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Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer

Craig Pittman

Tampa Bay Times reporter Craig Pittman is a native Floridian. He graduated from Troy State University in Alabama, where his muckraking work for the student paper prompted an agitated dean to label him "the most destructive force on campus." Since then he has covered a variety of newspaper beats and quite a few natural disasters, including hurricanes, wildfires and the Florida Legislature. Since 1998 he has reported on environmental issues for the Times. He is a four-time winner of the Waldo Proffitt Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism in Florida and a series of stories on Florida's vanishing wetlands that he wrote with Matthew Waite won the top investigative reporting award in both 2006 and 2007 from the Society of Environmental Journalists. He is the author of four books: "The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal, and the World's Most Beautiful Orchid" (2012); "Manatee Insanity: Inside the War Over Florida's Most Famous Endangered Species," (2010); and, co-written with Waite, "Paving Paradise: Florida's Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of No Net Loss," (2009). His new book, < a href=""> "Oh, Florida! How America's Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country,"hits stores in July 2016. He lives in St. Petersburg with his wife and two children.

Phone: (727) 893-8530


Twitter: @CraigTimes

  1. Bird rescuer's children sue to dissolve Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary


    The legal woes of Tampa Bay's top bird rescuer have now gone from bad to worse.

    He's the target of a lawsuit by his own children who, among other things, accuse him of stealing from funds intended for charity and allowing a pornographic website to take photos of nude, underage girls on his property.

    Ralph Heath Jr., the son of a prominent Tampa surgeon, founded the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores in 1971 and built it into the largest nonprofit wild bird hospital and sanctuary in the United States. ...

    Fredericka Jura, of Treasure Island, and Anne Roberts, of Maine, visit the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in 2013. A lawsuit filed against the facility alleges the sanctuary is "insolvent and has effectively ceased to operate." [LARA CERRI  |   Tampa Bay Times]
  2. Toxic algae lurks in Florida's lakes, threatening eagles and other birds


    First it drives them insane. Then it kills them.

    A toxic algae has been poisoning birds throughout the South. Now it's lurking in Florida's freshwater lakes.

    This is not the same as the slimy, toxic blue-green algae plaguing Florida's east coast, its stench driving tourists away and forcing residents to stay indoors.

    This one could be worse.

    So far it has been blamed for killing thousands of birds....

    An eagle killed by toxic algae was found in a nest at the J. Strom Thurmond Reservoir on the Georgia-South Carolina border. The same algae has been found in Florida.
  3. Manatee die-off in polluted Indian River Lagoon begins anew


    The manatees are dying again.

    Between 2012 to 2015, state officials said 158 manatees died in Florida's Indian River Lagoon, once known as the most diverse ecosystem in America. They weren't alone — pelicans and dolphins died by the score in the polluted lagoon too.

    The manatee die-off sputtered out last summer. But now, according to St. Petersburg's Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, it has begun anew....

    There is no discernible pattern to the 167 manatees killed since 2012 by whatever is in the Indian River Lagoon &#8212; the victims are calves and adults, males and females.
  4. Algae bloom in Lake Tarpon outfall canal causes large fish kill


    OLDSMAR — An algae bloom of unknown origin has killed what a Pinellas County official described Thursday as "thousands and thousands" of fish in an outfall canal between Lake Tarpon and the northern reaches of Tampa Bay.

    The algae bloom near Oldsmar appears to have absorbed much of the oxygen in the water in that area, suffocating thousands of juveniles of a type of fish known as menhaden....

    Dead juvenile menhaden washed up in an outfall canal between Lake Tarpon and the northern reaches of Tampa Bay.
  5. Toxic algae bloom crisis hits Florida, drives away tourists (w/video)


    It's going to be a long, stinky Fourth of July weekend on Jensen Beach.

    Instead of red, white and blue, the color of the day is green. Thick, putrid layers of toxic blue-green algae are lapping at the sand, forcing Martin County officials to close the beach as a health hazard.

    "I've seen Jensen Beach closed for sharks," said Irene Gomes, whose family has run the Driftwood Motel since 1958. "I've never seen it closed for an algae bloom before."...

    Algae-covered water at Stuart's Central Marine boat docks on Thursday. [Associated Press]
  6. Born 100 years ago, mystery writer John D. MacDonald foresaw the risks facing Florida's beauty

    Human Interest

    I read a lot of paperback thrillers, especially in the summer. Sometimes I think it's because of something in my DNA.

    My grandfather was hooked on Perry Mason, both the TV show and the books by Erle Stanley Gardner. My mother couldn't get enough of Agatha Christie. Growing up, I jumped from Encyclopedia Brown to Sherlock Holmes to Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.

    I used to ride the bus to school, my nose buried so deeply in books such as Ax by Ed McBain that I barely noticed the horrified reactions their lurid covers got from the other kids....

    John D. MacDonald, in an undated photo, sits on the porch of his home in Sarasota.
  7. Wildlife commission considers new protected areas for birds, bats


    The birds and the bats are about to get some help from the humans.

    On Wednesday, just before launching into a 10-hour discussion about holding a second bear hunt, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to give a green light to creating or expanding 19 "critical wildlife areas" around the state.

    These designated areas protect places where wildlife congregates to breed, nest, roost and feed. Among those proposed:...

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has voted to give a green light to creating or expanding 19 Critical Wildlife Areas around the state.&#13;&#13;Audubon is working with the property owners to add a third island, Sunken Island, to the protected area, as well as to add a buffer, and keep them closed off to humans all year round.
  8. Florida wildlife officials delay bear hunt until at least 2017


    EASTPOINT — In a surprise move, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted 4-3 late Wednesday to hold off having a second bear hunt this year.

    The vote marks a major change from last year, when the wildlife commissioners voted 6-1 to go ahead with Florida's first bear hunt in 21 years, despite strong public opposition.

    The change in attitude was made more remarkable by the venue for Wednesday's all-day meeting, the tiny Panhandle town of Eastpoint where two of Florida's five bear attacks of humans have occurred. Commission executive director Nick Wiley said that was just a coincidence....

    A Florida black bear harvested by a hunter is weighed by FWC Biologists Alyssa Simmons and Mike Orlando during the first Florida hunt in 21 years at the Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area near Lake Mary Florida. &#13;(Saturday, October 24, 2015.) [Luis Santana | Times]
  9. Vote is set on Florida's second bear hunt


    The ads are blunt: "Tell Gov. Rick Scott to stop killing our bears."

    Opponents of holding a second Florida bear hunt have bought ads on television and digital devices to try to persuade Scott's appointees on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to vote against a proposed hunt today.

    The commission's staff is proposing a more limited hunt than the first one. However, commissioners could vote for no hunt, or for a similar hunt to the one that occurred last October....

    A Florida black bear captured in the state hunt last October is weighed by state biologists at the Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area near Lake Mary.
  10. Sykes announces he'll enter crowded HD 70 field


    Pastor Manuel Sykes announced his decision to run for a state House being vacated by term-limited Rep. Darryl Rouson during a Sunday service at Bethel Community Baptist Church.

    Sykes' brief flirtation with a run for Congress in 2014 caused political fight with the county Democratic party when then county chairman Mark Hanisee left him a voice mail saying he would be "persona non grata" if he stayed in the race. ...

  11. Why the outlook for Tampa Bay's $6 billion highway expansion is hazy


    State officials justify a $6 billion interstate project by making a bold claim: It will ease gridlock throughout the Tampa Bay area.

    According to the Florida Department of Transportation, Tampa Bay Express will "reduce traffic time and traffic congestion for everyone."

    That claim has been repeated in brochures, videos and testimonials that are part of a taxpayer-funded public relations campaign touting the project....

    Robert Poole Jr. created the concept of toll lanes in the 1980s.
  12. Despite controversy, Florida wildlife officials recommend second bear hunt


    Biologists for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are recommending their bosses approve a second bear hunt, but one that is more limited in scope than what took place last fall.

    The commission meets June 22 in Apalachicola, where its agenda includes a discussion of whether to hold a second hunt at all. The seven board members could end the hunt entirely or pause it for a year. Their staff is recommending neither, choosing a revised hunt instead....

    &#65279;The first hunt, in October, was scheduled to last a week, but hunters killed 304 bears in just two days. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
  13. Tampa Bay's 'Bird Man' once soared high, now crashes to earth amid charges


    Once upon a time, Ralph Heath Jr. was a legend: the Bird Man of Tampa Bay.

    Starting with one cormorant in 1971, Heath eventually ran the largest nonprofit wild bird hospital and sanctuary in the United States. At the height of his fame, more than 50,000 people a year visited his Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores, marveling at how he and his staff rehabilitated injured pelicans and other creatures. He even had his own ocean-going research vessel. ...

    Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers confiscated these turtles from a Largo warehouse where Ralph Heath Jr. was keeping wildlife in filthy conditions.
  14. Hurricane season: Our annual reminder that Florida is trying to kill us

    Human Interest

    A couple of years ago, a real estate blog called Estately announced that, according to its highly scientific calculations, the scariest state in the union is Florida.

    Why us? Because of our hurricanes, for one thing. And the shark attacks. We get more than anywhere else in the world. The blog also counted our tornadoes (frequently spawned by our hurricanes) and our many lightning strikes (we usually get more of those than anywhere else in the U.S.)....

    Hurricane Dennis hits Key West in July 2005. A big hurricane hasn&#8217;t hit Florida in more than a decade.
  15. Endangered sparrows hatch in captivity, providing hope for species' future (w/video)


    The population of Florida's most critically endangered bird just got a little larger.

    Four grasshopper sparrow chicks were hatched in a Loxahatchee laboratory this week, marking the first success of a captive breeding program launched out of fear the tiny birds were about to go extinct.

    The hatchlings, however, won't be released into the wild, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Ken Warren....

    A wild grasshopper sparrow perches on the hand of a federal biologist. It&#8217;s estimated that about 150 of the birds are left.