designating towel and linen reuse programs.

WaterSense H2Otel Challenge Initiative program participants must register to “ACT” with the EPA: assess water usage, change products or processes when necessary, and track results. 

Study finds Tampa Bay seagrass growth, bottom health improving

In any body of water, the benthic zone, or bottom layer, can be considered a good indicator of the water body’s overall health.

A 20-year study of Tampa Bay’s benthic ecological region shows that as a whole, Tampa Bay's waters are in fair-to-good condition. 

Middle and Lower Tampa Bay, which comprise over 50 percent of Tampa Bay’s surface area, were rated “Good.”

Hillsborough Bay and some of the smaller or more heavily urbanized bodies of water within Tampa Bay (including Boca Ciega Bay, Terra Ceia Bay and Manatee River) were ranked “Poor.” Old Tampa Bay was rated “Fair.”

The 20-Year Tampa Bay Benthic Community Trends Study, released by the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County, was conducted from 1993-2012. Ratings were determined using criteria from the EPA’s National Coastal Assessment program and the Tampa Bay Benthic Index.

For two decades, random samples were collected at more than 1,500 sites across Tampa Bay’s main segments, which total just shy of 400 square miles. The samples were taken in late summer and then processed in the EPC’s labs.

Sampling data monitored animal communities in the Bay (over 1,500 invertebrate animal species were identified); sediment composition and contaminants (heavy metals, pesticides, etc.); salinity; temperature; pH levels, and more.

The study found that the majority of Tampa Bay sediments at the bottom layer do not contain high levels of contaminants; exceptional sites with higher contaminant levels were primarily found in Hillsborough Bay. 

The collection and processing of data for the study was initiated two decades ago by the Tampa Bay National Estuary Program (TBEP), and continues today as a cooperative effort between Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas counties.

Study results reveal continued improvement in Tampa Bay’s “fair to good” regions, Dr. David Karlen, the EPC Chief Environmental Scientist who authored the report, explained in a news release.

“Baywide, we’ve seen improvement in the benthic index, which is an overall summary of all species,” Karlen says.

Along with Karlen, report authors include Kevin W. Campbell; Dr. Thomas L. Dix; Barbara K. Goetting; Joette M. Jernigan; and Sara E. Markham.

The report includes recommendations for the future monitoring of benthic communities in Tampa Bay, although additional funding is required to support continued analysis and monitoring programs.

Recommendations include:
  • Special study of some sites within Tampa Bay, including Port Tampa Bay (which contains Ybor and Sparkman Channels and Garrison Channel), East Bay, Clam Bayou and Bayboro Harbor.
  • Increased monitoring of river and tidal tributary systems, low salinity areas that serve as nursery areas for many species. These include the Hillsborough, Palm, Alafia and Little Manatee Rivers. Known high sediment contaminants in several rivers could have potential impacts.
  • Expanding lab analysis to include newer sediment contaminants, such as microplastics.
"The benthic report gives us insight into the legacy (longterm) contaminants that can be found in the sediment," TBEP senior scientist Ed Sherwood says in a news release.

Problem areas indicated by the benthic report will help to guide the estuary program, determine the next step in special studies, track long-term trends in the benthic community and form management policy, Sherwood says.

Another indicator that Tampa Bay is in good shape: seagrass is flourishing. Like a benthic ecological region, seagrasses can be a good measure of a body of water’s overall health. In the case of Tampa Bay, it's on the rise.

St. Petersburg electrical company adds 60 jobs

Sixty new jobs are coming to Pinellas County as a national, family-run electrical contracting business expands its headquarters in St. Petersburg.

Power Design, Inc. is investing more than $3 million in its building expansion, which will house the new employees.

“We already have 70,000-square-feet of space at our headquarters in Pinellas, we are expanding on the adjacent property,” says  Lauren Permuy, VP of Business Development at Power Design, Inc..

The company, which currently has more than 130 active projects around the country, offers clients a variety of specialties including design build, construction services, engineering, systems expertise and lighting needs.

Founded in 1989, the company has been very successful with 100,000 projects under its belt, and an accumulative revenue exceeding $2 billion. Many of the buildings the company most recently worked on, are featured on the organization's website, and some of them have also received LEED certification.

To meet the growing demand for the company's skilled craftsmanship, and client needs, the company is in need of adept workers.

According to Permuy, the company is looking for individuals with an expertise in engineering and pre-construction, and is not wasting time getting these positions filled.

“We have already started to hire, and hope to have all spaces filled by the end of 2015,” she says.

Power Design Inc., is located at 11600 Ninth Street North in St. Petersburg. Those interested in applying for employment opportunities can view open positions by visiting the company website

Aerial adventure park to open in Dade City, Pasco County

A new aerial adventure park, complete with zip lines and rope bridges, is set to open in Dade City in Pasco County this summer.

TreeHoppers will boast a wide variety of zip lines that cater to various skill levels, multiple rope bridges and dozens of aerial climbing elements on a 60-acre wooded park about 40 miles northwest of Tampa.

Indiana-based White River Zip Lines purchased the land in spring 2015 and will develop the TreeHoppers adventure park on the property, which also features a five-acre lake and a canopy of live oak trees.

Jon Pianki, TreeHoppers director of marketing, says that Tampa Bay’s good weather and tourist-friendly attitude are the primary reasons the area was selected for the new Treehoppers location.

“We are hoping this combination will help us build an attraction that is both an asset to the surrounding community as well as a draw to outside guests and customers,” Pianki explains. “Tampa Bay is a vibrant, growing community that wants more options to get outdoors and enjoy the beauty nature has to offer.”

With eight different courses that cater to various skill levels and over 100 total features, there’s something for everyone, Pianki says. “Small children, experienced athletes, and everyone in-between will find a right course for their comfort level.”

Visitors will receive safety instruction from trained climbing monitors and be provided with safety climbing technology before embarking on any of the courses.

TreeHoppers will begin hiring for fulltime and part-time positions by mid-June, with jobs ranging from shop staff and customer service to guides and monitors. Visit TreeHoppers website to learn more or apply.

The park is expected to open in August, but Pianki is already looking ahead to the Fall, when the park is planning a Halloween attraction “like no other in the area.”

Located at 27839 Saint Joe Road in Dade City, TreeHoppers will be open year-round, seven days a week.

“We are thrilled to offer this new experience to the Tampa Bay area,” TreeHoppers CEO Benjamin Nagengast says in a press release. “Our team carefully and thoughtfully selected Tampa Bay for our newest attraction and we can’t wait to introduce TreeHoppers to the community. There is nothing like it anywhere in Florida.”

The aerial zip line and adventure park joins several high-rise outdoor adventure courses in the Tampa Bay area:

TreeUmph, 21805 S.R. 70 E., Bradenton

TreeUmph, located in Bradenton near Lakewood Ranch, opened in December 2012 and features a zip line that starts at 60 feet in elevation and rockets over a 600-foot-long course across the park.

TreeUmph is expanding to a second location in Hernando County in fall 2016. The new park will offer around 80 obstacles on a 50-acre area.

Sky Trail Zip Line, MOSI, 4801 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa

In the university area’s Innovation District, Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI Tampa) boasts its own spin on the aerial adventure: the Sky Trail Zip Line at MOSI, a 65-foot high course that is more than 700 feet long (longer than two football fields put together!).

Along with the zip line, MOSI offers a multilevel ropes course that is safe for kids and adults of all ages to explore.

Natures Boot Camp, 11914 N. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa

Natures Boot Camp invites extreme athletes and adventure course enthusiasts to train at their outdoor obstacle course, centrally located in Tampa’s Carrollwood neighborhood.

Try out a sprint style obstacle course with over 14 obstacles,  a Mud Run that culminates in a 15-foot jump, and more extreme activities.

New Tampa Nature Park, 17599 Dona Michelle Drive, Tampa

New Tampa Nature Park, which connects with Hillsborough County’s Flatwoods Park, is a low-key place to enjoy nature from above. Find zip-lining courses for kids, a climbing area, shaded trails, and more.

The 122-acre park also offers an elevated boardwalk and marsh walk that allows visitors to experience a wetland habitat from above.

Buy a pair (or a mat), plant a tree: Tampa company seeks crowdfunding

Two new must-have meditation accessories for yogis are being developed in Tampa, Florida.

Gurus sandals, inspired by “an ancient wooden sandal” that Prem Thomas bought in India around 2011, have resonated among yogis online, Thomas says.

“Mainly on Instagram."

Thomas and his Gurus cofounder, Joe Choorapuzha, loved the sleek, simple design of the wooden sandals, their place in Indian history and the story that Mahatma Gandhi wore them.

The duo set out to build upon the minimal sandal and “make a product that is superior to flip-flops, but still retains the design of the original Indian version,” Thomas explains.

The result is a natural rubber sandal, sustainably sourced and hand-processed from rubber trees -- a practice that can continue for up to 25 years without harming the tree. 

The $30 sandal comes in a variety of colors, accompanied by a natural-fiber jute bag that features a Gandhi quote. Currently, Gurus sandals can be found online or at retailers such as surf shops, theme parks, salons, yoga studios and boutiques.

The cofounders place emphasis on producing and packaging products sustainably. The Guru sandal is biodegradable, making it a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional plastic or foam flip-flops and sandals. To help promote the pair’s commitment to sustainability, a tree is planted in the developing world each time a product is sold.

“At the end of the day, a lot of companies can make new products and sell thousands or millions of sandals,” Thomas says. “We think if we can plant thousands or millions of trees, that’s a little more special.”

A successfully funded Kickstarter campaign ($16,236 pledged) helped bring Gurus to life. After the success of the sandal, brand ambassadors for the company wondered whether the cofounders could develop a yoga mat using the same type of natural rubber.

Thomas and Choorapuzha developed a solution: natural rubber topped with a layer of cork. A Kickstarter campaign for the cork yoga mat ends on Friday, May 22, at 1 p.m.

Click here to back this project.

At prices that range from $80 to $115 (up to half off for pledge backers), the campaign slogan reads, “Experience a no-slip, natural yoga mat that costs less than your yoga pants!”

“The mat is pretty amazing,” Thomas says, “and will even work when it is drenched with water or sweat, allowing yoga practitioners to do hot bikram yoga without a towel.”

If the Kickstarter goal is met, backers can expect to receive their mats in August 2015.

Thomas and Choorapuzha are “pretty confident” that the Kickstarter goal of $20,000 for the Gurus cork yoga mat will be met. But even if the crowdfunding target is not met, “we will most likely end up producing it in some form,” Thomas says.

“We think it’s an amazing product, and there is a market need from consumers and studios.”

Thomas, who grew up in Tampa, has worked in finance in the Philippines and with a civic venture capital fund in New York City. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before working as an investment banker for Bank of America, where he met Choorapuzha.

Choorapuzha, an MBA student at the University of Pennsylvania, grew up in Pittsburgh, PA before attending Columbia University. Prior to cofounding Gurus, Choorapuzha worked with an investment fund in NYC.

Along with CEO Thomas and president Choorapuzha, Gurus employs six independent sales representatives and a distributor in Australia and Canada. The company plans to hire another employee in the field of marketing or design, and is seeking interns in Tampa beginning in summer 2015.

“As our company grows, it will be great to build a larger team locally to support that growth,” Thomas says.

With $1 million at stake, UT students take on urban slums

A student team has earned the University of Tampa the distinction of being the only university in the United States to secure a spot in the final round of competition for the 2015 Hult Prize. Up for grabs: $1 million in seed funding to the winning team.

The Hult Prize Foundation is a nonprofit that focuses its efforts on solving world issues through challenging young, social and eco-conscious entrepreneurs to come up with innovative ideas.  The challenge, this year, was to develop an idea that would meet the goal of educating 10 million children in urban slums by 2020.

UT’s student team, Athollo, joined other competitors from across the globe, including another team from UT, to address the issue of early childhood education – or lack thereof - in urban slums. The team aims to use mobile phones as the key component in providing top quality early childhood education to children from the ages of 0-6 who are living in the urban slums of developing nations.

Inspired by the educational theme, the team name derives from the Greek god of wisdom, Athena, combined with the Greek god of knowledge, Apollo. Founder and Chief Visionary Officer Phil Michaels explains that the team’s mission is to ”endeavor to alleviate the inaccessibility of education around the world.”

Athollo won first place in the San Francisco regional competition, one of six Hult Prize regional locations around the world. Along with the other regional winners, the team will attend a 6-week accelerator over the summer. In September, the teams will then head to NYC to present in front of President Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual meeting.

One team will be named winner, and earn $1M in seed capital funding.

If Athollo wins the Hult Prize competition, Michaels says, the team will “funnel the seed capital funding into providing salaries for their employees, developing an app, subsidizing marketing efforts and other operating expenses.”

“Tampa is the next wave of social entrepreneurs!” says Michaels, who also serves as the UT campus director for the Hult Prize. “I never doubted the ability of our university’s young social entrepreneurs to address this pressing challenge intelligently and thoughtfully.”

Athollo is comprised of six enterprising UT students:
  • Michaels, a dual degree-seeking student (MBA in Entrepreneurship and MS in Marketing) at UT and self-described serial entrepreneur.
  • Chief Social Capital Marketing Officer Sercan Topcu is an MS (Marketing) student at UT. Chief Education Officer Brittany Brescia is a dual-degree seeking student in Education and English at UT.
  • CFO Ulixes Hawili is an honors student at UT pursuing a dual degree in Mathematics and Economics.
  • COO Ravi Goldberg is an honors student at UT who is majoring in Entrepreneurship and minoring in Leadership and Business Analytics.
  • Akingbolahan Akinwumi, Chief Cultural Officer, M.D. is pursuing an MBA.
A second UT team, BamBoost, came in second at the Boston regional competition, but they aren’t out of the running for the $1 million yet.

This year, any participating teams can compete for a wild card spot in the final competition by earning the most money in an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign. To date, BamBoost has earned about 60 percent of their goal of $20,000. Click here to learn more or to donate to their crowd-funding campaign.

Athollo is also seeking donations via crowdfunding website GoFundMe; the team hopes to raise $53,000 to implement a pilot study in sub-Saharan Africa. Click here to learn more or to donate to their crowd-funding campaign

“I am incredibly proud of the hard work that both teams have put into their efforts to educate impoverished children in urban slums that need it most,” Michaels says. “It is a humbling experience to watch them grow into the business pioneers they were destined to become while changing the lives of millions of people in the process.”

Hillsborough Community College sacks recycling apathy

If you happened to step foot on the Ybor City campus of Hillsborough Community College (HCC) during the week leading up to Earth Day on April 22, perhaps you noticed some students were carrying around more than just their backpacks. Biology Professor Paul Rabaut gave some of his students a most unusual assignment. As an extra credit task, he asked them to carry a trash bag for a week, throwing their garbage into the bag. 

The goal? “I wanted them to be inconvenienced by their waste and realize the burden it creates in the community and on our planet,” says Rabaut. 

To ensure his students were staying on track with the project, under the heading of a sustainability initiative called HCCthinksgreen, he required them to check in via Twitter three times a day and post using the hashtag #TrashBag. Rabaut says 80 to 90 students participated in the event, with many even drawing faces or cartoons on their trash bags. 

“The bags really proved to be conversation starters with other students on campus,” he comments. “The idea was to make everyone feel comfortable about carrying around a trash bag on campus and encourage others to partake in the project.” 

Not only did the weeklong project, which started on April 16, catch on with several faculty and staff members, but some local businesses also took interest. “Fit2Run – The Runner’s Superstore, which operates a location at International Plaza, engaged with the initiative on Twitter and started following us.” He hopes the event, which was in its first year, will expand to the other HCC campuses throughout Hillsborough County. Rabaut, who masterminded the project and even runs his own composting maggot farm at his home, refers to the #TrashBag initiative as his “baby” and says he will certainly promote the event more heavily next year. 

HCC Marketing and Public Relations Manager Angela Walters says the event helped her realize how much trash she produces on a weekly basis. 

“It really made me stop and think about how much waste I created,” she remarks. “It’s quite interesting carrying around a bag of trash for a week.”

The #TrashBag event culminated on Earth Day at the HCC Ybor City campus, when the participants were to turn in their bags. Rabaut and Walters both said that around 20 students did so, but some had only a few items in their bags. 

“Throughout the duration of the project, students were encouraged to throw food waste into a compost pile and recyclable items such as plastic bottles and aluminum cans into appropriate receptacles, which we have around the campus,” says Rabaut. While there wasn’t a final tally on precisely how much trash was collected by all participants during the week, Rabaut believes the active engagement from the students was the greatest result of the project. “Many students spread the message to parents, friends, and others and helped get them involved, too.”

Walters adds, “This project shows that small steps can make a huge impact.”
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