ST. PETERSBURG - Scientists hope to answer the age-old question of where fish come from by tracking thousands of glass bottles in the ocean.
"We are releasing 5,000 vials in the Florida Keys and another 2,000 in Mexico," said Bob Glazer, a biologist with the Florida Marine Research Institute's Marathon field lab. "We hope this will simulate the larvae of lobster and conch, which travel along the ocean currents."
Florida has booming recreational and commercial lobster fisheries, but conch are a protected species.
"There is light at the end of the tunnel," Glazer said. "This is the kind of information we need to determine how the population is doing."
State biologists will release the glass vials at five locations in the deep and shallow reef areas in the Keys. At the same time, biologists in Mexico will release vials at four additional locations.
Each vial will have instructions in Spanish as well as English, asking that the finders report the date and location of the discovery to the appropriate authorities.
"We will be offering some cash rewards as added incentive," Glazer said.
OFFSHORE UPDATE: Powerboat racing fans should wait before making plans for the June 25-27 Offshore Super Series event in St. Petersburg.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended the U.S. Coast Guard deny a permit for the race because of fears that manatees may be injured or killed by the more than 750 to 1,000 race and spectator boats expected for the event.
A May 18 statement from the FWS to the Daniel Neptun, commander of USCG's Group St. Petersburg, said: "Based on the absence of critical information and analysis related to race date, course selection, staging, and the movement, location, and control of spectator watercraft, it is our opinion that the proposed event lacks all the necessary measures to adequately protect the manatee and its habitat."
The West Indian manatee, an endangered species, is found in the shallow waters of the bay. In 1997, another powerboat group tried to race in the bay in June, but was forced to move the race to later in the summer when the big boats would pose less of a threat.
Organizers of the OSS event plan to hold their event in the open waters east of the Pier, far from the grass beds where manatees congregate. But before the event can move forward, organizers still need Coast Guard approval.
"We are going to hold this event, one way or another," said race promoter Randy Hedgewood.
St. Petersburg will be the second stop for the OSS, an organization that features offshore racing's largest and fastest boats.
Last month, the tour's inaugural event in Biloxi, Miss. drew nearly 30 boats, but competition was overshadowed by the death of a competitor during testing.
Chuck Underwood, a spokesman for the FWS in Jacksonville, said the race organizers can appeal the decision.
"They have a chance to come back and see if they can meet our requirements," he said. "That might mean changing the date to a time two or three months from now. Sometimes things can be worked out. Sometimes they can't."
Meanwhile, race organizers need help on land and on water. A volunteer meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Vinoy Resort.
The race will benefit the Benefit Pinellas County Educational Foundation, Friendship Trail and Everyone's Youth United.
For information call 727 896-7223 or register online at: www.stpetersburgoss.org For information on other OSS races, go to offshoresuperseries.com.
A rival tour, the American Power Boat Association plans to hold a race in St. Petersburg in October. For information go to http://www.apba-offshore.com