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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Here's hoping Katrina chases away Red Tide
By TERRY TOMALIN
Published August 28, 2005
Hurricanes aren't all bad. Over the years, more than one tropical storm has been credited with breaking up a lingering Red Tide.
The microscopic organism that causes Red Tide, Karenia brevis, is affected by various environmental factors, including water temperature and salinity. Wind and current also can determine whether a bloom flourishes or dies.
Most anglers know algae produces a toxin that makes it difficult for fish to breathe. Dead fish floating or washed up on area beaches are usually the first indicator Red Tide is in the area.
People can experience respiratory problems if Red Tide becomes airborne as a result of heavy surf. Some, as I discovered firsthand a decade ago, have allergic reactions.
There was a tropical storm in the gulf and a friend and I headed to Clearwater Beach early one morning to catch some waves. Red Tide had been reported in Sarasota Bay, but not the Tampa Bay area.
The surf was the typical gulf coast "slop and chop," and I spent more time flailing than surfing. After a half-hour or so of feeble athleticism, my eyes were burning.
Like most wave-deprived gulf coast surfers, I kept hoping for one last ride before heading into work. So I lingered much longer than I should have and experienced a loss of vision.
I stumbled toward the parking lot and rinsed my eyes under the shower to no avail. I sat in agony for two hours until my eye sockets, swollen to the size of tennis balls, stopped throbbing long enough for me to drive home.
My vision did not return to normal for nearly eight hours.
A few days later, I called Dr. Karen Steidinger at the St. Petersburg-based Florida Marine Research Institute, who said I was among a small group who are prone to severe allergic reaction when exposed to the zooplankton, which in 2001 was named for her.
Ever since, I have been cautious when swimming, diving and surfing in waters that have been experiencing a Red Tide.
Which brings us to Hurricane Katrina, which undoubtedly will kick up some waves over the next few days. Red Tide, the worst I have experienced in the 15 years I have kept close watch on area water conditions, lingers off gulf coast beaches.
But the waves off Sunset Beach were waist high and glassy Saturday morning. My 4-year-old son, who caught his first wave last year during Hurricane Ivan, has informed me that we will be surfing this afternoon.
My hope is the Red Tide will be scattered and blown north because I am not looking forward to another bout of brevis blindness. But given the choice of disappointing my boy or enduring a few hours of agonizing pain, I will always choose the latter.
So if you see a whimpering, middle-aged man being led through the parking lot by a 4-year-old, do not be alarmed. We do it in the name of surf.