Tag Archives: Ft Pierce

The Thousands of Sponge Specimens of Harbor Branch and the Hope for a Cure, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and Nancy Higgs stand during a tour at Harbor Branch's sponge storage area.
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, and Nancy Higgs (former Brevard county commissioner) during a tour to Harbor Branch’s “sponge storage area for cancer research.” Nancy named the area, containing over 3500 specimens, “Spongeville.” Both women serve on the HBOIF board. (Photo by Dr Sheri Pomponi, 11-13-14.)

After a recent tour at FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, along the Indian River Lagoon, in Ft Pierce, I will never look at my kitchen sponge the same again…..

Sponges in my kitchen....
Sponges in my kitchen….

It has been a great pleasure to serve on the FAU, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Foundation Board for just over a year, and at a recent meeting we were able to tour the famous “sponge storage vaults for cancer reasearch” deep within the inner chambers of the university. I had heard about these sponges for decades but had never seen the 3500 specimens  that are shared with visiting scientists from all over the world, “face to face.” World scientists visit HBOI because the collection is unique in the world.

Today, I ‘d like to share just a little about what I saw and learned.

Collection HBOI
Collection HBOI

This collection of over 3500 sponges and other deep-sea organisms was collected over a period of 20 years with the help of Harbor Branch’s deep SEA-LINK submersibles for which HBOI is famous (http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/technology/subs/sealink/sealink.html).

From areas as remote as 3000 feet deep in our world oceans come these specimens! And some may just may hold the cure for certain cancers, malaria, tuberculosis neurodegenerative disease, bone density improvement, and inflammation….

One of Harbor Branch's famous submersibles now on display.
One of Harbor Branch’s famous submersibles now on display.

Walking through the many rooms/cooled vaults of the collection was mind-boggling; our guide was Dr Sheri Pomponi who had collected many of the specimens herself. (http://www.fau.edu/hboi/mbbr/).

Other scientists who assisted us on our tour were Dr Amy Wright, Dr. Peter McCarthy, and Dr Esther Guzmán. The entire presentation was way over my head, but basically I learned  that sponges and other deep-sea life do not have such easy lives and participate in a type “chemical warfare” down there vying for survival in a very tough environment.

For instance, a sponge or sea fan like creature may produce chemicals that remarkably allow them to adhere to hard corals, “like bone.” Many can also produce other chemicals, for instance  to “taste bad” to predators so they are not eaten…. Amazingly, the chemicals these marine creatures produce to survive can be applied to human survival.

Dr Sheri Pomponi collected many of the specimens across our world's oceans.
Dr Sheri Pomponi collected many of the specimens across our world’s oceans for HBOI.
HBOI collecton
HBOI collection bottles.
HBOI collection
HBOI collection all labeled  by date, contents  and location.

According to Harbor Branch:

 “Natural products are inherently bioactive, and most researchers feel that the structures have evolved over time to provide exquisite biological activities. Humans and organisms such as sponges, soft corals and bacteria share similar biochemistry and compounds that might have one use in sponges might have totally different use in humans. Researchers at Harbor Branch can take advantage of the similarity in biochemistry to develop medicines useful in the treatment of human diseases.”

While at the tour, Dr Guzman was actually  showing through computer technology how certain chemical compounds from sponges were killing (attacking) cancer cells. “Of course the key is not killing too many other “good” cells at the same time,” she said.

This was like an “Ah-Ha” moment for me. “So some sponge cells kill other cells…even human cells? Like trying to adhere to the coral? Hmmm? The applications? Similar biochemistry? A process better than chemotherapy?”  I wondered. Fascinating.

Anyway, the whole thing, taking place right here along the Indian River Lagoon, was incredible and actually a lot of fun because my friend Nancy Higgs who sits on the board with me kept joking over and over again:

“Jacqui, It’s Spongeville! You can write a blog! Spongeville! She and I laughed as we walked deep into the vault, but then suddenly we were very quiet. ”

Wow, maybe the cure for cancer is right in here….” we looked at each other in amazement.

Like I said, I will never be able to look at my kitchen sponge the same again…

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FAU/Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute: (http://www.fau.edu/hboi/)

The Irony of History, Drainage Districts to Saving Water, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Canals C-23, C-24 and C-25 were built as part of the Central and South Florida Control Flood Control Project. The project started in the 1940; however these canals were built in the 50s and 60s.
Canals C-23, C-24 and C-25 in St Lucie County were built in the 50s and 60s and are all connected. C-23 and C-24 release into the north fork of the St Lucie River leading to the S. Indian River Lagoon, but C-25 releases straight into the southern central Indian River Lagoon near Taylor Creek, close to the Fort Pierce Inlet.  These canals were built as part of the Central and South Florida Project of the 1940s that came into existence after a very large flood of central and south Florida. (Photo, Jacqui Thurlow Lippisch, 2013)

One of the things that is hardest for me to comprehend is that my ancestors worked as hard, if not harder, to get the water off the land as I am, trying to keep in on…

According to an article shared by my mother, historian Sandra Thurlow, by Charles S. Miley a newspaper man in Ft Pierce, “prior to the 1920s floods were a common occurrence in the area particularly in the back-coutry.”

The article discusses how a demand for drainage  began to develop  among land owners  as the growing of pineapples was no longer profitable and the people turned to citrus. In 1915 citizens in the area of Ft Pierce “held court” forming the North St Lucie River Drainage District. The headline in the News Tribune paper of 1921 read: ” Drainage of 75,000 Ares of Rich Land Now Under Way.”

I can just see it, “Sam, I think it’s time to form a flood district and utilize our lands.” Go forward just shy of 100 years and the conversation is : “Joe, I think it’s time we get the Army Corp to stop dumping this lousy water into the St Lucie River, ruining my riverfront property values.”

The North St Lucie River Water Control District is still in place today and was created, as all drainage districts of its time,  under the provisions of Chapter 298, Florida Statutes, commonly referred to as the “General Drainage Law of Florida.” Today the NSLRWCD falls under the authority of the South Florida Water Management District that historically began really as the Central and South Florida Project, C&SFP.

In 1945 there was massive flooding throughout central and south Florida so the state and its residents called for federal assistance. Sound familiar? It may if you recall that the Hurricane of 1928 caused an even more extreme reaction and the Herbert Hoover Dike was built around Lake Okeechobee by the Army Corp of Engineers. Thus our federal partnerships today. The one that we complain about all the time…Ironic, isn’t it?

ft pierce drainage maap

The green area is the NSLRWCD’s boundaries; the orange are is the Fort Pierce Farms Drainage District,  since 1976 under the South Florida Water Management District.

So, I drifted a bit, but I was talking about the Central and South Florida Project. This large project was formed after the great flood of the 1940s and three huge canals  were built during the 50s and 60s as part of this plan: C-23, C-24 and C-25. I drove over them for years with my parents as a kid and had no idea what they really were, I never learned about them in school, and I was 40 years old before I decided I needed to figure them out…

Canals

Map of canals system, Matin/St Lucie Counties.

I have not even mentioned the C-44 also known as the “St Lucie Canal” that is further south. This canal drains the basin lands around  it as well as being a dumping ground for “overflow waters” of Lake Okeechobee.

The South Florida Water Management’s web site says that after C-23, and C-24 were built, the north fork of the St Lucie River drained lands approximately four times its natural drainage size! That is not even counting C-44 and Lake Okeechobee. Oh, and by the way in 1892  we opened the St Lucie Inlet  permanently too.

We are living a  world very different than Mother Nature created. From what I’m told she’s moody and a bit irritated. I think I’ll keep working on getting her some of her water back!

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History SFWMD: (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xrepository/sfwmd_repository_pdf/nr_2009_0312_60anniversary_1949.pdf )

1988 SFWMD document documenting plans to hold water in the SRL/IRL area, this plan is still under way as part of CERP (Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan): (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/pg_grp_tech_pubs/portlet_tech_pubs/dre-265.pdf) 

Sun Sentinel Story Flood of 1945, Florida: (http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1990-09-09/features/9002130092_1_lake-okeechobee-water-hurricane)

ACOE, C&SFP History: (http://www.evergladesplan.org/about/restudy_csf_devel.aspx)

Unknown, Sacred Indian Mounds of the Indian River Lagoon

Ancient Aye Indian mound and gravesite, possibly 3000-4000 years old overlooks the Indian River Lagoon at Ft Pierce but is but is unrecognized. The park is known today as "Old Fort Park."
Ancient Ais Indian mound and gravesite, possibly 2000-4000 years old overlooks the Indian River Lagoon but is but is unrecognized. The park is known today as “Old Fort Park,” Ft Pierce. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch)

When I was a teenager, one time my mother, a historian, pulled the car over on the side of the road near “Old Fort Park” in Ft. Pierce. She said,” Let’s get out of the car, we are going to look for Indian shards.” “Cool,” I thought, but how could that be? We were driving right along Indian River Drive in a residential area just outside of downtown Ft. Pierce. I’d been here a thousand times….

So anyway, she parked the car and we actually walked across the street, closer to the river, and right there lying on top of the pushed up earth, were discarded oyster and clam shells and splinters of pottery that my mother explained belonged to an ancient mound building culture.  I was amazed. Later, we walked up the remains of the forty foot midden, turned around  and looked out over the beautiful Indian River, through gigantic gnarled oak trees. I imagined I was an Ais Indian, looking out for the British or Spanish and their Indian collaborators  who one day would destroy me and the Indian River too. (http://indianrivermag.com/LIVE/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=136)

According to the Florida Anthropologist 2002, Volume 55 3-4, a total of 49 shell middens, circles or graves have been found in Martin County and were determined to be in much better condition than the ones  that had been plowed down in neighboring and over developed Palm Beach County. These Indian mounds were determined to be anywhere from 3000-4000 years old, possibly older, and belonged to various Florida mound building tribes. In Martin County they were named the Ays or Ais. (http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00027829/00090/1j)

The “Old Fort Park” is in St Lucie County, but Martin County’s most well known Indian midden is known today as “Tuckahoe.” The mound was once 60 feet high and overlooks the Indian River as well. I learned that  many of the Indian mounds, even parts of Tuckahoe, were all or partially bulldozed and the shells  used to pave the early streets of the area. (http://www.mansionattuckahoe.com/htm/mansionHistory.htm)

How resourceful? How horrendous and completely unthoughtful.

This partial map below shows where some of the major coastal and interior mounds in Martin County are located: Mount Elizabeth or Tuckahoe; Hutchinson Island; House of Refuge; Rocky Point; St Lucie Inlet; Joseph Reed Shell Ring; Peck ‘s Lake Complex; Banner Lake Complex; Hobe Sound Complex; Jupiter Sound Complex; Jupiter Inlet Complex; Indiantown and Barley Barber.

IMG_2830

 

A few years ago after a big storm, the Indian Mound on Hutchinson Island was opened up by the sea. Bones and artifacts were found, studied and reburied because today we have a deeper respect for these grave sites, these sites of culture that  many of our ancestors, like mine,  destroyed.

Perhaps the spirt of the Ais Indians broke forth that day, and in the rolling waves was brought back to the shoreline. Maybe they are somehow helping us who care and empathise save what’s left of their Eden – the beautiful,  the sacred, the Indian River Lagoon.

Photos: (https://www.google.com/search?q=indian+mounds+photos+florida&client=safari&rls=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=5LE5U-CeD63gsATZvYHADQ&ved=0CCgQsAQ&biw=1598&bih=803)

Ft Pierce Does Get Canal Releases at Taylor Creek

Black water is released into the ILR near Ft Pierce Inlet
Black water is released into the ILR near Ft Pierce Inlet

Along the Treasure Coast it seems “everyone” always thinks Ft Piece does not get any releases. It does. C-25 is one of three that lie in the northern Martin/St Lucie region that drain rain water and runoff from agricultural and some residential lands. This area is part of the IRL Project for CERP that was appropriated in 2007. At this point lands have been purchased for C-23 and C-24 but otherwise it s the same old  _______ running right into our beloved estuary. Disgusting.