Category Archives: Everglades

A Captains’ Introduction to the Shark River!

-Captain Chris Wittman & Captain Daniel Andrews of Captains for Clean Water w/JTL & Ed. Shark River to Shark River Slough transition zone adventure, 3-24-21. Photo Noah Miller.I have had this fascination with finding the Shark River. Maybe it’s the visual; maybe it’s the promise of more water flowing south; maybe it’s because I keep having a hard time finding it…

Twice I had tried. Once, on a boat trip from Flamingo and another flying over with my husband. In both cases, really, the river eluded me. “How can something so big, be so hard to find?” I thought to myself. Well, some of that may be related to the complex changes humankind has made to the Everglades system. It took a day led by Chris Whitman and Daniel Andrews of Captains for Clean Water to meet this elusive river “face to face,” and even begin to understand it.

Before I share the story, I am taking my favorite book off the shelf: Landscapes and Hydrology of the Predrainage Everglades. These images, on pages 46 and 47, compare the hydrology of the Everglades south of Lake Okeechobee from 1850 to today. Even without clicking to study the image, one can see the changes. The Shark River, near the bottom of the system, receives considerably less water today than in its past. The River of Grass south of Lake Okeechobee, which includes Shark River Slough, has been blocked by roads, cut by canals, amputated in the north by the Everglades Agricultural Area, and pushed west from encroaching eastern development.  A modern picture from the National Park System reveals what remains today inside of Everglades National Park and shows the connection of the Shark River to Shark River Slough. My goal was to meet this river and to do so my husband, Ed, and I met the Captains in Flamingo at Flamingo Marina. We were to cross through Whitewater Bay, then enter the “Little Shark River” and next, come face to face with the Shark River itself!

Ed and my morning began at 3:00am. I don’t believe I have ever gotten up this early. The alarm rang and Ed excitedly said: “Time to get up! ” 

“Already?” I replied, stuffing my head under the pillow.

After getting ready, we jumped in the car driving south from Stuart in total darkness to Homestead and entered Everglades National Park. We were to meet the Captains at 8:00am. We were on time, but Ed likes being early.

Slow down Ed! You might hit a panther! I exclaimed.

“I’m following the speed limit Jacqui.” Ed replied. “Go back to sleep.”

The sun was coming up and a menagerie of wading birds gracefully glided overhead. The sun shone through their feathers in hues of oranges and pinks. “This is beautiful.” I said, starting to wake up.

“You should try getting up early more often-we could go fishing together.”  Ed joked.

I rolled my eyes, “I would only get up this early to meet the Shark River, not to catch fishes!”  We laughed.

We saw the sign for Flamingo. We had arrived.

The Captains were waiting; boat already in the water. After quick “hellos,” we waved goodbye to a sleeping crocodile and headed up the Buttonwood Canal to Whitewater Bay. It was so exciting! Finally, I thought, I will indeed meet the Shark River!

It was chilly but no wind. The water was like glass. There was no one else.

-Captain Daniel Andrews and Noah Miller in the Buttonwood Canal leading into Coot Bay.-JTL and Captain Chris Wittman.-What a cool decking! “Send the water south!”-Ed smiles for the camera.Suddenly we stopped.

“Is this Whitewater Bay?” I asked.

Chris nodded his head up and down and climbed above the engine. I noticed he was wearing no shoes, just socks.

“What’s he doing?” I whispered to Ed.

“He’s sighting tarpon. Shhh.”Suddenly I saw a tremendous splash in the distance! A rolling silver monster of a fish. It was spectacular! Never in my lifetime had I seen a jumping “silver king.”

I watched. I listened. It was magical. And like the Shark River, the tarpon stayed just out of reach, remaining a mystery….

We continued on..

We traveled quite a long way, many miles, first hitting the Little Shark River and then the Shark River itself. Some maps like the one below show it all as the Shark River.

“Chris looked at me through reflective glasses. He smiled. “Here you go Jacqui, this is it. The Shark River.”

“Oh my Gosh finally! I exclaimed standing up.“Hello Shark River! I dragged my fingers in the clear, brownish water smiling from ear to ear.

It felt like we were in Africa or some far away land. The Captains were taking us deep into the northern reaches of Otter Creek and  Rookery Branch  as displayed on page 109 of The Everglades Handbook, another excellent publication. Chris said, “Not only are you going to meet the Shark River, we are going to take you to were its connection meets Shark River Slough.” When we arrived at the end of the branch, the waterway got thinner and thinner, the plants began to change. We stopped when we could go no further. Captain Daniel explained that we were in the “transition zone.” Shark River Slough was just north of us, on the other side, where the vegetation would become more marshy. Fresh water flowed through here. I could see coco-plum, like in my yard,  growing right next to mangroves. The vegetation was mixed and different. Daniel discussed the history and how the mangroves have grown much further north since around 1920 because of the lack of fresh water. I looked down. It was very shallow. I could see limestone, marl or some type of rock. What looked like peat and leaves lie on top. The water was clear. Fishes were darting about. I could see the water slowly flowing…

We were at the interface, the meeting place of river and slough. We talked about Everglades restoration for a long time noting that the water now wasted to tide and destroying the Northern Estuaries from Lake Okeechobee once flowed massively south through this area into Florida Bay. We talked about the hyper-salinity and seagrass die-offs in Florida Bay due to the lack of fresh water. Yes, recently, and in 2015, starting in the 1980s. What a conundrum. We must continue to work to send more water south!

-Captain Chris teaches us about the transition zone.-Transition zone between river forks and Shark River Slough. Blue dot is location of the boat. Line above is Tamiami Trail east of Miami. Before heading home, the Captains took us in the opposite direction to see Ponce de Leon Bay, where the Shark River and other rivers carry the water of Shark River Slough into Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Along the way, we passed a mangrove forest that contained giant remnant black mangroves the size of oak trees! I even saw a tree snail. I had never seen such a big tree snail either!

All the way home, I felt renewed.

I will never forget this special day. The day Ed and I had a Captains’ introduction to the Shark River -and so much more!  Ed and I are forever grateful.

With every experience like this I can see, really see, what needs to be done to send more water south, to save the estuaries, and to replenish Florida Bay. Having met the Shark River, may just have been the ultimate inspiration.

-Ponce de Leon Bay mangrove forest. -Hugging an enormous ancient black mangrove.-An Everglades tree snail!-Captain Chris overlooks Ponce de Leon Bay. -Heading home! -Back on land at Flamingo Marina. A final farewell selfie. -Crocodile loves the comfy boat ramp.-Ospreys feed their rapidly growing young. All animals of the Everglades need flowing fresh water from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. We must continue to send more water south!

Videos: 1 & 2  on the way to the transition zone of the upper forks towards Shark River Slough.

1.

2.

 

3.  Approaching Ponce de Leon Bay that opens into Florida Bay and Gulf of Mexico.

 

EAA Reservoir/STA, Modern Progress and a Real Reason for Hope

-Looking towards a future where progress means water flowing south. EAA Reservoir /STA 2021. Photo credit, Libby Pigman, SFWMD. What do they say? “There is no stopping progress!” And the definition of progress changes throughout the ages…

Monday, February 15, 2021, was an Everglades “progress” inspiration for me. The last time I had visited this area was October of 2019. There were vast sugar fields as far as the eye could see. Today, the area is a field of dreams, a goal of collective effort, the lynchpin for sending more water south and significantly alleviating  a hundred years of destruction to the Northern Everglades: St Lucie, Caloosahtchee, and often Lake Worth Lagoon.

The trip to the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir/Stormwater Treatment Area is an experience in and of itself. The District is in charge of building the giant marsh or Stormwater Treatment Area (STA.) South Florida Water Management District  Communications Director, Sean Cooley and I met as the sun rose, and then drove west in a truck from South Florida Water Management District Headquarters through West Palm Beach and the Everglades Agricultural Area, to meet Regional Representative Libby Pigman and Hendry County Commissioner, Carson Turner – who chairs the powerful 16 County Coalition. I have known Commissioner Turner since 2008 and it was fantastic to see him. He is a wealth of knowledge and perspective that I very much appreciate. 

The highlight of the day? Because of my SFWMD Governing Board status, I was allowed to push the button to detonate the dynamite blast. Not really my cup of tea, but it was exciting! And oh my gosh, the shells! Boring 18 feet into the cap rock, thousands of years of ancient earth and shell come to surface.  

As we walked through the piles of rock and shell after the blast, I thought about how this area was once the flooded southern sawgrass plains leading to the Ridge and Slough and Shark River Slough, rising to replenish Florida Bay. I envisioned millions of beautiful wading birds and rookeries doting the spectacular and rare landscape. I thought of how in the name of “progress” humankind drained and destroyed the Everglades. I thought about how priorities change over time. I smiled thinking about how the EAA Reservoir and Storm Water Treatment Area is a real reason for hope, an attempt to return a connection to this sacred River of Grass. In the name of modern progress let’s keep going! For the birds, for the wildlife, for our children, indeed, for all of us. 

Enjoy the photos and blast videos! And thank you to SFWMD staff and RYAN for the tour. -Map of EAA Reservoir/STA. Our location A-2 STA, C-623

*Click here for February 2021 SFWMD EAA Reservoir/STA  construction details and update: Bill_20210216_0001

-A red-eared slider turtle greets us at the gate! “Hurry up…” he says!  -“We want the STA” cried  the wading birds! “We need an upgrade!” -We arrive at the EAA STA construction worksite. -David Anderson, RYAN inspector, reviews safely and the day.-Comr. Turner and I look at a map. Carson shares perspective. I learned a lot. -Amid EAA STA construction: David Anderson, RYAN Inspector; Libby Pigman, Regional Rep, SFWMD, Sean Cooley, Communications Dir. SFWMD, Carson Turner, Hendry County Comr. Dist. 5, JTL GB SFWMD.-Site of detonation that will be part of an intake canal system for the EAA STA (pink highlighter pen, upper left corner, on above map shows approximate location). -Muck, ancient deteriorated sawgrass, scraped from cap rock and piled up will be re-laid after construction in STA for plant growth that will filter the water before it goes to the reservoir.-Ancient shells. Florida is of course, an ancient sea…The Everglades is estimated to be “only” 6000 years old.-Dynamite container bored 18 feet into rock. -RYAN’S Mahmound Khalaifa saw I was looking for shells so he showed me what he had found! Ancient coral head and various bivalves. Beautiful! -More review on safety and blast from true professionals.-JTL prepares to hit the button! 

  1. CLICK HERE FOR AWESOME MOVIE #1 OF DYNAMITE BLAST CREATING THE INTAKE CANAL EAA STA 2021.
  2. CLICK HERE FOR MOVIE #2 EAA STA BLAST 2021  – JTL SCREAMING WITH DELIGHT!

POST BLAST

-Sean Cooley, Communications Director SFWMD and Comr. Turner walk carefully amid the mountainous post-blast site. -Carson Turner & JTL pose for the camera. Jacqui is finding fossils and cool rocks.-Carson found an ancient coral head and gifted it to me. Thank you Comr. Turner! -Driving a short distance from the blast site one sees the infamous “pyramids” against the horizon. This is rock that has been crushed and ground down. It will be used to create the canal edges and levees. Nothing on site is wasted. -Final explanations, questions, and wrap-up! A great day! Rock crusher in background.-The road home …-Treasures from the Earth… Thank you Everglades….-General location of EAA Reservoir STA on Google Maps. It lies between the Miami and New River Canals. The perfect place to reconnect! 

More photos of EAA Reservoir’s STA blast canal digging with explanations, January 2021, TCPalm, photographer, Leah Voss article Max Chesnes.

 

 

There’s A lot More to it Than Mowing…

It may seem like a small thing, but it’s actually a big thing. How does the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) manage mowing responsibilities for the Central and South Florida Project?

The Central and South Florida (C&SF) Project, first authorized by Congress in 1948, is a multi-purpose project that provides flood control, water supply for municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses, prevention of saltwater intrusion, water supply for Everglades National Park, and protection of fish and wildlife resources. The primary system includes more than 1,000 miles each of levees and canals, 150 water control structures, and 16 major pump stations.

~The ACOE built this system and the SFWMD was created to manage it. 

-S-308, C-44, & S-153 in Martin County are part of the vast Central and South Florida ProjectIn December 2020, item 19 of the SFWMD Consent Agenda read:

“Maintenance of District Lands is required to ensure that vegetation is controlled at the appropriate height to provide for optimal performance and operational efficiency of the District’s flood control system.”

I had inquired. I had questioned…

I had visions of the District mowing down every blade of grass. I asked what was done for the ecology? “Does the District leave any flowering weeds for bees or butterflies?” “Does the the District think about vegetation for the wildlife or do we just mow it all down in the name of flood control?” 

I figured it would be the later…I was wrong. 

On January 28, 2021, I got the tour of a lifetime and learned that there was more to it than mowing. A lot more.I met the heads of departments at DuPuis Wildlife Management Area near Indiantown in Martin County. The goal of my tour was to visit levees and canals and learn about SFWMD mowing practices. Photo: South Florida Florida Management Leadership, L-R back to front: Francois Laroche, Vegetation Mgt. Section Administrator; Rich Virgil, Field Ops. Division Director; Rory Feeney, Land Resources Bureau Chief; Chris Edelstein, Field Ops. Bureau Chief; LeRoy Rodger, Invasive Species Unit Lead; and me, JTL, SFWMD Governing Board.

I.

First we drove to the C-44 canal near S-308, an area I know well. The S-308 structure allows the Army Corp of Engineers to discharge water from Lake Okeechobee into the St Lucie River. The C-44 was first constructed from ca. 1913 to 1923 and over the years widened and “improved.” This repetitive disruption of the soil allows invasive plants to move in each time.

I did not realize the extent until SFWMD’s LeRoy Rodgers, Invasive Species Unit Lead,  and Francois Laroche, Vegetation Management Specialist, told me the story and showed me the back side of the C-44 canal near S-308. 

NAPIER GRASS: Introduced as a forage grass for cattle in the early 1900s; this African grass is extremely invasive.  It grows best along disturbed canal edges eventually hindering flood control by blocking access to canals and impeding water flow. It has been here for decades.Over the years, C-44  levees near S-308  have become covered with Napier Grass also known as “Elephant Grass.”

-Canal C-44 at S-308 coved in Napier Grass -Rory Feeney, Land Resources Bureau Chief,  tugs on a Napier plant. ~The Rhizome structure makes the grass very difficult to “just pull out.”The tall grass is mowed intermittently on a schedule. The roots go wide and deep into the ground making it impossible to pull out without compromising the integrity of the Central and South Florida Project at C-44. All that can be done is to manage this explosion of grass. 

I looked around. The tall Napier Grass reached as far as my eye could see. I thought about history. I though about time. I thought about responsibility. I asked if there were any benefits for wildlife. 

LeRoyRodgers, Invasive Species Unit Lead answered. He said certainly, animals could hide there, but it was not a preferred habitat except for one, another invasive, the Burmese Python. He noted that when the SFWMD mowing crews started finding chopped-up python down in Homestead, a few years ago, that was when the District became aware of the python population issue down there.

Not a good visual…

The men compared areas showing me how the grass does respond to more frequent mowing. They explained how when it is mowed, some is cut short, some is left long and some is cut more often than other.

Closest to the road, where it can be mowed more frequently, I could see other plants and weeds not just Nadier Grasses coming in.  Weed-like flowers bloomed here and there. Francois Laroche, Vegetation Management Specialist explained the ways of nature. With the more frequent mowing, other plants could “compete.”

I started to get the picture…

-LeRory Rodgers, Invasive Species Unit Lead, points to other plants coming in when Napier Grass is more frequently mowed along flat areas.

II.

Next, we drove just a bit further to the intersection of the C-44 and the  S-153 Structure. This structure controls the water inside a canal parallel to Highway 98 and the FPL cooling pond.  It was explained to me that this levee is a second line of defense should the waters of Lake Okeechobee pour over. A levee holds water back and a canal moves water. We were here to look at the levee. However, keep in mind, there is a “canal” where dirt is dug to build a levee…-S-153 intersects with C-44 canal; it is an area full of wildlife and displays both native and non-native plants along the canal used to build the levee.

-LeRoy Rodgers & Rich Vigil observe a fern; this one is not native, used in landscaping yards. -S-153 at C-44 canal Looking around I was happy to see more flowering weeds and plants, and less invasive Napier Grass. This wasn’t the “flowering prairie” I had hoped for, but after my lesson on invasives, I was a bit more open minded. As I looked around, small birds darted away, quickly taking cover. A fish jumped close to a mass of dollar weeds that were wedged up against a floating rope. Some wildlife lives here! 

I was starting to consider the balance.  Where there was mowing, there were more flowering weeds and other plants. As Francois had said, mowing allowed competition.  

To answer my question about plants for pollinators, we found numerous native Spanish Needles. These native blooms are highly visited by a range of pollinators and butterflies. There were others I did not recognize flowering as well. I saw a yellow butterfly, maybe a sulphur. Dragonflies were everywhere. I could hear insects chirping. 

Mr LeRoy and the others picked flowers saying the names in Latin. We discussed the various vegetation, some native, some not, along the levee. It was a mix.

We kept walking.

“O.K. there’s ding,” said Chris Edelstein, Field Ops Bureau Cheif.

“What’s a ding?” I inquired. 

“Something the Army Corp would mark against us. See the dug out areas? That’s from wild hogs foraging for roots and worms.” LeRoy said the name of the long roots left behind in Latin. “This agressive digging is problematic to the integrity of the levee.”

“A ding!” I replied, noting the District’s legal obligation to the Army Corp. of Engineers.

“At least there’s life here,” I repeated. “And I do adore those little piglets!” 

We continued looking at plants and weeds. “Oh and here is another ding,” said Chris. 

I looked up seeing nothing more than a pile of sand.

Rich Virgil, Field Ops Division Director  explained: “That’s a gopher tortoise  burrow…their burrows can be over 15 feet long and 6 feet deep. This can definitely be an issue for the integrity of the levee.” 

I thought about the possibility of a hurricane and Lake Okeechobee overtaking its dike,  the waters pouring east towards the levee. As the men had explained, this levee would be a line of defense. 

I got down on the ground, and took a picture. The men talked. It sounded that a threatened gopher tortoise was not as easy to remove as the wild hogs.

The area was very interesting and definitely more wildlife friendly than our first stop. The mowing pattern again showed some vegetation left alone, some mowed shorter, and wild plants growing along the edge of the canal. The edge of the canal is mowed most infrequently by a special contractor when the plants get “too woody.” Otherwise it is left to grow….

I was somewhat impressed. 

-Gopher Tortoise burrow in the levee -Edge of canal connected to S-153 displays ferns and other plants, many flowering. I did see a few clumps of the invasive Nadier Grass, but not much.

III.

Last but not least, we drove to Lakeside Ranch, a Storm Water Treatment Area (STA) for nutrient reduction near Taylor Creek, northeast of Lake Okeechobee. In this area the levees of the STA were only a couple of years old; flowering weeds and “good” plants totally outnumbered the small clumps of Nadier Grass. The men talked about the importance of staying on top of the mowing so the Nadeir Grass and other invasive plants wouldn’t take over this area that is now habitat to an extensive number of birds and other wildlife.

“You have to stay on top of it.” Rich said looking from horizon to horizon. 

The place was beautiful. As we continued down the path, I laughed out loud at seeing a pile of apple snails, the trash midden of Snail Kites. Rory Feeney, Land Resources Bureau Chief, explained: “You can tell by the shape that these snails are not native, some can become  invasive, but for the endangered snail kite, it’s been a life saver. The native Florida apple snail lives in a very limited habitat, whereas the invasive  species tolerate more diverse conditions, including human-made impoundments.”  

Wow. An invasive apple snail as a life-saver? The metaphor hit me hard. Non-native species are not always a bad thing, I guess. 

 And mowing?

I’m not as judgmental as I was before the field trip. There’s a lot more to it than just mowing!

-Staring down at piles of invasive apple snail shells left by endangered Snail Kites-I hold an empty, non-native, invasive apple snail shell, the snails that helps the Snail Kite survive in a changing Everglades environment. If only the invasive Nadier Grass could do so much good!

*Thank you to staff! 

An Aerial View- Our Remaining “River of Grass”

-Looking southerly towards White Water Bay in Everglades National Park

These photos are the second part of Ed and my flight reported on January 21, 2021. The first part focused on “Finding the Shark River.”

I wanted to include these aerials in my blog as well as they too are interesting to see. This set begins near White Water Bay at the southwestern tip of Florida and travels northeast over the remaining River of Grass. I will note areas based on the FWC map below that compartmentalizes the Everglades, our remaining River of Grass into Everglades National Park and the Water Conservation Areas.

During the flight, in the northern areas especially, there was a lot of smoke in the air as the sugarcane fields were burning in the Everglades Agricultural Area that was once the  sawgrass “southern heart” of the River of Grass. Over time agriculture, roads, development, and so called conservation areas have divided her.

-Enjoy the flight.

…As we envision what more we can do to restore this natural wonder. 

(You can click on image to enlarge)

-Turning over White Water Bay-Flight GPS -Shark River Slough/Southern Everglades/Everglades National Park -Looking north east over the upper Southern Everglades/Shark River Slough area-Continuing north, note Tamiami Trail that divides Conservation Area 3 from Everglades National Park -Tamiami Trail: water is stacked north due to road-Conservation Area 3 Alligator Alley further north also dissects the River of Grass -Now over Everglades Agricultural Area fields; note Water Conservation Area 2 and Water Conservation Area 1. -Mostly Water Conservation Area 1-Everglades Agricultural Area -Tuning east over Water Conservation Area 1-Approaching the coast near Jupiter, note land changes -Jupiter Inlet over the Loxahatchee River an area that was once connected to the Everglades…

Finding the Shark River

When Ed and I recently visited Flamingo and rented a boat to explore White Water Bay, my goal had been to find the Shark River. I never found it…

I had wanted to see this river because although there are many Everglades’ rivers, the Shark is the most associated with Shark River Slough. Even though this slough, this river of grass, has been amputated by the Everglades Agricultural Area, Tamiami Trail, and eastern coastal development, getting waters into Shark River Slough and the Shark River still translates and is actually improving: “Sending Water South.”

So we took a flight…

Ponce de Leon Bay, where much of this water exits, is particularly breathtaking to see. The geometric shapes, shades of green, brown, and blue create a giant puzzle. It makes me want to put all the pieces back tother again.

It was so wonderful to finally find the Shark River!  I wanted you to see it too! The primary goal remains, to send more water south; this we must envision…

-Everglades Rivers flowing southwest out of Shark River Slough 1-21-21, photos JTL&EL -Ponce de Leon Bay where Shark River exits into Florida Bay The Shark River is the primary river you see coming into this area of Ponce de Leon Bay. White Water Bay  is to the right. It all kind of blends together. 

  1. Shark River, red dot follow northeast; 2. Shark River Slough, large most far right area above shark river -seemingly brownish green – running into Shark River 3. Water Water Bay appears as a dark green depression southeast of and connected to the Shark River; 4. Shark River exits at Ponce de Leon Bay into Florida Bay. Florida Bay is in dire need of more fresh water. 

As Far Away As One Can Go, Flamingo…

My primary 2021 New Year’s resolution was to write more, however my angst over our country’s political, social unrest and the worsening Covid-19 epidemic has caused me to experience  “writer’s block.” Nonetheless, today I will try to get going with my resolution. 

On January 9th, 2021, my husband, Ed, looked at me, “I’ve got a few days off; do you want to stick around Stuart or do you want to go somewhere?”

“Hmmm? Let’s go as far away as one can go, Flamingo.”  I replied.

“Flamingo?” Ed looked like he wasn’t quite sure…

“Yes, Flamingo, at the very southern tip of Florida.”

-Flamingo lies in Monroe County, inside the boundary of Everglades National Park (ENP)

The following day, Ed and I packed up and drove from Stuart to Lake Okeechobee taking Highway 27 south until we arrived in Florida City, just south of Homestead. Next, we drove about an hour along the historic Ingram Highway. It was a beautiful drive – like going into Florida’s past with marl prairies, slash pines, and tremendous bird life.

About forty miles later, we finally arrived in Flamingo. Now a ghost town, Flamingo was once the home of the American Flamingo -thus the name. Although these spectacular long legged, pink birds were all killed for their spectacular feathers a over a century ago, today there have been reports of a few returning. Most of us are familiar with the story of  Guy Bradley, the first Audubon warden hired to protect Everglades wading birds from poachers. This is his land.

Back in the early1900s when Bradley was trying to protect the birds, Flamingo, as all of South Florida, was thoughtlessly being sliced and diced with canals. Today, one can see this most pronounced at the Flamingo Welcome Center along the Flamingo, more modernly called the Buttonwood Canal.  Here lies a “plug” between Florida Bay and the mosaic of fresher/fresh waters in and near Flamingo.

According to our ENP tour guide, Mr Nick, this “Flamingo” or “Buttonwood Canal” was dug by Henry Flagler in the early 1900s and later abandoned when Flagler realized the canal failed to drain the land – instead, due to the tides and topography of the area, bringing  too much salt water from Florida Bay. A cement plug was later placed to ward off this saltwater intrusion.

I was pleased to see that a family of Ospreys had built their nest right on this plug in the midst of much human activity! The female osprey was hard at work, peeking over the side, protecting and incubating her eggs while the male intermittently delivered fish. The large birds appeared absolutely unaffected by people!

FLAMINGO or BUTTONWOOD CANAL                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          -Salt water, Florida Bay side of plug-Below: brackish/fresher water on estuary/marsh side of plug leading to Coot Bay (Coots no longer come in droves as the water is still too salty.)-The cement plug cutting off salt water of Florida Bay from canal, note osprey nest! -Our ENP guide, NickThe first day Ed and I took a tour and Mr. Nick was our guide. The second day, we rented a Mako flats boat and followed the same path ourselves. We learned so much. It was incredible. While Ed looked for places to fish, I searched for the Shark River. The Shark River is one of many that extends out from Shark River Slough, the remaining ridge and slough, “river of grass,” of the Everglades. Some of its waters lead to Florida Bay. Taylor Slough, on the other hand, has shamelessly been cut off by development.

 

Flamingo Canal was full of wildlife: wading birds, manatees, and by far the most interesting, crocodiles, of which I had never seen. These southern waters of Florida are one of the only places on Earth where both Alligators and Crocodiles live together. This canal is so salty the crocs have the edge. Our tour led from Flamingo Canal, to Coot Bay, to yet another canal, and then into Whitewater Bay. This track is referred to as the “Wilderness Waterway.” (See map below.)

American crocodile, an endangered species -The most prevalent wading bird by far was the tri-colored heron-There were many baby crocodiles along the Flamingo Canal warming in the sun. It was 37 degrees in the morning of our second day at ENP! -Because of the plug, manatees must enter the protection of the Flamingo Canal by swimming into the rivers entering Florida Bay that lead eventually into  Whitewater Bay! A very long journey. 20 miles? -Our tour guide, Nick, called this tree along the Flamingo Canal  the “perfect mangrove.” -Flamingo/Buttonwood Canal opening to Coot Bay-Entering Whitewater Bay on a cold day!It is very hard to explain how gigantic this area is! Over ten miles long and more than half that wide. Irregular in shape. It was truly “liquid land,” with mangrove forests everywhere and smaller even more beautiful mangrove islands dotting the horizon. One thing was for sure, it would be very easy to lose one’s sense of direction and get lost in Whitewater Bay. No thank you! 

Ed and I spent hours tooling around but never made it to the Shark River as access is limited. Nonetheless, I got a much better idea of the lay of the land for sending water south. I am hoping Ed and I can one day return in a canoe.

I was happy to go as far away as one can go-FLAMINGO!-Learning about a Florida I did not know- Whitewater Bay islands of Flamingo -Ed practices casting-Islands within Whitewater Bay; all of Florida must once have looked this way! -Back on Land: A Walk down the Guy Bradley Trail-Ed watches a fisherman cast in Florida Bay-Moonvine once covered the southern rim of Lake O’s pond apple forest, now gone.-Ed poses with a giant Buttonwood tree-Morning Glory. Is there a more gorgeous flower?-Guy Bradley Trail and an end to a wonderful day!

VIDEOS: 1. FLAMINGO/BUTTONWOOD CANAL; 2. MANATEES; 3. CROCODILE 

SFWMD “Weekly Environmental Report” of the Entire Everglades

One thing is for sure, the South Florida Water Management District puts out a lot of information. One publication I am slowly acquiring the patience to read in the weekly “Environmental Conditions Report.” The District has been great about sharing this important information on Twitter and Facebook, but it is still difficult to find on the website.

Today I am going to share how I read this report hoping that you will start to read it too.  You’ll notice that right off the bat there is a disclaimer: “Information contained in the report addresses environmental conditions only and is not the official South Florida Water Management District operations recommendation or decision.” 

Disclaimer or not, this document  is very important because it is given from the perspective of the entire environment of the Everglades System and of the wildlife if they could talk. The report  is 30 pages long and scientific; how can we make it easier for the layperson to read?

For me, as I begin, I ask myself, “What is this week’s problem?” “What should I know first?” To get myself engaged, I have started reading at the bottom of the document first. I go directly the last page where it says “…Recommendations.” Then I read it all.

The first sentence under the February 13, 2020 Water Management Recommendations reads:  “Current stages in WCA-3A are low for this time of year and salinities are high in Florida Bay.” Hmmm. I know high salinities are not good for Florida Bay because it can cause a massive sea grass die off, and what is this about WCA-3A? What is a WCA?

WCA means “Water Conservation Area.”

Below  is the SFWMD recommendation and a map from the National Academies showing the three Water Conservation Areas. WCAs are protected just like the Everglades and they are part of the Central and South Florida Project of 1948. They have many important functions for people and for wildlife: https://www.sfwmd.gov/sites/default/files/documents/fyi_wca_management.pdf

So now with these “problems” in mind and of course thinking about the importance of my own St Lucie River. (I am so thankful we have not had toxic algae discharges from Lake Okeechobee this year!) I read it all because I want to know about the environment for the entire Everglades as I’m sure you do as well!

Please click here to read. 2-13-10 SFWMD Weekly Environmental Report: wkly_env_conditions_ops_report_2020_02_13

A mullet jumps at sunset, St Lucie River. (Photo Todd Thurlow)

On SFWMD website:The February 13, 2020 Ecological Conditions Report is posted to the portal:https://www.sfwmd.gov/science-data/operational-planning under Operational Reports, lower left-hand side.

Everglades Coalition, The Big Water, Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch SFWMD

#EVCO2020

Greetings to my blog readers! Hope your new year is off to a good start.

For me, 2020 started with the Everglades Coalition (EVCO) Conference January 9-11 at South Seas Island Resort in Captiva Island, Florida. The theme for the conference was “All Hands on Deck,” and I would certainly say that the inspirational event achieved such! (https://www.evergladescoalition.org)

As a member of the South Florida Water Management District, (https://www.sfwmd.gov), I was asked by EVCO Co-Chair Mark Perry, to sit on the panel “Lake Okeechobee Management, The Big Water.” Other panelist were: Dr Dale Gawlik, Director and Professor, Environmental Science Program, Florida Atlantic University; Dr Paul Gray, Everglades Science Coordinator Audubon Florida; David E. Hazellief, Okeechobee County Board of County Commissioners; and Col. Andrew Kelly, Jacksonville District Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Thank you to long time River Warrior, Gayle Ryan, for taping and you can find the entire panel video taped on her Facebook page dated January 10, 2:07pm. To say the least, I felt very privilege to sit with such a group. Today, I would like to share my slides and the 13 minute recorded talk below. Thank the Everglades Coalition for the opportunity to share and the SFWMD for helping me prepare.

I am ready. Both of my hands are on deck!

Historic Phytogeography of South Florida with Present Day SFWMD Features Map, 2019

 

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, SLR/IRL

Just last weekend, I presented at the “Future of Florida Summit” at the University of Florida’s Graham Center. Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, gave a passionate speech to hundreds of young people during the lunchtime session. My husband, Ed, usually quiet, turned to me saying: ” He is a really good speaker.”

The crowd listened…

Mr Eikenberg noted that he was a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County, Florida and that even though the school was literally built in what was once the Everglades, there had not been studies on that subject while he attended the school. He talked about the importance of our state waters and the need to involve youth in the education of our natural world, especially here in South Florida.

Ironically, four days later, the horrific shooting at Mr Eikenberg’s alma mater, has called attention, once again, to the shortcomings, and cultural sickness in our society.

In 1991, the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas Everglades Protection Act” was enacted by the Florida Legislature becoming the precursor to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). Douglas ended up asking for her name to be removed from the legislation. At the time, she was 103 years old. After fighting for the Everglades for a lifetime, she said she felt the legislation was too favorable to the Sugar Farmers. “Growers should clean up the water on their own land…” meaning the state and federal government shouldn’t be building Storm Water Treatment Areas with taxpayer dollars to do it for them….

In time, Ms Douglas’ name was removed.

I wonder if she were alive today, if she would want her name removed from the school? I doubt it. She may have been tough on those destroying the Everglades, but she had a soft heart for youth. Lore states that when she was starting her famed organization Friends for the Everglades she refused to have the membership fee too high for students to be able to join, as she knew they were the most internal of keys.

My greatest sorrow and prayers for the families of the dead.

May the blood of the slain remind us to stop looking at our phones, and to turn to nature and Nature’s God for insight and inspiration in this crazy and destructive human-made world.

St Lucie River sunset, Todd Thurlow

______________________________________________________________

Links:

Palm Beach Post, Who was MSD: http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/broward-school-shooting-who-was-marjory-stoneman-douglas/OOPs63TWxpyyxDOjW9SM6J/

CNN Who was MSD: https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/15/us/marjory-stoneman-douglas-who-was-trnd/index.html

Tampa Bay Times year she died: http://www.tampabay.com/news/nation/Who-was-Marjory-Stoneman-Douglas-_165518820

Washington Post MSD obituary: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1998/05/15/environmentalist-marjory-stoneman-douglas-dies-at-108/99d2a81d-2141-4dd1-b8fc-69d4cb0da27b/

Everglades Protection Act, Sun Sentinel, MSD, http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1991-04-26/news/9101210185_1_joe-podgor-everglades-marshes

Everglades Protection Act, Sun Sentinel 2, MSD removing her name: http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1991-05-08/news/9102250472_1_everglades-pollution-lawsuit-pollution-filtering-marshes-joe-podgor

Timeline of Everglades Restoration: http://evergladeslaw.org/everglades-timeline/

Everglades Protection Act, originally, the MSD EPA:http://evergladeslaw.org/timeline/florida-legislature-passes-everglades-protection-act/

National Park Service, MSD Bio: https://www.nps.gov/ever/learn/historyculture/msdouglas.htm

Alligators and Litigators: https://www.floridabar.org/news/tfb-journal/?durl=/DIVCOM%2FJN%2FJNJournal01%2Ensf%2FAuthor%2FD0FE7CE69AFA102885256ADB005D635E

SFWMD history including 1991 EPA: https://www.sfwmd.gov/sites/default/files/documents/bmp_nonpoint_source.pdf

Everglades Foundation:https://www.evergladesfoundation.org