News Section: Environment
Winners Announced in TBEP’s Invasive Species Poetry Contest
ST. PETERSBURG – A call for creative prose brought in nearly 100 entries to the Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s first-ever Invasive Species Poetry Contest. The theme of uninvited plants and critters taking over Florida’s native habitats sparked a chord with the public, entries were submitted by residents ranging in age from 6 to 84!
“I was very happy to hear that a lot of children were interested in this, and some schools even did it as a project,” said Christine Jamesson, 57, winner in the adult category. “I think that is fabulous because once kids get an idea and latch on to something – they just take it a run with it.”
Clever verse from humorous to serious described invasives from bufo toads and Burmese pythons to lionfish, lovebugs, Brazilian pepper and air potatoes. The judges, representing a cross-section of backgrounds, were entertained by poetry in forms ranging from rhymes to haikus, and even a rap. One adult and two junior winners were announced. They will each receive a $250 cash prize.
“This is a great way for us to raise awareness about the environmental harm invasive plants and animals do to our native habitat,” said Nanette Holland O’Hara.
As the TBEP’s public outreach coordinator, O'Hara is constantly inventing ways to educate area residents on environmental issues. This year she tried to come up with a creative idea that would be fun for participants, a poetry contest came to mind to commemorate the TBEP’s 20th Anniversary. O’Hara said that they had so much participation, they will probably make the contest an annual event.
“It was much more successful than we thought it would be,” said O’Hara. “Apparently people are really interested in this subject. It was surprising to me to realize how many people were aware and informed about invasive species in Florida.”
Jamesson, a Clearwater resident, was the winner in the adult category for her poem “A Trio of Evil.” The poem took aim at the invasive Cuban marine (bufo) toad, lionfish, and Burmese python. She is the author of several self-published books, including one about dangerous creatures of Florida – such as the bufo toad. A Florida resident since 1988, Christine and her husband are “thinking globally and acting locally” to preserve natural Florida; their landscape has earned designation as both a Certified Wildlife Habitat from the National Wildlife Federation and a Florida-Friendly Yard from the Pinellas County Extension Service.
“I wanted to highlight the creatures that upset me the most,” said Jamesson. “It is a scary thought that you might pull up your bait net and there could be a lionfish in there one day. The fact that these creatures have no predators, I thought, could make for an interesting poem.“
15-year-old James Hsiung, of Tampa, was one winner of the junior category (ages 12-17) for his poem “Neglecting the Natives.” James wrote about the responsibility of local residents in conquering invasive plants and animals.
“People on a daily basis think that a plant is a plant and an animal is an animal,” he said. “They don’t really care about our environment too much instead they go to work and don’t think about it.”
As a 10th grader in Hillsborough High School’s International Baccalaureate program, Hsiung has experience with invasive plants. During his volunteer hours for Tampa Bay Estuary Program's “Give a Day for the Bay” program, which works to restore native habitat, he removed Brazilian Pepper trees from a preserve.
Hsiung is a talented musician -- he has played piano since the age of 4 and plays trombone in the high school marching band. He claims that poems come naturally to him, and his experience writing poems for class assignments in the past helped his composition win the contest.
Odessa resident Kristen Gallo won the junior’s category (age 11 and under) for her poem “The Evil Plant.” Kristen’s verse on the pesky air potato came easy, she said, because she had previously researched the topic for a school paper. At age 11, she is already an established poet. Her poem “Clouds,” inspired by light in a battle of dark, was published in a book called “From a Window.” She said she is often inspired by anger, instead of “punching a pillow” she turns to her talent.
“I feel strongly about saving trees,” she said.
Kristen is a sixth grader at Walker Magnet Middle School and thanked her fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Shrun, for pushing her to enter contests such as this one. When Gallo grows up, she wants to be an actor. She enjoys writing, making videos and playing with her triplet siblings, Lia and Matthew.
Tampa Bay, Florida's largest open-water estuary stretches 398 square miles at high tide. Popular for sport and recreation, the bay also supports one of the world's most productive natural systems. It was designated an "estuary of national significance" by Congress in 1990, paving the way for development of a long-term blueprint for bay restoration through the Tampa Bay National Estuary Program. Tampa Bay is one of 28 estuaries in the National Estuary Program; others in Florida are Sarasota Bay, Charlotte Harbor and Indian River Lagoon.
The Tampa Bay Estuary Program was established in 1991 as a partnership of Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas counties; the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater; the Southwest Florida Water Management District; the Florida Department of Environmental Protection; and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
TBEP leverages the resources of program partners by financing research into key problems impacting the bay; sponsoring demonstration projects to test innovative solutions to these problems; providing "Mini-Grants" to community groups to engage the public in bay restoration; and developing educational programs targeting key segments of the bay community - including teachers, boaters and homeowners.
“A Trio of Evil” by Christine Jamesson, age 57
deadly the Lionfish have spread their range
Released partly thanks to a Hurricane
Once numbers of only three
Their masses are now seen from RI to Belize
fishermen have to fight back
And hold Lionfish derbies for wads of cash
All have high hopes to contain the creature
And keep it as it was- a rare aquarium feature
Bufo Toad all
warty and thick
Secretes a poison that makes pets sick
Grayish-Brown with a slimy belly of yellow
He is a most repulsive fellow
1936 to control pests on sugar cane
He has now become a Florida pain
Looks harmless enough with no knobs on his head
But a lick of his skin leaves poor Fido dead
pythons - threatened in their native land
Are now a serious threat to man
Unchecked they could cover 1/3 of the states
And make pets or a child suffer a terrible fate
They can lay
up to 100 eggs a year
And make meals of the sweet and rare Key Deer
They are unhampered now, sunning and well fed
We must end their reign and put a price on their head
“The Evil Plant” by Kristen
Gallo, age 11
Winding, twisting, rapidly growing,
the Air Potato strikes a full grown Oak tree,
wrapping its sickening green leaves
around the tree's thick trunk
Moving closer and closer
to the canopy,
like a predator about to kill
its juicy prey.
The plant doubles its size,
squeezing out the life
of the helpless tree.
Finally, the Air Potato
reaches the canopy.
It secures for itself
a tough barrier of leaves
on top of the oak.
Hogging all of the sunlight;
The oak becomes weaker
Unable to perform photosynthesis,
it is slowly inching to its death.
The Air Potato finally covers the
and sucks all the life
out of it.
The Oak tree dies,
and a lack of food.
The Air Potato has done its job.
It keeps growing and growing,
and killing and killing.
What can we do
to stop this evil plant?
“Neglecting the Natives” by James
Hsiung, age 15
and animals reside here in the Tampa Bay.
Some float on by, while others are here to stay.
Invading our natural habitats, many do not know,
These invasive species arrive, and like weeds, they grow.
aware of the existence of these dangers,
Because all plants look alike, thus none look like strangers.
Brazilian Pepper Trees are conquering the shore,
along with air potatoes, cogon grass, and oh yes, there's more.
eel are preying on native frogs,
while the aggressive marine toads are killing off our dogs.
Who is responsible for protecting plants with native features?
It is us, the citizens, to help remove these invasive creatures!
Now is the
time to step up to the plate,
to save our original habitats, before it's too late.
Merab is a writer at the Bradenton Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org