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Entries in Everglades (22)


Speak Out to Help Stop Destruction of Florida Coastal Fisheries

Florida's coastal fisheries are being destroyed, as the Everglades and Florida Bay are starving for water.

Fed by polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee, toxic blue-green algae are coating Florida’s east and west coasts, causing fish kills and closing businesses.

This most recent crisis in South Florida reinforces the need to clean and send the water south, as it would naturally flow, to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay that are starving for freshwater.

The State of Florida and the Army Corps of Engineers need to initiate planning this year for water storage, treatment, and flow south of the lake, through the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Edit and send this message to Florida's Governor Scott for a comprehensive evaluation of water storage needs that could benefit the Everglades.

Ten things to know about Florida's harmful algae blooms

 1. What It Is and Where It Came From 

The algae is a cyanobacteria found in Lake Okeechobee, which comes from the runoff containing human waste and fertilizers from nearby farms and ordinary neighborhoods, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as other nutrients in the polluted runoff, can act like fertilizer for the algae, creating large and extensive blooms. 

2. Eager Developers Changed Florida's Waterways

In an attempt to spur the economy years ago, Florida land developers and government officials broke up the natural flow of the state's rivers, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades to redirect water south from central Florida, according to the Associated Press. The economy did grow as the land was reclaimed from the Everglades for development, but now the unnatural water flow has periodically left rivers and lagoons so toxic with HAB that fish die off, residents become ill and tourists are turned off.

3. The Risks to Humans

If ingested, water contaminated with toxic cyanobacteria can cause nausea, vomiting and, in severe cases, acute liver failure, according to Florida's FWCC. While there have been no documented cases of anyone becoming ill from drinking water containing these toxins, it remains a concern. The Centers for Disease Control says coming in direct contact with the algae can cause a rash and some research indicates a link between long-term inhalation of toxic algae fumes and neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

*   *   *   *

'This is our Deep Water Horizon!' 

"It's time the federal and state government understand how God-awful the problem is here," said Martin County Commissioner Doug Smith, referencing the 2010 oil spill that devastated wildlife along the Gulf of Mexico. 

When the algae blooms die, they release toxins that cause rashes and could endanger wildlife.
The foul-smelling problem - which has closed beaches along the Treasure Coast - stems in part from stopgap measures put in place by the feds.

To preserve the aging earthen dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers routinely releases water to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers.

After floods devastated the area around the lake in the wake of a massive 1928 hurricane that killed 2,500 people, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began regulating lake water levels to minimise the risk of a dike breach.

Now, local officials are citing the lake discharges as the cause of the spreading blooms - although the South Florida Water Management District said that septic tanks and storm water runoff can also play a role

This season's high temperatures and heavy rainfall have only exacerbated the problem.

Florida algae and politics stink like sh . . . ugar

With a state of emergency covering four Florida counties, the stench and slime from toxic blue-green algae blooms in the state are covering the international media. It’s not a sweet sight, but it smells conspicuously like sugar. Big Sugar, to be exact.

Environmental scientists and experts tirelessly point to agricultural pollution and climate change as major contributors to the monster algae epidemic, but, incredulously, Florida’s political leaders just haven’t figured it out.

*    *    *    *

Eight manatee deaths reported in Florida lagoon plagued by algae



Will Sugar-Supported Politicians Help or Hinder Restoration of Coastal Waters?

Nutrient-rich waters discharged out of Lake Okeechobee continue to foul and degrade Florida's coastal waters to the east and west with algae blooms.

Before the ecosystem was altered by man for our convenience, for development, agriculture, and flood control, high water flowed south to replenish the Everglades and, eventually, Florida Bay.

That's what needs to happen again to save the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River systems now being destroyed. It also would benefit the Everglades and Florida Bay.

But much of that land to the south is owned by sugar farmers, just as much of the nutrients polluting that water is from those farms.

And many Florida politicians are owned by Big Sugar. For example, U.S. Sugar Corp. is the fourth largest donor to Gov. Rick Scott's political committee.

"The American political system is dominated by big money, and big money talks," said Eric Eikenberg of the Everglades Foundation. "But we are hopeful in this crisis that the governor and other decision makers see through any of that."

Find out more about the politics of this issue here.


Action Needed to Save Everglades, Florida's Coastal Fisheries

If you follow news related to fishing, you know that an environmental disaster has unfolded this year in Florida. That's because we  altered the ecosystem in the southern part of the state decades ago to protect people living around Lake Okeechobee from flooding.

Much of the water that should be flowing south to nourish the Everglade and Florida bays is diverted to the east and west coasts. This year especially, those enormous slugs of contaminated freshwater have been catastrophic for coastal fisheries.

Congress and the state of Florida need to act--- and quickly--- by appropriating funds and redirecting much of that water toward the Everglades, both to revitalize that unique system and stop the coastal decimation.

Here's what the National Wildlife Federation has to say:

This year, the Corps has already flushed record amounts of water from Lake Okeechobee east through the St. Lucie and west through the Caloosahatchee to relieve the pressure on the dike. This sends billions of gallons of polluted freshwater into the St. Lucie Estuary, Indian River Lagoon, and the Caloosahatchee Estuary – estuaries critical for the health of our sportfish – while too little went south to the Everglades and Florida Bay.

The visibly dark, polluted discharges prompted Governor Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency in several counties, but the damage was already done. It’s a disaster for sea grasses and the delicate balance of salt and freshwater so vital to estuarine life. A disaster for those who make their living relying on the health of these ecosystems.

Congress and the Florida legislature need to spend the money needed to change the plumbing diagram and send the water south, in the measured amounts on a proper schedule, and in the right condition: clean. That means implementing CERP (Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan).

Not spending the money now will cost us all and it will potentially wreck an economy that depends on us to want to fish there. The experts have drawn the diagram of the pipes. It’s time for our political leaders in Washington and Tallahassee to pay the plumber.

Last month, Florida legislators took a step in the right direction by approving the Legacy Florida Act (HB 989/SB 1168), a bill requiring the state to set aside up to $200 million each year for Everglades restoration projects that implement CERP, and $50 million to fund springs restoration. The money comes from Florida’s Amendment 1, which dedicates resources to buy, restore, and manage conservation and recreation lands in Florida. The funding stream set up by Legacy Florida, specifically intended to carry out projects outlined in CERP, will help protect America’s Everglades and the fish, wildlife, and people who depend on it.

Go here to learn more and to sign a letter on behalf of your business or organization, asking Congress to restore the Everglades.


Bass Eat Snook and Vice Versa

As waters warm, snook are moving up Florida's west coast and into rivers, which have long been productive bass fisheries. In fact, they're now common in several rivers north of Tampa, including the Withlacoochee, Homosassa, and Crystal.

What does that mean? About what you'd expect from two apex predators.

"During a study to evaluate habitat and diet overlap between largemouth bass and snook, our biologists found that the two species cohabitate well except when they try to eat each other," reported  the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), through its Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

In other words, snook eat bass and bass eat snook.  The problem is that snook grow considerably larger than their freshwater counterparts.

"Today, snook in the 20 to 35-pound range are caught on a regular basis in King's Bay (Crystal River)," said long-time tournament angler Matt Beck.

"There is a solid fishable population of snook in the bay that once was not there. They are a great game fish and lots of fun to catch, but I believe they seriously threaten the bass population," he added.

"A 3-pound bass doesn't stand a chance against a 40-inch snook."

Especially  if the protective grass that once was in the river now is gone, courtesy of a growing manatee population. Like snook, these aquatic browsers now stay in the bay year around, and they've gobbled up all the hydrilla.

Click on photo to see video of massive snook attacking bass.

Fortunately, bass haven't lost habitat to such an extent in most of the waters that snook and bass share south of Tampa, as well as Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades, and the lower Atlantic coast. In those waters, biologists see no cause for concern.

"Both adult snook and adult bass were generalist and opportunistic feeders. Most prey were other fish, followed by crabs or shrimp, and they had high percentages of diet overlap and diet similarity, indicating they share food resources, although that does not necessarily indicate competition for food," said FWC snook biologist Alexis Trotter.

In regard to habitat, meanwhile, Trotter said that snook don't seem to have "strong habitat associations." They were found throughout areas sampled, while bass more often were found in "locations containing high coverage of habitat, complexity of structure, and high percentages of shade."

Not surprisingly, bass preferred fresher waters (less than 8 parts per trillion salinity), while snook were found throughout the rivers, in a wider range of salinities.

Studies of interactions between the two are ongoing, mostly as biologists sample for snook and find bass as well.  Research areas include rivers around Tampa Bay, as well as Charlotte Harbor and the spring-fed rivers north of Tampa, which snook have found to their liking in recent years. 



Lake Okeechobee Discharges Threaten Oysters, Other Marine Life

Environmental damage to Florida coastal areas continues to worsen, as high water is artificially flushed east and west out of Lake Okeechobee, instead of sheet flowing south through the Everglades, as nature intended. Oysters are among the latest casualties, as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports below.

You might not like to eat oysters, but they are a lot more important than as seafood. They are the "canary in the coal mine" for the health of Florida's estuary ecosystems.

 *     *      *

Oysters in the St. Lucie River are pretty resilient.

They thrive in normal rainwater runoff into the estuary and can cope with even temporary low salinity from large amounts of local runoff.

One thing they can't survive: extended discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

That's according to a new study by Ed Proffitt, biology professor at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute near Fort Pierce, and graduate student Elizabeth Salewski published in the March issue of the scientific journal Estuaries and Coasts.

Healthy oysters are a sign of a healthy river. Oyster beds support more than 300 species of aquatic animals. More than that, they help make the estuary healthier by filtering impurities out of the water.

Proffitt and Salewski studied the St. Lucie from 2009 through 2011, including the spring and summer of 2010, when nearly 85 billion gallons of Lake O water was dumped into the St. Lucie.

By comparison, when 136.1 billion gallons of Lake O water was discharged into the river in the summer and fall of 2013, killing practically all the oysters in the estuary.

Since Jan. 30, more than 50 billion gallons of lake water has been released, and the Army Corps of Engineers has said the discharges are expected at least two more months.

Biggest Threat

Proffitt said tiny particles of sediment pose the biggest threat to oysters.

During the first 20 days of the current discharges, for example, more than 800,000 pounds of sediment have turned the estuary chocolate brown; and a plume of brown water extends out the St. Lucie Inlet into the Atlantic Ocean.

"The sediment that's suspended in the discharged water rains down on top of the oysters, clogging the filters they use to feed," Proffitt said.

The oysters close up to keep the sediment out, but that means they can't eat. "The adults can last a little while," Proffitt said, "but the young ones can't."

Vincent Encomio, an oyster expert at the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart, called sediment "the gift you don't want that keeps on giving."

Even after the sediment forms muck on the bottom of the estuary, "it keeps getting re-suspended in the water by boat propellers and strong winds. Then it falls back down on oysters and kills them."

No Salt

The discharges of freshwater from the lake drop or completely wipe out salinity levels in the estuary, which naturally is a mixture of saltwater and freshwater.

Proffitt said low salinity alone can kill small oysters but has no effect on larger ones. But if Lake O discharges occur in the summer, when oysters are already stressed due to warm water, low salinity is more likely to kill all oysters.

For that reason, Proffit and Salewski recommend discharges be limited to the winter. And Proffit suggested discharges be "pulsed": on for a couple of months, then off long enough for salinity to recover.

The ultimate goal, Proffitt and Salewski said, should be "to eliminate or severely curtail the frequency of multi-month high freshwater discharge events."


In the meantime, Proffitt said, even though oysters die during long discharges every few years, money spent on building oyster beds in the St. Lucie isn't wasted.

Martin County has built more than 25 acres of oyster beds throughout the estuary with a grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. Florida Oceanographic and about 500 volunteers have built more than 30 smaller oyster-shell beds along the Riverwalk in downtown Stuart.

"Even when there are boom and bust cycles in the oyster population," he said, "that's better for the estuary's ecosystem, for the oysters and the numerous other species the oyster beds support, than just having a bunch of muck at the bottom of the St. Lucie."