I am very fortunate to have a team of people, “River Warriors” who help me document from sky to water the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Today, I share photos taken by friend Mary Radabaugh who overnighted in the area over Father’s Day weekend, June 18-19, 2022. She took amazing photos of nature: live sand dollars, growing seagrasses, wading birds, manatees, and sea turtles. Life is returning to the area.
Next, Dr Scott Kuhns shares five aerials he took the same weekend, on June 18, around 11:30am. These photographs reveal clear waters with rain runoff plume over St Lucie Inlet and nearshore reefs. There is also a photo of the C-44 Reservoir filled to just over ten feet. This reservoir sits on the C-44 Canal and was just completed this past year as the first major CERP project. It is scheduled to be operational by 2023, although the ACOE is trying for earlier.
My husband, Dr Ed Lippisch, took his plane up yesterday. He shares four photos from June 22, 2022 around 12:30 pm that encompass the estuary from a higher altitude. The darker rain runoff is more visible. The estuary still looks good in the region near the St Lucie Inlet. Higher up the north and south forks the water is darker. There have not been major discharges from Lake Okeechobee in over three years. This is a very good thing and we must continue to make this our goal.
-Ed, Estero Bay, Lee County, FLIn Search of the Calusa 2-Mound Key to Marco Island, May 8-13, 2022.
In Calusa 1, Ed, Mindi, and I learned about villages of the Calusa that once existed right in downtown, Ft Meyers. Soon after, we visited an even more remarkable remnant, the Mound House seven miles away on Ft Meyers Beach.
Continuing our journey, we headed south along Estero Bay, an aquatic preserve connected to the Caloosahatchee River. As Adrift’s draft was too deep, we viewed Calusa site #3, Mound Key Archeological State Park, from a distance. Archeologists have determined that “Mound Key” was the capital so to speak, the ceremonial center, of a sprawling Calusa Kingdom that influenced much of South Florida. Over centuries, high shell mounds and a grand canal were built on Mound Key by Calusa hands as explained in Trail of Florida’s Indian Heritage. Seeing the famous key from a distance was quite remarkable and really and gave me a reference point for the Calusa people and their travels throughout the remainder of the trip.
III. Mound Key
-Image Florida Museum
-Mindi and Ed lead Adrift through to Estero Bay
-Ft Meyers Beach and Estero Bay to Mound Key, Google Maps.
-Wider view: Ft Meyers to Marco Island, Google Maps.
IV. Marco Island
-Rounding into Marco Island, Gulf of MexicoThe boat trip to beautiful Marco Island, Calusa site #4, cradled in the Gulf of Mexico, was rough, but once we got there about six hours later, it was calm and beautiful. I knew -here as well- we could not experience Calusa culture first hand as its most famous archeological site is now developed and covered over by the Olde Marco Inn. This photo below is close to this area.
–Key Marco as documented in the Pepper -Hearst Expedition of 1886
The Key Marco/Marco Island’s story is fascinating. Around 1895, landowner, W. D. Captain Bill Collier, no relation to the famous Collier family, was living-subsiding-on Key Marco of today’s Marco Island. While digging on his property, he noticed artifacts. Serious artifacts. Shortly thereafter, anthropologist, Frank H. Cushing, sponsored by the Smithsonian, University of Pennsylvania, and William and Phoebe Hearst was called to excavate. The “Key Marco” location became one of the most famous North American archeological sites of all time as Cushing basically “unearthed remains of an entire Calusa village.”
-The Calusa used many beautiful and once abundant shells for various aspects of their amazing culture -All photos are replicas of Cushing’s finds, Randell Research Center, JTLMost famous among the 1896 finds is the hard-wood, in tact, gorgeous “Key Marco Cat,” and many ceremonial masks that were painted by Wells M. Sawyer before they disintegrated or fell apart. Eventually, the artifacts, photos, watercolors, and drawings were split-up among well known institutions after Cushing’s death only four years later in 1900. Thus it is difficult to view them all in one place.
Thankfully, the most famous, the “Key Marco Cat” or “Panther Man God” is on loan from the Smithsonian to the Marco Island Historical Museum until 2026. You can learn more about the iconic Florida artifact by watching this video by Pat Rutledge, Executive Director of the Marco Island Historical Society with her guest, Curator of Collections, Austin Bell.
Unfortunately, Ed and I did not get to see the Marco Cat as I left Marco Island to attended a South Florida Water Management District governing board meeting in Key Largo. But Ed and I are planning a trip back to Marco Island to see the famous feline! This is a must! Our in Search of the Calusa tour is ending up being one of our all time favorite trips! So much to learn about our Florida!
–Screen shot of slide via above link to video, Austin Bell.
-Not a replica. Image of Key Marco Cat or Panther Man God, Smithsonian Museum–Florida Museum of Natural History reconstruction of ancient Calusa chief/dolphin images-Ed meets a modern street dolphin while walking Marco Island-As you can see from this photo, Marco Island is built up today as is most of South Florida…-Advertisement for the Marco Cat at the Marco Island Historical Museum!-Goodbye Marco Island! Next stop Pine Island north of the Caloosahatchee River. Ed and I look forward to taking you there for our final Calusa visit!
-Museum exhibit, Mound House, photo Ed LippischOn May 2nd of 2022, Ed and I began one of my favorite adventures. We went in search of the Calusa, one of Florida’s most famous native tribes. It was in spirit that we found them and they, indeed, were everywhere…The trawler left Stuart going through Lake Okeechobee to Ft Meyers. Lightening and thunder exploded with great force over the Caloosahatchee as Adrift slowly approached Legacy Harbour Marina. As first mate, I refused to walk to the bow to dock the boat for fear I would be struck. “Don’t you realize Florida has more lightning strikes than any other state?” I called through the wind and rain. Ed gave me the evil-eye until I did my job, and the storm was lessening. I stepped out into the elements, crossed myself, pulled up the hood of my rain jacket, and grabbed the lines.
My prayers must have worked as almost immediately the sky began to clear. After, cleaning up, Ed and I got off the boat, now in good spirits, and walked towards downtown where right away there were signs of former Calusa villages…The following day, my UF friend, Mindi Morrall, met us and we began the second part of the trip to the Mound House, this time by car, located about seven miles away on Ft Meyers Beach. We quickly realized that the Uber driver was from out of state and was not aware that any “Calusa Indians” had ever lived in Florida at all.
The Mound House is considered the “Crown Jewel” of Fort Myers Beach. In April of 2019, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It was selected for its historic and its archeological value. The Calusa built the shell mound underlying the mound house over many centuries. A timeline marks their presence in the region from 500 B.C. through the 1700s.
The Calusa lived from the riches of the estuary environment eating tremendous amounts of mollusk and fish, piling remains into very tall mounds -some taller than thirty feet- over centuries. In the 1500s the Calusa were the dominant people in what today we call “South Florida.” The word “Calusa” is thought to mean “fierce people.” They were not farmers, but fisher-hunter gatherers, and as their name states, fiercely independent. The Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon, was attacked and fatally wounded by this tribe upon his return to La Florida, the conquistador’s first visit being in 1513.
I have always felt it is the spirit of the Calusa Warrior that helped bring a turning point to the estuaries of the St Lucie River and Caloosahatchee. Today, I will briefly share this experience as an introduction.
This image by the Florida Museum of Natural History shows the “radiation” of the Calusa.
Photos of our meeting the Calusa:
-Entrance to the Mound House, Lee County, FL-Mindi was taller than most Calusas and I was just about the height of the Spanish!-Road to the Mound House built in 1906 atop the thousand/s year old Calusa shell mound-Ed and Mindi wait for the tour to begin. Estero Bay in the distance. -Presentation by Mound House Preservation specialist. Welch & conch were used for many different tools and other utensils. The Calusa are famous for their masks and art.-Location of Mound House and other sites of the Caloosahatchee
-An Atala butterfly on a Strangler Fig tree, the sap of tree used by the Calusa to make paint. -Examples of Calusa replica artifacts -many are some of the most famous in the world. -Looking into floor of the Mound House built in early 1900s. Shells! -Of great interest was where a display in the ground where a swimming pool had been excavated and shell layers of the mound beneath the house could be closely viewed “over time,” layer by layer.-Necklace of the four corners
I visited my mother yesterday and we talked about the tremendous recent rains. We sat inside to chat because the mosquitoes were so bad outside.
This is about how our conversation went:
Jacqui: “I just took a picture of another seven inches in my rain gauge.”
Sandy: “Yes, I have dumped out over fifteen inches of rain in mine since that tropical disturbance…” (6-3-22)
In spite of all this rain, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon doesn’t look too bad. Here are aerials taken by my husband, Ed Lippisch, and friend, Scott Kuhns, on June 11, 2022 to show what the area looks like. The St Lucie itself does look dark brown and there is a plume from runoff, but overall it is “not too bad…”
We will continue to be your eye in the sky documenting the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
-Ed Lippisch, RV, June 11, 2022 10:30am. St Lucie Inlet.-Roosevelt Bridge, St Lucie River
-Scott Kuhns, SuperCub. June 11, 11:30 am. St Lucie Inlet.-Shawn Engebretsen flies his T-6 on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean & IRL
-Image from “SFWMD Weather” a great resourceTCPalm reported significant rainfall along the Treasure Coast. My rain gauge in south Sewall’s Point read over 7 inches.And as the system pulled out over the Atlantic Ocean, Sunday, June 5, 2022, the day after the rains passed, it was beautiful! Both my husband, Ed Lippisch, and friend, Scott Kuhns, took flight. I will share their aerials today. We can use these photos as a baseline as more water makes it way to the St Lucie.
The ACOE opened one gate of S-80 to the C-44 canal for about one day, certainly C-23 and C-24 and C-25 overflowed, and then there is the surrounding runoff. Luckily no discharges came in from Lake Okeechobee, today reported at 12.75 feet.
So what did the St Lucie River look like one day after such rains? Here you go!
~Scott Kuhns’ aerials, Sailfish Flats/confluence of the St Lucie River & Indian River Lagoon, near St Lucie Inlet. One can see the runoff plume.-Hutchinson Island in distance-Plume coming out of St Lucie Inlet-Sewall’s Point and Hell’s Gate SLR-St Lucie Inlet -Area between Sewall’s and Sailfish Point, IRL -Sailfish Flats-Below: approaching Witham Airport plane is over Sewall’s Point going to Stuart
Ed’s photos below are from Lake Okeechobee to the Loxahatchee River to the St Luice Inlet area. Ed said the canal water of the C-44 looked like expresso but no visible algae from the airplane.
-S-308 at Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee -Development along C-44 Canal near intake canal of C-44 Reservoir-S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam along C-44 Canal was closed after being open for about a day-Loxahatchee River in Jupiter also with runoff-St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, Sailfish Flats, Hutchinson Island
So let’s keep our fingers crossed for no storms the remainder of hurricane season!
-My dad’s photo -bus for Stuart High School, Senior Trip to Havana, Cuba, 1954Why the “Stiller”name rings a such a loud bell for me is because my late, dear, father, Tom Thurlow Jr. always loved to tell the story about his 1954 Stuart High School Senior Trip to Havana, Cuba. As you can see above, the bus was all written up in shoe polish!
I remember saying to my dad, “I get “Stuart Tigers” and “Havana or Bust”, but why does it say FISH FOR SALE, STILLER BROS. FISH HOUSE?” Dad would begin chuckling and reply: “That was my classmate Freddy Stiller…”
-Indian River State College President, Dr. Timothy Moore, JTL, Sandra Thurlow, Vice Chair District Board of Trustees IRSC, Tony George, May 24, 2022. Receiving a “Resolution of Appreciation” for my late father, Thomas H. Thurlow Jr. for his many years of service to the institution. -Mom holds dad’s Resolution of Appreciation. Thank you IRSC!Recently, after receiving a a beautiful plaque from Indian River State College in honor of my father for his service to the institution, my mother, historian Sandra Thurlow, and I visited Mariner Cay where my dad’s friends Freddy Stiller’s family once fished.
During our visit, my mother pointed out that commercial fishing operations flourished along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon after the opening of the St Lucie Inlet in 1892. In the 1940s, the fishing was still wonderful. It was this year that Hubert Stiller, Freddy’s forefather, purchased 75 acres of land from the Jacksonville Partnership Corporation -for the principal sum of $11500.
In 1963, the Stillers sold the family property, except for three lots to Whiticar, Garlington and Dragseth who later also sold the property. This land, platted in 1973, other than the three lots, became Mariner Cay off of St Lucie Boulvard near San Sprit Park.
-Mariner Cay Marina in 2022
When my mom got home she sent me some historic aerials that I will share today. It is fascinating to see what the land once looked like at a time when men could pull thousands of fish from our waters.
PHOTOS & HISTORIC AERIALS LAND ONCE OWNER BY THE STILLERS-TODAY’S MARINER CAY ON ST LUCIE BOULEVARD, STUART, FL
-Early photo of a Stiller Fish House ca. 1945, courtesy Thurlow Archives.-Thurlow Archives/all aerials marked 1964 of the Stiller lands that in 1964 sold to Whiticar, Garlington, and Dragseth. The St Lucie Inlet and Seminole Shores, (today’s Sailfish Point) can be seen in the distance over an undeveloped Rocky Point.-Mouth of Manatee Pocket also 1964, Stuart, FL
-My mother took this photo below of a remaining Stiller structure still located on one of “the three lots” not sold by the family in 1963. It remained/s separate. My friend and realtor, Julia Sansavere who lives in Mariner Cay informed me these “Stiller” properties have just sold. Nonetheless, they will remain a piece of history of my dad’s friend Freddy Stiller who once wrote on the Senior Trip bus to Havana in 1954: “Fish For Sale, Stiller Bros. Fish House…”
-A remaining Stiller structure, on the once Stiller lands, within Mariner Cay, May 24, 2022, photo Sandra Thurlow.-Today’s Mariner Cay red balloon, Google Earth, 2022.
As I mentioned in my previous post, “Ed is on a roll…”
Yesterday, 5-24-22 around 11:30 am, my husband took the Maverick to the Sailfish Flats area and the sandbar that forms at low tide off of Sailfish Point. Next, at 2:30pm he took a ride in the RV to view from above. Beautiful.
Rainy season usually officially begins on June 1st. So if you can enjoy the clear waters near the St Lucie Inlet before the rains…
I wanted to share these photos so we can compare.
~On the ground
-Seagrass with Gracilaria, a common macro-algae in the Lagoon according to Mark Perry
~In the air
-RV: Sailfish Flats and Sailfish Point, Hutchinson Island, near St Lucie Inlet on March 24, 2022, around 2:30pm. The exposed sand in these aerials is the sandbar Ed walked on and took photos of above.
Yesterday, 5-23-22, at around 3:30pm, these aerials were taken of the Sailfish Flats, the confluence of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island.
The water looks great and I have had reports of seagrass-although sparse-growing in some parts of this region. KEEP THE LOCKS CLOSED and thank you Ed for documenting the St Lucie!
Mind you, the entire river is not this color. The water gets more tannin and darker as you approach the locks and upper reaches of the forks. These were once fresh and clear. In a hundred years, things have drastically changed…
As you can see, the proximity to the St Lucie Inlet allows for flushing/cleaning of this area. Since repeated blue-green algae laden discharges starting in 2013, and then again in 2016 and 2018, the grasses have become sparse mostly due to poor light penetration. The inlet cannot flush when high discharges from Lake Okeechobee and area canals are pouring through for long periods of time.
Some of the shading you see is macro-algae not seagrasses. It takes years for seagrass to recover. With three good recent years they seem to be recovering. Things are looking up so long as Mother Nature and politics don’t get in way. Please continue to advocate for our waters!
I am including all photos- although similar- so you may compare and get the feeling of
1977 aerial below by Chris Perry for historic comparison.
Greetings. Ed and I have just returned from three weeks of touring Florida’s west coast in our trawler, Adrift. It was awesome! I am nowhere close to being back in gear (I am recovering one could say) but my husband Ed is…
Yesterday, 5-22-22, around 1pm, Ed took the RV for a spin and got some great aerials. I wanted to make sure to share. I will be writing more soon. Hope all my readers are doing well and enjoying the water!
-C-44 Canal at S-80, St Lucie Locks and Dam. No algae at S-80 but we did see some bubbling up in our wake in Lake O.
-Sugarcane burning near Lake Okeechobee…
–Pal Mar’s lands are under siege as you may have read about