Tag Archives: DEP

The City of Port St Lucie, a city along a dying “Aquatic Preserve” of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Aerial of what was to become the City of Port St Lucie, 1957. (Photo Ruhnke/Thurlow collection, courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
Aerial of what was to become the City of Port St Lucie along the North Fork of the St Lucie River, 1957. (Photo Ruhnke/Thurlow collection, courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

Wow, look at this!  A 1957 aerial photograph of the beautiful North Fork of the St Lucie River and its surrounding virgin lands that would incorporate as the City of Port St Lucie in 1961.

This Aia Indian and Seminole wilderness became spotted with many ranch lands but there was foresight for “protections” for some areas as it was beloved by hunters and fisherman and “just people” that wanted to protect its resources. It was full of wildlife on land and in its waters, which had been considered the best mostly “fresh water” fishing in the area for decades.

Preserve sign in the the area of Pruitt's Fish Camp, near today's Club Med.
Preserve sign in the the area of Pruitt’s Fish Camp, near today’s Club Med, ca. 1960s. (Photos courtesy of  Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

In 1972 local, federal and state agencies led by the Florida Department of Natural Resources cooperated to declare the North Fork of the St Lucie River an “Aquatic Preserve.” And in 1984 the Department of Natural Resource, which merged into today’s Department of Environmental Protection, created a management plan for the area. The plan states:

“The preserve is one of the last remaining freshwater/estuarine wilderness areas in this region of Florida. The major objectives of the aquatic preserve management program are to manage the preserve to ensure maintenance of essentially natural conditions, and to restore and enhance those conditions which are not in a natural condition. Management will also be directed to ensure public recreational opportunities while assuring the continued propagation of fish and wildlife.” (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CZIC-qh90-75-f6-g57-1984/html/CZIC-qh90-75-f6-g57-1984.htm)

I don’t know why really, but this plan was not implemented and unfortunately the area of the North Fork’s headwater’s at Five and Ten Mile Creek were contaminated by agricultural pesticides in 1995 in a formal document by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/tenmile_creek.pdf) In 2002 the St Lucie River including parts and beyond the “aquatic preserve” was designated an “impaired water body” by the same agency  in 2002. (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/SLE_Impairment_Narrative_ver_3.7.pdf)

All the while the city of Port St Lucie grew and grew…

Growth of City of City along Port St Lucie
Growth of PSL along North Fork of  St Lucie River, 1969 to 2000, from the book, Port St Lucie at 50, A City for all People, by Nina Baranski. photo

According to the US census there were 330 residents in 1970 and 88,769 in 2000. In 2012 there were over 250,000 residents. 

Over the years, the city and agencies did not pay attention to  how developers and people developed their homes along the river, and many were developed go right up the the shoreline of the Aquatic Preserve as this photo by the FDEP shows. This is how fertilizers and pesticieds run right into the water. Not smart.  (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/northfork/description/surroundings.htm)

NF_grass1

 

The State of Florida projects that the City of Port St Lucie is to have have 400,000 residents by 2025. Presently with over 250,000 residents, they are the state of Florida’s ninth largest city.

As odd as it sounds, this population may be a key to turning things around for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Our Treasure Coast area never had enough votes to get much attention until recently and some of the St Lucie city and county commissioners are some of the most vocal in the the Save the Indian River Lagoon movement.

Why the state and federal and local agencies allowed the degradation of lands they spent an enormous amount of time protecting is pathetic. As usual there is only one hope for change, the people pushing government to save what’s left and find ways to let the estuary recover, may be the only answer to saving the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

 

Tumored Redfin Needlefish, Clues of Sickness in the Indian River Lagoon

Tumored needlefish are more common in the Indian River Lagoon than anywhere else in the state studied by the Florida Wildlife Commission. Why?
Tumored needlefish are more common in the Indian River Lagoon than anywhere else in the state. Why? (Photograph, public study, 1999-2009, by the Florida Wildlife Commission.)

I have decided to do a series of writings on the sick animals of the Indian River Lagoon because a “picture speaks a thousand words.” I am not trying to “focus on the negative,” or be a “hysterical woman.” I am trying to effect change.

I have heard about the sick animals, fish and bi-valves in the Indian River Lagoon “up close” at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute’s, “IRL Symposium” of  which I have attended the past three years, since it has been resurrected. At these symposiums, students, state agencies and others share information. In fact, all of these individual agencies and scientists share information on their websites, but for some reason, it never really goes “public.”

So I will post this on Facebook and see if these sad stories that should be a call to our state federal,and local governments, get a bit more coverage. As we know, it seems the people have to scream before the elected officials and agencies pay much attention to the fact that the beautiful Indian River Lagoon world  we are living in is contaminated and crumbling before our very eyes.

So, to get back to the study,  the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) did comprehensive  research between 1999 and 2009. Ironically, 2009 is also the year the seagrass started to dip, foreshadowing  the massive die off of seagrasses and marine mammals in  the northern lagoon. The FWC study focused on the “Distribution of Lymphosarcoma in Redfin Needlefish, in the Indian River Lagoon.”

Redfin needlefish are approximately 380 millimeters, to me they look like miniature barracuda with smaller teeth and  are pretty cool, shiny, little fish. They live about three years, commercially serve as bait fish for marlin fishing, and are an important shallow water predators, eating lots of little bottom living  critters, lower on the food chain.

Generally, tumors are caused by chemical carcinogens, radiation, and viruses and can be benign (OK) or malignant (bad). The study included Tampa Bay; Charlotte Harbor; Apalachicola; Cedar Key; the St Johns River, and the Indian River Lagoon. Tumors were found on jaws, flanks, the trunk dorsal fin, the pectoral fin area and the head. The prevalence of these usually malignant tumors, in over 20,000 needlefish studied, specifically and especially  in the Indian River Lagoon was astounding.

chart needlefish

The highest area of tumors was the Banana River. The Banana River is part of the IRL system and is located mostly south of NASA in Brevard County.  As mentioned, it is also where the highest seagrass loss was during the super-bloom of 2011. This super-bloom was followed by a secondary bloom and Brown Tide that spread south, just north of the Fort Pierce Inlet, also killing seagrasses and wildlife.

map

I am no scientist, but it seems like the Banana River has some serious issues. Of course we would not want to jump to any conclusions….We wouldn’t want to frighten the public…..We wouldn’t want to hurt tourism, especially now.” Shhhhh!”

Tumored needlefish were also found in the southern lagoon, but not the majority. I feel better already. NOT. The lagoon is a system, the animals and fish know no county lines nor do the tides, wind or water. Even if water does not move much, sickness can spread or point to latent problems of our own.  We must think as “one-system,” and help each other as one entity, if we are going to save this lagoon.

The study of which is included in this post below, has a bullet point that says “no tumors were found after 2009.”  Noting that there is no clue when the study ended, this seems odd.

Hmm….. I wonder if that’s because there was no money put forth by the state for more comprehensive studies after the financial crisis of 2008? I wonder if its because the wonderful hard working people at the state agencies were afraid if they were too brazen the state would fire them? Believe me this happens.

Personally, I think the State of Florida, local governments, and the Department of Environmental Protection have some information to share, and some more research to do, for the little fish, and for us.

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FWC’s Study Tumored Needlefish IRL, 1999-2009: (http://www.ircgov.com/Lagoon/Symposium/Presentations/Part3/3.pdf)

A Report on the MRC’s “Lagoon Action Assembly” for the Indian River Lagoon

FIT In Melbourne is where the Marine Resources Lagoon Action Assembly was held.
FIT-Florida Tech, in Melbourne, is where the Marine Resources Council’s “Lagoon Action Assembly” was held. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, 2014)

From what I understand, there had not been a “lagoon assembly” for seventeen years. The last assembly had been the genesis of the Indian River Lagoon’s National Estuary Program, NEP,  that is linked to the US Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA).

NEP/See IRL link)  (http://www.epa.gov/owow/estuaries/nep_home.html)

The IRL NEP, over the years, became linked and partially funded by the St Johns River Water Management District. Just recently there is gossip of “change” and major positions in the NEP have been “rearranged.”

Article: NEP Structure/Funding Changes: (http://www.news-journalonline.com/article/20140515/NEWS/140519632?p=all&tc=p)

In all honestly, this change was not discussed much at the IRL Assembly this past weekend, but it will affect the assembly either  way.

Thank you  to the Marine Resources Council, MRC, located in Melbourne, Brevard County, three counties north of Martin, also along the lagoon, who decided to take on the challenge of organizing the “IRL Action Assembly” for 2014. Dr Leesa Souto oversaw this enormous goal involving up to 100 delegates.

I was invited to attended the meeting and I thought I would give a short summary of my experience.

So, I went up Thursday evening to the “Lagoon House,” the home of the Marine Resources Council; there were introductions, and the primary speaker was Wayne Mills who spoke on the history and present of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Although the US’ largest estuary, Chesapeake Bay, remains terribly polluted, they are making calculable progress and have even been sued by the state of Florida and others because the foundation’s research is leading the way in limiting agricultural and other pollution into waterbodies, a frightening and expensive prospect for the states.

The following day, we met at Florida Tech, on a beautiful campus and a beautiful day. We gathered in the old lecture hall like students, under the eye of the periodic table, and listened to speakers: Virginia Barker, Brevard conservation; Dr Grant Gilmore, fish studies/habitats; Adam Schaefer, sickness in IRL dolphins, HBOI ; Dr Leesa Souto, MRC; Dr Charles Jacoby, seagrass loss, SJRWMD; Robert Weaver, FIT inlets/flushing; and Dr John Trefry, general lagoon health demise. Their presentations were excellent and disturbing.  The most interesting new piece of information for me came from Ms Barker’s statistics on how much groundwater goes into and affects the IRL along with surface water runoff. According to Ms Baker, groundwater holds pollutants that build up from the land, like fertilizers and septic seepage, and often tremendous amounts of salt. She says most canals are cut so deep in Brevard County that the groundwater is constantly “pulled up” and flowing back into the IRL.

Then they split us into groups. In my “A Group” were Dr Edie Widder, ORCA;  Matt Thorton, Syngenta; Ed Garland, SJRWMD communication; Jeff Beals, FFWC/SJRWMD; Tim Zorc, IRC Commissioner; Dr Jan Landsberg, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission; Mike Merrifield, Wild Ocean Seafood Market, Titusville; and Carol Nobel, Cocoa Beach, Brevard County.

Classic “Dr George” from FIT was our facilitator and  two young and “wanting to please”  students were our scribes. We sat in a circle facing each other, tasks with “saving the lagoon.”

The group was led through a series of questions and then we had to address two of four topics: septic tanks; drainage canals; agricultural lands; and residential lands. After excruciating conversation, we addressed two topics: septic and ag lands. We wrote our outcomes on large pieces of paper to share with the other nine groups later on. This took two days and we also dealt with more questions and concepts. It was overwhelming and the task makes one realize the difficulty of the situation.

MRC IMG_4368

When we all reconvened in the lecture room we read each others sheets and voted on which ones we would support. At this point the MRC is compiling these goals and will summarize and prioritize consensus actions for the assembly.

I don’t know if the assembly will be able to save the IRL but I sure they will provide direction. Every time I attend these type of meetings I meet wonderful people, people who want to save the lagoon as much as I do from different backgrounds and areas than myself.

I really liked and learned from the people in my group.  As usual,  I felt like the “Good Lord and Universe” were on my side in that Dr Jan Landsberg was in my group.

Dr Landsberg is THE  person who has overseen the marine mammals deaths of manatees for the IRL and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. She operates out of St Pete. Speaking to her at lunch I learned how low their funding is and how they have been dealing with the 150 plus dead, bleeding from the nose and eyes, manatees that have come into their agency in the past year mostly from Brevard County.

“The seagrass is completely gone, right? ” I asked.” Why are the manatees still up here? What are they eating?”

Jan replied, ” they are eating drift algae and some of that algae is toxic…”

“Gulp.”

Also, at lunch I learned from Dr Eddie Widder that once a waterbody is “seeded” with toxic algae it is forever there, in the sediments and soils. It never goes away. You could lessen it by removing muck but the seeds/spores will always be somewhere. She also mentioned, while eating her salad, that the pharmaceuticals people take also end up in the lagoon…

“Pass the ketchup, please.”

Mike Merrifeld, Titusville, who runs a seafood business told me he had seen my photos of the southern lagoon debacle last year, and “his” fishermen believe the pollution went up the Gulf Stream from the St Lucie Inlet and has majorly affecting fishing/shrimping productivity in the Brevard area. I believe him.

“I’m not really hungry anymore….”

So in the end, we must join together and force the US EPA and the FL DEP to do their job. And we too must do everything we can ourselves to save the IRL. Because one thing is for sure, “we are killing it.”

With the hope of the Chesapeake Bay model, goals from the Action Assembly and an infuriated public, our policy makers can no longer hide and must rise to create policy that many will not like, but of which all will benefit, in that our grandchildren, just might be able to fish and swim, or see a manatee or dolphin, in a beautiful Indian River Lagoon.

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Marine Resources Council: (http://www.mrcirl.org)

 

Impairment of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

image

Basins of the St Lucie River.

Something the every day person may not know because the communication feedback loop between state agencies and the public doesn’t really function, is that in 2002, the Department of Environmental Protection, a state agency, declared the St Lucie River, part of the southern Indian River Lagoon, “impaired.”

The 2002 report reads: “Anthropogenic impacts to the St Lucie River have impaired its function as an important estuarine ecosystem and resource. Stream channelization, wetland drainage, conversion, construction of drainage canal systems, urbanization, and agriculture activity have so completely modified the watershed that it can no longer function as a healthy ecosystem…although it was once one of the most productive in the world…” (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/SLE_Impairment_Narrative_ver_3.7.pdf)

A tremendously loss to say the least. Why did we have to wait until it was dead to do something?

Unfortunately that is the case, so what’s important to know now about this “impaired” status is that it triggered a program to help the water body called a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) and Total Maximum Daily Loads, (TMDLs).

You may have heard of them.

So now that the water body is impaired, there is an action plan for the water basins limiting the total maximum daily loads of nitrogen and phosphorus that flow into the estuary.

Municipalities and counties will be held eventually responsible for the maximum levels of pollutants allowed to enter the water before the water would become “impaired.”

This gets confusing, I know. I think of it like this: how many cigarettes one is allowed to smoke before one is on the verge of dying of cancer…your total maximum daily smoke, before you become “impaired.” But what if you been smoking a pack a day for 80 years? Is there time to cut back? Shouldn’t you just quit?

Crazy isn’t it?

The real catch for the St Lucie River is that much of the water that runs into the river is from Lake Okeechobee through C-44. So even if the St Lucie met its TMDLs they would be destroyed by releases from Lake O.

The state is working on this problem and many others. This might take awhile to fix. They are figuring 5, 15, and 30 year implementations before they can really measure improvements…

Time is of the essence, but this is the best the state can do.

Hmmm…I’m not a smoker but I am so frustrated, I think I’ll go have a cigarette.