Tag Archives: bottlenosed dolphin

DEP’s “2014 Indian River Lagoon System Management Plan” for the Once Outstanding Waters of Our Aquatic Preserves

Cover of NOAA/DEP Indian river Lagoon System Management Plan, 2014.
Cover of NOAA/DEP “Draft”Indian River Lagoon System Management Plan, 2014.

My husband came home from the airport yesterday, I was on the couch in the living room reading.  “Have you had a good afternoon?” He asked.

“Awesome,” I replied. “I have been reading the most wonderful document  that contains all of  the important information about  the entire Indian River Lagoon.” I energetically held up my gigantic copy of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and NOAA- Indian River Lagoon, Draft Report for 2014.  (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/indianriver/plan.htm)

Ed smiled and looked at me like he usually looks at me in such instances. “That’s great,” he ironically replied, “government publications are my favorite too, how exciting…”

I am not always enamored with government publications, but I am with this one, especially as it is not finalized yet and the agencies are taking comment from the public.

What I like best about the document is that is deals with the entire lagoon, not just one section, including the lagoon’s  four aquatic preserves: 1. Banana River; 2. Malabar to Vero Beach; 3. Vero Beach to Ft Pierce; and 4. Jensen Beach (really just south of the City of Ft Pierce) to Jupiter Inlet.

Locations of the IRL's four aquatic preserves
Locations of the IRL’s four aquatic preserves

According to the document, “each of the four aquatic preserves comprising the IRL System was classified by the state of Florida as OFWs or “Outstanding Florida Waters, “in 1979 (Rule 62-3-2.700 (9) F.A.C.

I was 15 years old at that time. I remember those waters and how they shaped and enriched my life growing up here in Stuart. To think that these “Outstanding Florida Waters,” are now “impaired” makes me sad and makes me angry.

It has been coming for years, but in 2011 through 2013 the lagoon system really “crashed” with the “super-bloom” and brown tides in the central and northern lagoon, killing more than 60% of the area’s seagrass and leading to two federally designated “Unusual Mortality Events” of the endangered manatee, and the protected bottle nosed dolphin.

And also in 2013 the months long toxic algae outbreak in the southern lagoon… This occurred  due to blue-green “microcysis aeruginoas” algae water released by the ACOE from Lake Okeechobee, into the St Lucie River/IRL system. The SLR/IRL system was already over stressed from discharges coming from local canals C-44; C-23; C-24 and C-25…the lake Okeechobee water was the nail in the coffin so to speak.

I think there is a disconnect here. Aren’t these waters protected?

According to the publication, the mission statement of the Florida Coastal Office/Department of Environmental Protection is the following:

1. protect  and enhance the ecological integrity of the aquatic preserves;

2. restore areas to the natural condition;

3. encourage sustainable use and foster active stewardship by engaging local communities in the protection of aquatic preserves; and

4. improve management effectiveness through a process based on sound science, consistent evaluation, and continual reassessment.

I will refrain from bashing of the Department of Environmental Protection as I do not think our fair state’s leadership over the past hundred and fifty plus years has helped them attain their mission. How do you “direct” an agency to protect something and then simultaneously promote over drainage of natural systems,  channelizing, overdevelopment along the lands of these once “outstanding waters,” and allow water districts to over-grant permits for aquifer withdrawal for more agriculture and development?

Another irony I have to add here is that these once “outstanding waters” are what helped bring  people to our  locations and supported their high real estate values. That is changing as some people are now leaving. Last year, in the Town of Sewall’s Point, although the real estate market  improved overall in the county, our property values only increased 0.13%. As a “desirable” water front community with some of the highest property values in the county, this came as a surprise and is certainly directly linked to the “lost summer” and toxic waters of 2013.

The state of Florida needs to “wake up.” The Town of Sewall’s Point is a microcosm for the rest of the state. So what can we do to help? Speak up! 

Please if you have time and interest, check out Indian River Lagoon System Management Plan, Draft Report 2014 below. Even if you don’t read it all, which is almost impossible, keep it as an electronic resource,  and MAKE A COMMENT to the DEP. Even if it is just one that you appreciate that they are reevaluating their management plan and how much the IRL means to you.

It is only through the continued pressure of a caring public that the Indian River Lagoon will be resurrected and its “living waters” will run through our cities again.

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*Copy of Draft IRL System Management Plan,DEP/NOAA, 2014, and list of public meetings that can be attended to make public comment on the document. (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/indianriver/plan.htm)

* The IRL is managed also by the South Florida Water Management District and the St Johns River Water Management District.

The Once Legal Capture of Dolphins for Marine Parks From the Indian River Lagoon

Discovery Cove, with "Natasha" 2008.
Discovery Cove, with “Natasha” 2008.

If you have ever visited a marine park in the United States, chances are you have seen a dolphin, or its offspring perform, that once lived in the Indian River Lagoon. A total of 68 dolphins were captured and permanently removed from the lagoon between 1973 and 1988 for captive display at mostly US marine parks.

I myself went to Discovery Cove in 2008 with my husband Ed, and witnessed a freak accident  when Natasha, “our” assigned dolphin, was killed during a stunt when she slammed into another dolphin while preforming back flips in the confined area.  What was to be a wonderful day, turned into a disturbing experience and it caused me to reevaluate and think more deeply about capturing and holding bottle-nosed dolphins and other marine mammals in captivity. In 2008, I had just become a commissioner for the Town of Sewall’s Point and started my journey, some may call it, my obsession,  with the health of the Indian River Lagoon. This horrible experience at Discovery Cove has fed my obsession.

In 2010-11, I served as mayor of Sewall’s Point, and at this time, through my interactions with the Treasure Coast Council of Local Governments, I became a volunteer in the Marine Mammal Department for FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Ft Pierce, through the help of Steven McCulloch. I learned a lot during this time, and Steven taught me about the history of dolphins in the IRL because he had lived it.

He explained to me that things started to look better for dolphins in the late 1980s as prior to this time they were being captured for marine parks.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 was the beginning of change and awareness for dolphins.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA) was the first act of the United States Congress to call specifically for an ecosystem approach to natural resource management and conservation. MMPA prohibits the taking of marine mammals, and enacts a moratorium on the import, export, and sale of any marine mammal, along with any marine mammal part or product within the United States. The Act defines “take” as “the act of hunting, killing, capture, and/or harassment of any marine mammal; or, the attempt at such.”

In November 1989, a temporary ban on the practice of removing dolphins by permit from the IRL and other Florida waters was passed federally. The last dolphin to be captured and removed from the Indian River Lagoon was in 1988.

Dolphins of course are mammals and they like humans, have very strong social ties. They live in pods, or groups and display site fidelity. Dolphin calves are raised by a group of females and will stay with the mother and nurse for up to four years. Generally, only males leave the original group and even so these dolphins have lifelong family relationships. These bonds are fierce and serve the animals in their survival.

Steve MuCulloch started and oversaw the Marine Mammal Department at Harbor Branch and is the most incredible person I know in this arena. No longer with the institute he helped build, he was responsible for overseeing the health assessments (HERA) that occurred  in the IRL and has provided tremendous scientific information with the help and permitting of NOAA and  Dr Gregory Bossert.  Steve always showed a passion and attachment to the animals that defied the norm. I was fascinated and ask him to tell me his story.

A sick dolphin is assessed by Dr Gregory Bossert at HBOI. (Photo Brian Cousins)
A sick dolphin is assessed by Dr Gregory Bossert at HBOI. (Photo Brian Cousins)

Eventually, he told me of his history with the dolphins of the IRL and explained that in the early days, he had helped with their capture for marine parks. He told a heart wrenching story of how this changed for him when once on a mission, the take included a calf and the mother swam frantically along side the boat jumping and whistling/speaking with her calf. The calf struggled and clicked and whistled back.

Steven Mcculloch who built the marine mammal department at Harbor Branch. (Photos Brian Cousins, HBOI 2012.)
Steven McCulloch who built the marine mammal department at Harbor Branch. (Photos Brian Cousins, HBOI 2012.)

Steve said a powerful feeling overcame him and he knew this was the last dolphin he would ever help remove from the lagoon; he would now make it his life to keep them safe and the families together.  He yelled out: “The calf is not going to make it! Release!” This was policy if it appeared a dolphin was over stressing, as they are known to die in stressful situations with humans. The others on the boat stood speechless as McCulloch released the fretting, but not “over stressing,” calf back into the water with its mother. McCulloch said the mother happily reunited with her calf and then lifted her head out of the water  looking straight at him as if to say “thank you!” Over time, Steve McCulloch became the charismatic local leader in marine mammal studies, research, fund raising and rehabilitation.

Things do change. Hearts change. Laws are passed for the good of the environment. Perceptions of yesteryear become archaic reminders of how far we as humans have come as a species.

Today, there are new threats due to poor water quality, excessive agricultural and urban runoff, emerging diseases, algae blooms, and an increasing number of boat hits, but at least the dolphins are free.

Life changing, good things have happened for the lagoon in the past and will be happening again. Please remember this and be inspired next time you see our protected friends, the  beautiful Indian River Lagoon bottle nosed dolphins.

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Bottlenosed Dolphin (Tursiops truncates) IRL Estuarine System Stock,  December 2009, pg. 467 documents # of dolphins documented by the state of Florida removed from the lagoon for marine parks: (http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/publications/tm/tm219/462_BODO_IRLES.pdf)

FAU/HBOI Marine Mammal Department: (http://www.fau.edu/hboi/marine_mammals/)

NOAA Marine Mammal Act 1972: (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/laws/mmpa/)

Orlando Sentinel Article, 1992 IRL Dolphin Alliance: (http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1992-10-26/news/9210260130_1_dolphins-indian-river-marine-fisheries)