In spite of Florida’s significant development, the health of estuarine seagrass is something we expect and treasure. Being the home of baby fish and wildlife, estuaries are often called the “cradle of the ocean.”
According the the USDA, “estuaries are among the most productive natural systems on earth.” Their value? Perhaps priceless. And we are losing money fast.
Today I wanted to share information presented at a Rivers Coalition meeting now posted for the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon estuary; I will touch on four other sister estuaries as well: Caloosahathcee; Lake Worth Lagoon; Biscayne Bay; and Florida Bay. Being familiar with each, can help us advocate for the value of the greater whole.
I. St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon
Last week, my brother Todd Thurlow, shared satellite and GIS images that show a story of seagrass loss in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon estuary in an area known to locals as Sailfish Flats. I have taken screen shot images of Todd’s website below. The first image was taken in 2007 and the second on 2-24-2021. In spite of yearly variations due to season, temperature, and other natural changes, I think it is clear that seagrass has declined. The real killer is that the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon had once attained the greatest species diversity of any estuary in North America, (Lodge, The Everglades Handbook, 4th Edition, page 175).
Right now, it appears that seagrasses have disappeared in the Sailfish Flats region. The reason? Certainly there are many including the damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee, and canals C-44, C-23 and C-24. ~Hurricanes? Climate Change? Sea level rise? Fertilizers from local runoff? Destruction of native trees and vegetation? Earlier dredge and Fill? Septic Tanks? Dredging? Beach Renourishment? But some of these things have gone on for decades, so why now such a difference? Please share your ideas and experiences.
To see all images throughout many years visit Todd’s website eyeonlakeo.
-Seagrass loss a visual survey, Sailfish Flats, SLR/IRL, 2007 compared to 2021
I am no expert in the Caloosahatchee, but it is commonly known that if it gets too saline in the upper estuary, the underwater grasses there can die. I am sharing the most recent Sanibel Captive Conservation Foundation “Caloosahatchee Conditions Report” as it shows the organization recommending 2000 cfs from the ACOE (Lake Okeechobee) but will be recommending less or none in the future.
III. Lake Worth Lagoon
Lake Worth Lagoon, once a huge freshwater lake, is now open to the sea. LWL has many issues, but sediment covering seagrasses -especially from the C-51 canal- is a big one. You can learn more at the Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resource Management website.
IV. Biscayne Bay
The South Florida Water Management had an outstanding workshop on Biscayne Bay last December. Seagrass loss was a big topic and they had just had a fish kill. You can learn more here.
V. Florida Bay
Florida Bay has endured significant seagrass loss, especially, most recently in 2015. This year due to 2020 rains, the Bay is having a very good year as recently reported by the SFMWD. (See page 24). Audubon’s Everglades Science Center is a good website to learn about issues of seagrass loss and others facing Florida Bay.
“Seagrasses? What seagrasses?” It must be “Seagrasses! What Seagrasses!”