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Entries in Everglades (20)

Friday
Apr222016

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.

Sunday
Mar272016

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. 

 

Thursday
Mar032016

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."

Boom-Bust

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."

Saturday
Feb132016

More Natural Flow Needed to Protect Florida Saltwater Fisheries

High water pouring out of Lake Okeechobee through manmade diversions is devastating ecosystems and fisheries on both coasts of Florida. Meanwhile, Florida Bay to the south suffers because so little freshwater reaches it through the Everglades to reduce the salinity. It's time to correct this man-caused disaster.

This statement is from the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust:

Healthy recreational fisheries require healthy habitats. Healthy habitats require healthy, natural freshwater flows. It's that simple.

Current water management practices in Florida are gravely threatening Florida's recreational fisheries. At the center of this crisis are the Florida Everglades, where natural freshwater flows have been severely disrupted.

Polluted freshwater discharge flowing over a spillway on Taylor Creek in Fort Pierce, FL. Photo: Dr. Zack Jud - Florida Oceanographic Society

Research long ago established that changes to freshwater flows into estuaries causes significant negative impacts to the ecosystem. These changes can kill seagrasses, oysters, fishes, and other organisms that are important to the estuary ecosystem. From an angler's perspective, these changes negatively impact gamefish - there are fewer prey items, less habitat, and the poor water quality can impact fish health. The way that water flows in the Florida Everglades are currently managed is causing damaging changes to freshwater flows into estuaries and wreaking havoc on the ecosystems.

At present, many billions of gallons of polluted freshwater are being discharged every day from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River and the St. Lucie River and Estuary. These areas are unfishable. Algal blooms are widespread.

In contrast, so little freshwater is reaching Florida Bay that the waters of Florida Bay are hypersaline (too salty), which has resulted in a large-scale die-off of seagrass, an extensive algae bloom, and numerous fish kills.

The Indian River Lagoon, into which the St. Lucie River drains, is experiencing a massive brown tide. The St. Lucie Estuary recently posted health warnings to avoid contact with the water.

These recreational fisheries and habitats are in crisis.

The recreational fisheries of Florida are extremely economically important. Estimates of statewide economic impact of the fishery range from $5 billion to $8 billion annually. The flats fishery of the Florida Keys has an annual economic impact of $465 million. The annual economic impact of the recreational fishery of the Everglades region is nearly $1 billion. The economic impact of the tarpon fisheries of the Indian River Lagoon and Charlotte Harbor exceed $19 million and $110 million, respectively.

Before the Everglades were modified, natural freshwater sent the right amount of freshwater to Florida Bay via sheet flow, and much less water to the east and west coasts, which supported healthy habitats and healthy fisheries. Now altered flows and water management send insufficient freshwater to Florida Bay and too much water is released to the northern estuaries. These changes in freshwater flow result in the algae blooms, seagrass die-offs, fish kills, and otehr environmental impacts that are currently ongoing.



The last time water alterations were this severe, in the early 1990s, Florida Bay suffered catastrophic algae blooms and seagrass die-off, which had severe negative impacts on the recreational fishery that are still felt today. Now, we fear a repeat of the catastrophe of the 1990s is under way. Florida Bay is the "Canary in the Coal Mine" for Florida's recreational fisheries, and rings alarms bells for the entire region, from the Caloosahatchee River and Charlotte Harbor to the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

Freshwater flows need to be restored

  • The plans to make this happen are in place - known as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project or CERP - they just haven't been adequately funded or implemented as promised. This plan needs to be funded and implemented immediately. This will supply Florida Bay with sufficient freshwater and stop the drastic discharges of water into other areas.
  • The Central Everglades Planning Project needs to be fast-tracked.
  • The state needs to purchase the land already identified for creating reservoirs to store and help clean the freshwater.
  • The state needs to implement strategies to reduce the amount of nutrients in freshwater entering the estuaries.
  • It's not going to be an easy or short-term effort, but if action isn't taken now, the future of these habitats and fisheries is not bright.

You need to ACT now

What You Can Do:

  • If you live in the Florida Keys, attend the March 23 Monroe County Commission Meeting, where this item will be a top focus.
  • If you don't live in the Florida Keys, request that this issue is placed on the next Commission meeting agenda for your county and show up at the meeting in force
  • Demand that freshwater flows into Florida Bay are increased, especially during the dry season, and oppose any actions that would reduce this flow
  • Demand that freshwater flows into the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie River are greatly reduced
  • Demand that water storage south of Lake Okeechobee is created now, not delayed until 2022
  • Demand that the freshwater flows into Indian River Lagoon are returned to more natural patterns
  • Demand that the freshwater flowing into the estuaries is clean
  • Contact your local, state, and federal elected representatives and tell them to fast-track CERP, purchase the land to create reservoirs to store and clean freshwater, and implement strategies to reduce nutrients and contaminants in the freshwater entering the estuaries.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (FL)

https://www.billnelson.senate.gov/contact-bill 

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (FL)

http://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email-senator-rubio?p=Contact

Find and contact your U.S. House of Representatives

http://www.house.gov/representatives/#state_fl

Find and contact your state Senators and Representatives:

https://www.flsenate.gov/senators/find 

http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/myrepresentative.aspx 

South Florida Water Management, Governing Board

Daniel O'Keefe, Chair

(561) 682-6262

dokeefe@sfwmd.gov

Represents: Glades, Highlands, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola and Polk counties

Kevin Powers, Vice Chair

(561) 682-6262

kpowers@sfwmd.gov

Represents: St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties

Contact the Monroe County Board of Commissioners

Thursday
Dec172015

Join the Fight to Keep Florida Fishing

The list of initiatives to ban or severely restrict recreational fishing and boating access in Florida is growing every day. Over the past decade, the misguided attempts to manage fisheries include Biscayne National Park, the Everglades, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, southeast Florida marine sanctuary request, and red snapper on both coasts. These bans and restrictions are often initiated by well-funded and coordinated special interest groups who leverage their influence at the state and federal levels to achieve their particular agendas.

That’s why Keep Florida Fishing was created.

The mission is to ensure Florida’s resident anglers and visitors have abundant fisheries, clean water and access to both. But your help is needed.