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!”
Tales of the Southern Loop, Miami to Tavernier, Part 3A cloud covered sun and a silver moon coated Biscay Bay with a metallic morning light. Today was September 6th, and last night something had changed.
At 3am Ed had shot out of bed. “It’s too quiet in here.”
“It is. That’s why we’re sleeping.” I rolled over putting the pillow over my head.
Ed returned a few minutes later. “The generator stopped working.”
“Oh,”I mumbled and quickly went back to sleep. When I awoke, I found Ed inside the engine room.
“Good morning,” I said. He looked up. “So maybe it’s not such a good morning; the generator doesn’t work.” I tried to smile. “But let’s not let this ruin our trip.”
“Jacqui the oven/stove wont work, the refrigerator and the air-conditioning won’t work, and forget easily charging the phone or computer. We wont be able to anchor out. I was really looking forward to more of that.”
“Yeah, it’s a bummer. But it will still be fun. So we’ll have to depend on marinas to plug in that shore power thing.”
Ed smirked. “I’m surprised you remember- shore power.- In any case, let’s get ADRIFT underway.” Ed closed up the engine room, headed to the helm, and hit the button to raise the anchor. The clickity-clack sound of metal hitting metal echoed throughout the bow and upper helm.
“At least the anchor still works!” I yelled to my Captain.
ADRIFT crept south in the direction of Tavernier. Once again, it was turning out to be a beautiful day. -Leaving Miami, Biscayne Bay-Card Sound, Biscayne Bay, heading south to the Florida KeysBiscayne Bay was stunning and huge. As we exited the bridge at Card Sound, the waterway started to narrow. Some boats were going very fast. I decided to continue reading my new favorite book, Landscapes and Hydrology of the Predrainage Everglades, rather than complain. I knew Ed was thinking about the generator…
“Hey Ed!” I yelled towards the upper helm. “Did you realize we have been passing the marl transverse glades?”
“Hadn’t really been thinking about them,” he replied.
I walked up the ladder and sat beside him. “I’m going to read to you, OK?”
“In contrast to the unobstructed, rimless, and continuously flowing Peat Transverse Glades, the Marl Transverse Glades were raised spillways, receiving water from the Everglades only during the wet season…The significance of of the Marl Transverse Glades for understanding predrainage Everglades hydrology lies not in their volumes of outflow but instead in their indication that Everglades waters from Rockland Marl Marsh typically rose high enough each year to flow out….”
“Do you know what this means Ed?”
“It means that when the Everglades were high, like now, during hurricane season, water oozed through to Biscayne Bay not just from areas around Ft Lauderdale, but also from south of Miami to about Homestead. Today that stretch includes cities like Kendall, Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay, Naranja, and Homestead Air Force Base.”
“That is pretty surprising.” Ed replied, seeming to be in better spirits. “So – another reason Biscayne Bay doesn’t get enough fresh water.”
“Look at you!” I lovingly mocked. “I’m surprised you remember!”
-Compare predrainage “marl transverse glades” (southern most arrows) pg. 48 & to post drainage developed areas today, pg. 49 -between Miami and Homestead. In predrainage times, this area McVoy calls the “marl transverse glades,” filled up/flowed over with high Lake O and rain waters oozing through to Biscayne Bay. Today due to development, pumps, and drainage this does not occur. Landscapes and Hydrology of the Predrainage Everglades, McVoy, 2011.I looked up from my book. We were in a narrow waterway of mangroves and approaching Key Largo. “Why are those boats going so fast?!” I complained. I couldn’t hold back anymore.
“Because they are allowed to.” Ed replied. “They are in the channel.” Wakes hit up hard against the shoreline.
“They shouldn’t be allowed to go so fast in here. I don’t see how a manatee could survive. And it’s dangerous.” I agonized.
“Just smile Jacqui!”
Ed remained silent looking straight ahead. ADRIFT plodded along in repetative wakes while swirling through boat traffic. And I decided – I better just smile…When we arrived in Tavernier, at Mangrove Marina, Ed was once again focusing on the broken generator. Docking was not so easy this time. The winds had kicked up and I was in charge of the lines. I wondered how I’d jump off to the dock if necessary. The engine ground as Ed moved forwards and backwards trying to back into the slip. We almost smacked into the dock and I yelled loudly realizing the fender was caught on a neighboring house boat. Thankfully, at the last minute, two young dockhands saved us. We thanked them profusely and Ed handed them a tip.
“Thank God they were here,” I grumbled.
“One day they wont be.” Ed replied.
“How would I have jumped on that high dock?”
Ed did not answer.
“I’m going to open the lazarette to look at this generator again.” I knew Ed would be obsessed until this was resolved.
“OK. I’m going to take a walk,” I said. I’ll see you in a little bit.”
It was good to get on land and good for Ed and I to take a break from each other.
Walking the marina, the first thing I noticed, were these weird and beautiful sea anemone like things on the floor of the shallow docking areas. I got down on my stomach to look closer. -It looks like the DREAM OF THE SLEEPING JELLYFISH. Over the course of our stay, I became totally preoccupied with them, checking on them throughout the day and evening. My blog post is above.I continued my walk. Quaint houses lined the streets. “I love it here.” I thought. “There is absolutely nothing like the Florida Keys.”Once my stroll was over, I knew it was time to make it back to see Ed. He was not a happy camper.
“What’s wrong hunny?” I inquired.
“I’m not sure I will be able to fix the generator, but the marina office gave me a number of a guy to call. It’s Labor Day weekend. I’m not going to bother him.”
“Come on babe, all the days blend together in a place like the Keys. Let’s call him.” Before we called, we decided to take the inflatable canoe out into a small cove. It was so beautiful! The seagrass was lush and Ed thought he saw an otter but it ended up being a mother manatee and and her young calf poking their noses out to breathe. It was so joyous to just be there next to them as they came up for air. I though about the fast speed boats we’d seen by the mangroves and prayed the mother and calf would be safe. The sun set , we made dinner, and retired early. I dreamt of sleeping jellyfish and baby manatees.
In the morning I convinced Ed to take a walk, meet my jellyfish, and see the adorable Keys houses. Lo and behold there was a sign! A sign on a red truck that just happened to be the number the marina had given Ed for someone to fix the generator. Ed left a message and Larry Heimer, Blue Earth Marine Services, returned the call! Soon after we met Larry and Wendy. Wonderful people! Ed learned a lot watching and asking questions. Thanks to Larry the generator got fixed! Ed after the generator was fixed by Larry Heimer and Wendy 🙂Stormy weather forms… I was so happy! Ed was smiling again!
But there was another issue brewing…
We looked up. “Where is this weather coming from?”
“There’s a system forming,” Larry replied. “You best leave tomorrow if you can.”
Night fell; Ed and I listened to the band playing.
Lights reflected off the water and I thought about the jellyfish sleeping on their heads on the milky limestone bottom and the thousands of years of time, tide, and water that had formed this remarkable place.
Ed and I watched the heat lightning and toasted our good fortune to find Larry and Wendy to fix the generator.
We decided that unless it was really storming, we would head out first morning light….
Tales of the Southern Loop, Boyton to Miami, Part 2
It was September 4th, early morning, we’d had our first cup of coffee, the engine was yawning, and Ed was at the helm. Today was part two, Boyton to Miami…
“You know what to do right?” Ed jokingly mocked from the helm. He was way too chipper.
I rubbed my eyes. “Yes Captain.”
There wasn’t much wind or tide; I easily removed the spring, bow, and stern lines in that order.
ADRIFT inched off the dock.
“Good job mate.” Ed yelled.
“It’s easy on a day like today!” I replied, knowing the entire Southern Loop adventure would not be so easy.
It was an absolutely beautiful morning. Ed made the radio request on Channel 9 to open Boyton’s Ocean Bridge; we waited, and as the draw raised up the trawler slid into the long man-made cut of the Intercostal Waterway.
The scene was almost surreal, especially the reflections; the water itself did not look great -trapped inside seawalls, houses, and lawns gushing fertilizer.
Ed yelled,” Look at the man cutting the mangroves!”
I turned to see a worker balancing atop rocks holding a trimmer over his head.
“Unbelievable!” I sarcastically yelled back. “You’ve got to love South Florida!”
The sun shone hotter and hotter. We passed Delray Beach, Highland Beach, Boca Raton, Deerfield Beach, Hillsboro Beach, and Lighthouse Point.
“Hey Ed,”Hillsboro Inlet and lighthouse is coming up. The pre-drainage Hillsboro River was about the north mark of the historic east coast seepage of the Everglades!”
As we slowly made our way, I saw finger canals everywhere…
Construction to channelize the Hillsboro River and the Miami River had first begun in 1910. The New River, in 1906. It wasn’t just the most southern coastline that was wet either, apparently the region from the Jupiter Inlet to the Hillsboro Inlet was once so marshy people canoed between the two- and out into the Everglades- regularly. That was until drainage lowered the water table six feet! Crazy isn’t it!
“Everglades eastern flow was directed towards numerous natural outlets piercing the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, specifically Cypress Creek, (region of Hillsboro River JTL) Middle River, New River, Snake River, Arch Creek, Little River, and the Miami River.” These flows eventually made it to the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay.” Pg 262, Landscapes & Hydrology of the Predrainage Everglades, 2011.
It is strange to think that there are no natural flows through these once cypress forests and rivers, but rather a channelized construction of canals, pumps, and structures kept in place by the South Florida Water Management District.
We forget that the Everglades’ waters, beginning in Lake Okeechobee, once seeped through, on and off, around today’s Pompano Beach; Ft Lauderdale to Miami; and even at South Miami to about Leisure City. Today ADRIFT would only make it to Miami.
1850s undeveloped South Florida: Cypress Strands, the Peat Transverse Glades; and the Marl Transverse Glades were once natural seepage areas from the Everglades. Landscapes and Hydrology of the Predrainage Everglades pgs. 49, 48, & 266. Notice how canals were constructed to these natural outlets. (3)
2. Modern satellite image of of S. Florida, note areas that once flowed through near Pompano (Cypress Strands); Ft Lauderdale area (Peat Transverse Glades); and further south of Miami (Marl Transverse Glades). Compare image 1 &2.
3. Earliest canals New River to Ft Lauderdale 1906; Hillsboro & Miami 1910. (Boyton for reference.) These canals led to where the water was naturally exiting the east coast.
“Hey First Mate!”
“Get your head our of that book and look around!”
“Holy cow!” I screamed. It looked like we were going to be swallowed up by the wake of a cargo ship!
4. Near Ft Lauderdale’s Port Everglades
5. Condos along the ICW near Ft Lauderdale
6. North area of Biscayne Bay, Broad Causeway Drawbridge at Bay Harbor
I was speechless. We had entered Ft Lauderdale. The modern Transverse Peat Glades! I watched in total amazement.
“Come up on to the helm,” Ed yelled. “We’re in Biscayne Bay almost to Miami.”
I put my book aside and crawled up the ladder. Even though I despise over development , it was very exciting. Huge ships went by and multi million dollar boats were docked everywhere.
“I think this is near the area of the recent fish kill.” I said. I showed Ed my phone pointing to the area between Highway 934 and 1-95. “The bay has polluted stormwater runoff problems and also it doesn’t get all the fresh water it historically received because we have cut off its flow connection of the cypress, peat and marl transverse glades.”
Ed looked at me through his sunglasses. “You read too much. Just enjoy!”
7. Further south in Biscayne Bay
8. Port of Miami
9. Ed smiling
10. Miami shoreline near Miami River/Maimi Canal outlet
11. Some wildlife! Yeah! Cormorants!
“Wow. This is amazing I said. My book was put away under the cushions.
“Where are we going to park? Make sure we don’t damage any seagrass.”
Ed rolled his eyes. “Not “park,” “anchor!”
We made our way just southeast of the Magic City and Rickenbacker Causeway. Remarkably, we anchored without a blip on a sandy/muddy bottom.
ADRIFT relaxed and found her direction in the tropical breezes. The whole thing was rather otherworldly. “God I love South Florida,” I thought,” even with all its water and drainage issues, she’s beautiful!”
You know I have really just about had it. I know you have too.
I am so tired of posting and writing about the sad state of affairs of our state waters. Every direction one turns!
This weekend many photos showed up on Facebook reporting an enormous fish kill in the Central Indian River Lagoon near Melbourne and Cocoa Beach. These photos of hovering and floating fish are very disturbing.
What is even more upsetting is when one considers the state of just about all of Florida’s waters. Is this the same state I grew up in as a child. Really?
To summarize a few recent, ongoing situations:
CENTRAL INDIAN RIVER LAGOON-experiencing “brown tide” and fish die off…
NORTHERN LAGOON: 2011-2013 Super Bloom, morality events (both north and central), 60% seagrass die off…
–ST LUCIE RIVER/S. INDIAN RIVER LAGOON: repeated discharges from Lake Okeechobee and area canals have destroyed the heath of the river. It was declared “impaired by the state in 2002. State of Emergency due to Lake O called in Feb. 2016).
—-CALOOSAHATCHEE RIVER (The western outlet for lake Okeechobee discharges, the river has been straightened, and connected to Lake O. Sometimes suffers from too little fresh water/high salinity. State of Emergency due to Lake O called in Feb. 2016)
—FLORIDA BAY: over the past few years has lost massive amounts of sea-grasses due to high salinity. When I was just there with my UF NRLI class this year, the bay looked murky. This bay historically received the fresh waters from Lake O.
As we approach hurricane season, we must prepare for rain. Florida is more like Africa than the rest of the county in that there are really only two seasons: dry and rainy. “Officially,” rainy season runs from June 1st to November 30th, and dry season is from December 1st through the end of May.
One of the most interesting accounts I’ve ever read of a “great south Florida rain” was published in 1886 by pioneer Charles Pierce, member the famous Hannibal Pierce family, to which our illustrious Indian Riverkeeper, Mr Marty Baum belongs. We along the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon are part of the south Florida great rain system and there are reoccurring themes whether here or farther south, as l think you’ll see as I share the story.
Charles Pierce is most well known for his book “Pioneer Life in Southeast Florida” written about the years 1870 through 1894, and published by Miami’s University Press in 1970. It is a five star classic. According to a write up on the book, during this era of Florida history around 724 people were living between Stuart and Miami.
My mother, historian Sandra Thurlow, shared an excerpt that Charles Pierce wrote for the Broward Legacy in 1886, as he was living and overseeing the Biscayne House of Refuge at the time.
According to Pierce:
“In October of 1884 occurred the greatest and longest rainfall ever known on the east coast since its earliest settlement. It poured down for eight days and nights, slacking at times for a few minutes, but never stoping; then came down harder if that were possible. The whole southern part of the state was inundated…
On the eighth day the rain stopped and the next day came in bright and clear, and the sun shone brightly on a rain-soaked Florida…
I was on the east porch looking out to sea…looking up the coast to the northward, I caught the glint of something white about four miles away. At first, I thought it was a sea gull, then it looked like striking fish. I was not certain which it was, so I went for the old long spyglass to get a close up view of the scintillating white. What the spyglass revealed surprised me. The flickering white I had seen was now clearly shown to be whitecaps or breaking seas at the head of a dark body of water rushing down the coast….a mass of dark water some hundred feet in width rushing along to the south and with breaking seas over running the blue water in front.
It was a strange sight and at first we all wondered where it came from. My father Hannibal solved they mystery when he said, ‘It is fresh water from the New River Inlet.’ Could that be possible? It was fourteen miles away but there was no other solution to the phenomenon.
What a mighty volume of water must be coming out of the inlet and with tremendous velocity enough to overcome the resistance of wind and sea for so many miles. By night of that day the entire ocean in sight of the Station was covered with dark coffee-colored freshwater from the New River. Not a bit of blue water to be seen in any direction. Biscayne Bay was fresh for nearly a month after the week of rain.”
Incredible. So even before humankind diked and channelized the entirety of south Florida, when it rained heavily, the black wave of fresh water pushed forth through the south eastern inlets to the ocean; it did not just “go south.” We see a similar but not as intense phenomenon today, although drainage has been modified, when a heavy rain gushes through the St Lucie Inlet, Ft Pierce or Jupiter Inlets. In any case, when one hears a story such as Mr Pierce’s it makes one wonder, with all that water, during a really “great rain” a rain that comes only once in a few hundred years, will our manmade structures hold?
We all know the Army Corp of Engineers, along with support from the South Florida Water Management District, is working diligently to harden the dike around Lake Okeechobee, but it seems that a third outlet, a flow way south, from the lake to the Everglades surely would alleviate some of that natural pressure, the pressure Charlie Pierce describes as a
If he were alive today, I wonder what Mr Charles Pierce would think?