All posts by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch

John Moran’s “Florida’s Summer of Slime: Stuart and Lake Okeechobee”

It’s an honor to present:

“Florida’s Summer of Slime: Stuart and Lake Okeechobee,” photo essay by John Moran, August 2018

I reported last month on the plight of the Caloosahatchee River and its befouled waters flowing from Lake Okeechobee; delivering slime to waterfront neighborhoods in Fort Myers and Cape Coral along the way to the Gulf Islands of Southwest Florida.

Next up on our Summer of Slime photo tour is a visit to Stuart and Lake O…Stuart and environs is a glistening jewel born of water. It may well top the list of Florida cities in shoreline per capita. There’s simply water everywhere. Two forks of the St. Lucie River, the Indian River Lagoon, canals and peninsulas and islands, and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Stuart is pictured above; below is neighboring Hutchinson Island.

But it wasn’t Stuart’s reputation for abundant clean water that drew me south from Gainesville with my cameras. In effect, I’ve become a traveling crime scene photographer—and slime is the crime. A devastating outbreak of toxic algae has once again hit the St. Lucie River and the Treasure Coast, fueled by the polluted waters of Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River basin to the north. Damaging headlines trumpet the story to the nation and the world and Governor Scott has declared a state of emergency. It’s déjà vu all over again.

My hosts in Stuart were water blogger Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and her husband, Ed Lippisch.

Ed took me up for a photo flight in his Piper Cub so I could get the big picture.

Seen from a small plane at 500 feet, Florida is a beautiful place.

Here’s Lake Okeechobee and the western terminus of the St. Lucie C-44 Canal. Administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam has the capacity to discharge 14,800 cubic feet of water per second downstream to Stuart and the St. Lucie River Estuary, 26 miles away.

Sugar industry representatives say the water coming out of Lake Okeechobee is not the problem and that the algae outbreak in Stuart is primarily caused by Stuart’s own septic tanks and urban stormwater. This claim is contradicted by the extensive algae mats seen along the C-44 Canal between the Port Mayaca and St. Lucie Locks, well upstream from Stuart.

Lake Okeechobee historically drained south to Florida Bay, not east and west to the Atlantic and Gulf. The C-44 canal was built in 1916 to divert floodwaters to the coast.

A view of the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, several miles southwest of Stuart. On the day of my photo flight in late July, the dam gates were closed, visibly holding back algae from flowing downstream. Look closely and you can see what some people call The Seven Gates of Hell.

The St. Lucie Lock and Dam are an integral part of South Florida’s complex web of water management structures, born of an age when the Everglades was reviled as a watery wasteland and America was driven to drain it.

Below the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, in Palm City and Stuart, you can still find waterfront homes untouched by the algae bloom. But that’s no consolation for the thousands of Martin County residents whose lives are in upheaval once again this summer. The familiar pattern of algae outbreaks is fueled by fertilizer, manure and urban sources of nutrient pollution, including septic tanks.

All of this is compounded by denial and neglect by elected officials and agencies to whom we entrust the important work of environmental protection and public health.

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch took me on a driving tour of the C-44 Canal from Stuart to enormous Lake O, which is more like a stormwater treatment pond than a biologically healthy lake. “There are toxic algae blooms across the globe, but only one place where the government dumps it on you: Florida,” she says.

It’s not just the algae from Lake Okeechobee causing headaches along Florida’s east coast; the sheer volume of freshwater discharges is an environmental pollutant that overwhelms the estuary.

The Lake O gunk visible in the satellite view, above, is shown in the detail photo below.

Fishermen are still drawn to Port Mayaca. On the day we visited, I counted nine.

Dinner in hand (speckled perch), Felix Gui, Jr. has been fishing Lake O for 30 years. “The algae doesn’t affect the fish,” he says. “They eat the same, algae or no algae, and I haven’t gotten sick.” Experts have warned against eating fish exposed to the algae.

A Martin County Health Department sign at Port Mayaca warns against contact with the water but I saw no messaging about whether fish caught in these waters is safe to eat.

Enroute home to Stuart, Jacqui and I stopped at deserted Timer Powers Park on the St. Lucie Canal in Indiantown.

At the St. Lucie Lock, a surreal scene of impaired water, above, and a vortex of slime, below, waiting to be flushed downstream.

A pair of jet-skiers signaled for the lock to be opened, and another pulse of algae-laden water is released towards Stuart and the coast.

Wouldn’t want to anyway, thanks.

Further downstream, the algae spreads…

Nearing the coast, Rio Nature Park and the neighboring Central Marine in Stuart are slimed again. This was the epicenter of the infamous Treasure Coast algae outbreak of 2016.

Reporter Tyler Treadway of TCPalm gathered a sample of the polluted water from a canal behind the offices of Florida Sportsman magazine in Stuart.

Staff complaints of headaches, nausea and dizziness prompted Florida Sportsman publisher Blair Wickstrom to temporarily close the office in late July. “It smells like death,” he said.

The Shepard Park boat ramp parking lot in Stuart was nearly empty on the day we visited.

A man on a mission, Mike Knepper, above and below, posts videos on his Youtube channel documenting the degradation of natural Florida.

“It’s totally unacceptable to me what we’re doing to this planet because we’re very rapidly destroying it,” Knepper says. “My children and grandchildren will be paying the price for all the bad decisions we’re making today. I want to be able to look them in the face and say, ‘I tried to make a difference.’”

Dead-end canals along the St. Lucie River with their limited water exchange have been hardest hit by the toxic blue-green algae, which scientists refer to as cyanobacteria.

A growing body of medical research links exposure to cyanobacteria with neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s, ALS and Alzheimer’s. Google it.

Meanwhile, we’re getting conflicting messages from officialdom. Martin County has erected signs warning against contact with the water but the Florida Dept. of Health website, under the heading How to Keep Your Family Safe While Enjoying Florida’s Water Ways, has this to say: “Cyanobacteria/ blue-green algae…are naturally occurring in Florida’s environment and are also found all over the world. They are part of a healthy ecosystem and help support a wide variety of aquatic life.” (http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/aquatic-toxins/cyanobacteria.html) In other words, Lighten up, Florida. This is just nature being natural.

An open question remains: What will become of the value of the Florida brand when the world fully sees what we have done to our waters?

Even in disaster, strange beauty emerges.

Greg Fedele has lived in his water-front home since 1991. He grieves for his loss. “I have three kids who can’t enjoy the waterways of Martin County like I did growing up.”

The sign at Ocean Blue Yacht Sales in Stuart echoes a wide swath of community sentiment. Asked to describe in a word how the algae outbreak has impacted his business, president Bryan Boyd replied, “Horrible. The last three years, our bay boat sales have been a third of what they used to be.”

A roadside sign seen in Stuart in late July. If you’re wondering what you can do about the ongoing crisis of Florida waters, we are called to consider our own water footprint, learn about the issues and get involved. And never forget that elections have consequences. Vote for Clean Water. (https://www.bullsugar.org/#)

What we have here in Florida is not just a crisis of water, we have a crisis of democracy and civic engagement.

From the beleaguered springs of North Florida to the sickened rivers and coasts of South Florida, we must understand that no savior is waiting on the horizon who will fix this thing for us.

It took a group effort to create this mess and we need all hands on deck if are to reclaim our waters. Florida needs environmental patriots willing to face down politicians funded by wealthy interests who think nothing of sacrificing our public waters on the altar of their private profits.

We don’t have the luxury of time to get this right. We are losing our waters now. This is our moment. It’s time to set aside our differences and focus on what is at stake, for this is nothing less than a battle for the soul of Florida.

The pictures don’t lie. We the people of Florida bear witness today to nothing less than a crime against nature, and a crime against the children who shall inherit our natural legacy.

A long time ago, Florida political leaders—Republicans and Democrats in common cause—understood there can be no healthy economy without a healthy environment. They wisely enacted laws and regulatory safeguards accordingly.

But that was then and this is now. It’s time to end the popular fiction in Florida that we can plunder and pollute our way to prosperity.

Gov. Reubin Askew said it best when he declared in 1971, “Ecological destruction is nothing less than economic suicide.”

In this, our Summer of Slime, can I get an amen?

by John Moran
August 2018

web: http://johnmoranphoto.com
email: JohnMoranPhoto@gmail.com
cell: 352.514.7670

Feel free to forward or post this photo essay as you wish; attribution is appreciated. Please share this with elected officials and ask them: what’s their plan to clean up our waters?

Breaking Through Water and Sky, Believe

If you feel anything like me, you’re not just tired, but sick of heart from looking at dead animals. The atrocities of our estuaries this year, especially for the Caloosahatchee, are Armageddon like in nature.

It is natural to be saddened, but we must stay strong and find inspiration. When we look around, even on the bloody environmental battlefield, it is there.

Today, I share the beautiful photos of local St Lucie River photographer Stephen Duffy, his Anhinga series shows this symbolic bird in all its glory. These special, yet common birds have no oil on their feathers, so they can both swim underwater and fly above the Earth. Thus the Native People held them sacred.  ~The bird that can fly and swim. The bird that can do “anything.” The bird that breaks the wall of water and sky.

When you see the anhinga remember: fly, swim, break through walls, and most important, believe.

Links:

https://www.nps.gov/ever/learn/nature/anhinga.htm

https://childrenofthesunnativeculture.com/cosnc/?q=node/187

#ToddThurlow #CIcyanoTrueColor; Lake O Tool-Kit

We all know, knowledge is power.

My brother, Todd, has programmed a way to present a running comparative of satellite imagery in an easy way for all to understand. These images are a revolutionary tool for the St Lucie River movement and for the state of Florida. They help us to understand, and put us in a better position to ask for change as we are up to date and we know how things work.  And although experimental, the concept is on track. Make this link a permanent part of your Lake Okeechobee tool kit. Read here:

http://www.thurlowpa.com/LakeOImagery/NCCOS%20HAB%20Images/index.html

My brother Todd and I in 2016.

#ToddThurlow #CIcyanoTrue Color #ThurlowClcyanoTrueColor

“Farewell Dear Friend,” River Warrior Plane, SLR/IRL

I’m the kind of person who gets attached. I’m loyal to people and things that are good to me. One of those is the Legend Cub, the little yellow airplane that started flying in Stuart in 2013.

As she began to fly over the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon helping spot destruction from Lake Okeechobee discharges, she came to be known by those who saw her from the ground as the “River Warrior.” Over time, she became known far and wide to pilots, guests, reporters, home-owners, boaters, beach-goers, and children. She flew over multiple river rallies tipping wings side-to-side “waving” inspiring thousands of people.

She inspired me too.

When I was too afraid to get up in the air with my husband, it was she who gave me wings. I trusted her to help me tell our River Story and she did. She discovered algae water pouring through S-80 and the gigantic algae blooms documented in Lake Okeechobee…

Looking back on the thousands of photos Ed and I took from her open cockpit, these photos starting with the Treasure Coast Council of Local Governments, were shared and published~during that changing “Lost Summer,” of 2013, and then 2016, and now, 2018.

The River Warrior’s distinctive yellow strutted aerials have been instrumental in gaining statewide and national attention of the government sponsored destruction of our St Lucie River. The little plane gave us our first look from above and she woke us to action, yes, she did.

~Never a stutter and always with a singing engine she flew…

Since 2013, there have been more “Lost Summers,” now complete with disappeared seagrasses, and toxic blue-green algae to boot. She has seen it all. And today, there are now a total of five Cubs in Martin and Lee Counties. Indeed, being so cute and reliable, she stared a trend.

Nonetheless, next week, she is being sold and replaced with a “better” model. For me, there is no better model. She has changed the game; she gave me confidence to fly when I had none; she shall be missed and remembered forever. So if you see her this final week please wave “goodbye” and wish her well.

Farewell and thank you River Warrior plane. May your next adventure be as touching to those around you, as you have been to me. You are, and alway will be, the soul and heart of our river movement legend.

Love,

Jacqui

Photos from 2013

One of many algae blooms on Lake O:

July 18, 2017
May 30, 2016

One of many river rallies:

NCCOS/NOAA Satellite Imagery, Making the Connection, Todd Thurlow

http://www.thurlowpa.com/LakeOImagery/NCCOS%20HAB%20Images/index.html

If you’re like me, you might wonder about the various satellite images in the news and on social media showing the cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, in Lake Okeechobee. What’s the connection between the colorized and the not? How do the scientists determine the colorized image? Where do they come from?

In this post, I share a link to my brother, Todd Thurlow’s latest creation, “NCCOS HAB Images.” This exciting site juxtaposes an experimental product of the National Centers for Coastal Science, NCCOS, being used to track Harmful Algae Blooms, HABs, in Lake Okeechobee, to NOAA True Color, or enhanced traditional satellite images.
The NCCOS images are referenced by The South Florida Water Management District, however, experimental. Experimental or not they are cool, tell us a lot, and they are interesting!

Before relying on a CICyano (Chlorophyll Cyanobacteria Index) image, scientists must first look at the “true color” version to determine if clouds or sunlight reflections have corrupted the data. Todd has made it easy for us to compare the NCCOS “Chlorophyll Cyanobacteria Index” pictures to the corresponding “True Color” picture. He processed hundreds of images, putting them side by side. Generally, if there are clouds on the right image, then the left image may not be so reliable. But if there are no clouds on the right, then the left image is a good indicator of algae.

This site is an awesome visual tool we can now reference as we continue to learn about HABs in Lake Okeechobee. Technology is a powerful path for connecting to a “better water future.”

SEE LINK BELOW FOR SITE: http://www.thurlowpa.com/LakeOImagery/NCCOS%20HAB%20Images/index.html

 

http://www.thurlowpa.com/LakeOImagery/NCCOS%20HAB%20Images/index.html

LINKS:

National Centers for Coastal Science: http://coastalscience.noaa.gov

NOAA, Harmful Algae Blooms: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/hazards/hab/

Blue-Green Algae Present, Lake O Bloom Subsiding, SLR/IRL

 

Documenting the discharges, is critical whether by air, on the ground, or from outer space.

The two videos above were taken by me over S-308 at Port Mayaca,  the opening from  Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River, and over S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam on Friday, July 20th, 2018. The satellite images below, my brother Todd Thurlow provided, were taken the same day.

It is clear that the blue-green algae/cyanobacteria, covering, at its height, 90% of Lake Okeechobee, has run its course and bloomed. Now, as the “flower falls,” we see what’s  left.

As seen in the aerials, and what the satellite images cannot portray, is that the algae is still there just lessened. Flying out over the lake a light green algae film remains over the water, a pastel shadow of its once flourescent self.

7-20-18, light colored algae, Lake O off eastern shoreline, JTL

The seven aerials at the end of this blog post were taken by my husband, Ed,  this afternoon, July 22, 2018 around 4pm. The tremendous green shock is gone, but squiggly lines of nutrient bubbles remain, and blue-green algae visibly lines the eastern shoreline to be sucked into the gates…

Will another gigantic bloom arise? Another flower to replace the dropped blooms of yesterday? Only time shall tell…

One thing is certain. Nutrient pollution (Phosphorus and Nitrogen) is destroying Florida’s waters, and unless non-point pollution, especially fertilizer runoff from the agriculture community, is addressed, faster than Florida’s Basin Management Action Plan requires- pushed out 30  or more years, we are will be living with reoccurring blooms indefinitely.

A great book on this subject is Clean Coastal Waters, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution, National Reaseach Council 2000, https://www.nap.edu/catalog/9812/clean-coastal-waters-understanding-and-reducing-the-effects-of-nutrient

Read below how Florida is trying to fix its impaired waters; nice try but no urgency. As we all know, there is no time to wait.

Florida Dept. of Environmental Protections Basin Management Action Plan: https://floridadep.gov/dear/water-quality-restoration/content/basin-management-action-plans-bmaps

 

Sentinel-2 L1C, SWIR on 2018-07-20.jpg 1,638×1,637 pixels, courtesy of Todd Thurlow. Visit his site here: http://www.thurlowpa.com/LakeOImagery/%5B/

Sentinel-2 L1C, True color on 2018-07-20.jpg 1,668×1,668 pixels, courtesy of Todd Thurlow. Visit Todd’s site here: http://www.thurlowpa.com/LakeOImagery/
Ed Lippisch S-308 at Port Mayaca, the opening form Lake O to C-44 Canal and SLR, 7-22-18
Ed Lippisch 7-22-18
Ed Lippisch 7-22-18
Ed Lippisch 7-22-18
Ed Lippisch 7-22-18
Ed Lippisch 7-22-18
Ed Lippisch 7-22-18

Timely quote for thought by the late Mr Nathaniel Reed 1933-2018

“…The fact that the Department of Environmental Protection and the Everglades Foundation have at last identified every polluter in the vast Okeechobee headwaters is an astonishing feat. The sheer number of polluters is mind-boggling.

The failure to enforce the possibly unenforceable standard (best management practices) shines through the research as testament to the carelessness of our state governmental agencies about enforcing strict water quality standards within the watershed.

There is not a lake, river nor estuary in Florida that is not adversely impacted by agricultural pollution.

As one of the authors of the 1973 Clean Water Act, I attempted late in the process to include agricultural pollution in the bill, but the major congressional supporters of the pending bill felt that by adding controls on agricultural pollution the bill would fail.

Now, 54 years later, fertilizer and dairy wastes are the main contributors to the pollution of the waters of our nation. Algal blooms are all too common even on the Great Lakes.”

Excerpt, Letter to the Editor, Stuart News, 2017

Lake Okeechobee Satellite Images 1982-2018, Todd Thurlow, SLR/IRL

 

In my last post, I shared my brother Todd Thurlow’s “Lake Okeechobee Satellite Images 1972-2013.” Today, I am sharing his Lake Okeechobee Satellite Images 1982-2018.

Hmmm?

In 1972, I was 8 years old…

In 1982, I was 18 years old…

A lot changes in ten years, and an extra-lot changes in the 100 years we have not taken good care of our state’s largest lake; this is now affecting millions of people and the remaining wildlife we have left.

Todd told me he did not “create by hand,” as I alluded to in my last post, but rather he used a USGS website tool to do it, and then converted, and loaded to YouTube, embed, etc.

In the last video the emphasis was on an a visible algae bloom in 1979, in this “video” the dates of algae blooms are not marked, but you can see clearly blooms towards the end as we reach 2018.

Unless something drastic occurs structurally, socially, and politically, I am sorry to say that we are doomed to have more and more algae blooms in the future.

#VoteWater #MakeAllPoliticiansTalkWaterAlltheTime

SEE LINK BELOW FOR VIDEO:

http://www.thurlowpa.com/LakeOImagery/Landsat4-8_1982-2018.html

Sentinel-2 L1C, True color on 2018-07-15.jpg 1,673×1,674 pixels, http://www.thurlowpa.com/LakeOImagery/

Also see Todd website for updated satellite images he makes easy to access for all to see:

http://www.thurlowpa.com/LakeOImagery/

Previous blog 1972-2013: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2018/07/17/lake-okeechobee-satellite-images-1971-2013-todd-thurlow-slr-irl/

~“The consequences of ignoring ecological planning and environmental protection could be economically devastating in a way not commonly foreseen.” Environments of South Florida Present and Past, by Patrick J. Gleason 1974.