Harbor Branch’s “Our Global Estuary,” World Stage, for the Indian River Lagoon

Intricate islands of central Indian River Lagoon near Vero. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch/Ed Lippisch, 2013.)
Intricate islands of the central Indian River Lagoon estuary near Vero. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch/Ed Lippisch, 2013.)

Recently, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, located in St Lucie County, (http://www.fau.edu/hboi/) released their “Our Global Estuary,” U.S. National Workshop, Draft Report.

The new program founded in 2013, is incredibly interesting. Harbor Branch, right here in “our own back yard,” has taken a world leadership role in one of the planet’s most important issues, one we all know quite well, the anthropogenic pressures that threaten the ecological benefits of estuaries. Harbor Branch is opening scientific dialogue on these pressures and the evolving technology that may help “save” them, by scientists sharing their experiences on such issues, scientists from all over the world. (http://ourglobalestuary.com)

Dr Megan Davis, Interim Director of Harbor Branch, co-chairing with Dr Antonio Baptista and Dr Margaret Leinen, along with other local and world scientists are leading this project.

It is noted in their publication that “comparing and contrasting estuaries and management  approaches worldwide is essential to capturing and a gaining from lessons learned locally.”

The report also notes and I quote that “estuaries are vital to the planet and their extraordinary productivity that supports life in and around them…Nearly 90% of the Earth’s land surface is connected to the ocean by rivers, with much of the water that drains from lands passing through wetlands and estuaries…cleaning species like mangroves and oysters are being limited by stressors caused by humans, such as water withdrawals, hydropower operation, navigation, and the release of fertilizers, contaminants, and municipal wastes. These pressures are increasing and threatening the balance of the systems.”

As one reads on, the report discusses that population growth and land-use choices not only near the estuaries but also many miles upstream can have a significant effects on estuaries. It is noted that “as farm production methods have evolved to increase yields, more nutrients have made  their way to the water causing algae overgrowth to the point of suppressing seagrass. These pressures can cause disease and death in fish, marine mammals, birds, and other animals.” Land development also impacts estuaries with its runoff and diversion or redirection of water.

The largest estuaries in the world are listed in the report are not in the United States. 1.  Ganges, Indian, Bangladesh, Nepal; 2 .Yangtze (Chang Jiang), China; 3. Indus, Indian, China, Pakistan; 4. Nile, Northeastern Africa; 5. Huang He (Yellow River), China; 6. Huai He, China; 7. Niger, West Africa; 8. Hai, China; 9. Krishna, Indian; and 10. Danube, Central and Eastern Europe.

Personally, I had only heard of half of those places and it made me think about the millions of people living around estuaries all over the world and how much I really don’t know. How small we are comparatively…

Although of course the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon is not one of the largest river basins in the world, we were listed under “Estuaries are  Receiving More Attention” along with Chesapeake Bay. The section notes water quality is compromised in part by excess nutrients and inland freshwater discharges and diversion of water that historically flowed south through the Florida Everglades. It notes seagrass die offs, manatee, pelican and dolphin mortality, septic, agriculture and lawn fertilizer issues…

About half way down the paragraph under Indian River Lagoon, it says: “Public outcry and accompanying media attention achieved critical mass in 2013, helping convince several municipalities to enact more  restrictive fertilizer ordinances and the state legislature to appropriate over 200 million in support for observation and systems remediation for the Lagoon and Everglades.”

Wow.

Once again, like the Dr Seuss children’s book, Horton Hears a Who, where the residents of Whoville together shout WE’RE HERE, WE’RE HERE, finally to be heard, the Treasure Coast is noted for its  efforts, this time in a document that will be shared around the world!

Thank you to Harbor Branch for its continued leadership and efforts in ocean and estuary research and thank you to the people of the Treasure Coast  or “Whoville” who have been heard and continue to help save the Indian River Lagoon.

 

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