I have this dream that I am enjoying walking around in my garden, I look down, and there is a seventeen-foot python curled up under my house. Sounds ridiculous, but one day this may not be that far fetched.
This past week, the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) https://myfwc.com held their meeting at the Hutchinson Island Marriott, just over the Ernest Lyons Bridge from Sewall’s Point. One of the things they discussed was the overpopulation of Burmese Pythons that are ravaging native wildlife in Everglades National Park and other parts of South Florida.
I have been vaguely aware of this for years. My previous Sewall’s Point neighbor was a python enthusiast. Around 2012, he wrote TCPalm a letter to the editor in the python’s defense arguing that the Burmese Python did not bring itself to South Florida, people did! According to FWC pet pythons have been released since the 1960s but it was after Hurricane Andrew’s 1992 destruction that a breeding facility was destroyed, pythons escaped, the population exploded, and a breeding community arose.
I do believe “in all God’s Creatures,” but this is a nightmare-dynamic for Florida’s native wildlife. Public speakers noted Everglades National Park is “devoid of small mammals.” This is not an exaggeration, perhaps down 98%, and “small mammals” are not just what’s for dinner. Meals also include birds, eggs, bobcats, deer, alligators and who knows what else. Mr. Kipp Frohlich of FWC estimates a range from tens-of-thousands to over three-hundred-thousand snakes could be living in the Everglades. We really don’t know. One was even found in Florida Bay all curled up on a buoy. Oh yes, they can swim.
If I were a python and my friends and I had eaten everything down south, what would I do? I’d slither north…
Opossums, armadillos, and families of raccoons visit my yard a few times a week. ~For now…
Please see links to learn about what is being done to controll and educate ourselves on the python:
Division: Habitat and Species Conservation
Authors: Sarah Funck, Kristen Sommers, and Melissa Miller, Ph.D. Report date: July 2019
*Florida still allows breeders of Burmese Pythons in Florida, but they can only sell the animals outside of the state. All things considered, at the meeting, FWC Commissioner Gary Lester questioning the wisdom in this. I agree. Considering this is how pythons got out of control in the first place.
The Florida Channel videos of FWC meetings in Hutchinson Island; pythons: day 2:
“We must prioritize fish and wildlife habitat connectivity in future.” Manley Fuller, President, Florida Wildlife Federation, http://www.fwfonline.org
The Florida Wildlife Commission could have more authority to protect wildlife should Constitution Revision Commission proposal #48 be introduced on the 2018 ballot. This proposal, submitted by Cape Coral environmental legend, former service member, teacher and school principal, Mr Carl Veaux, would amend Section 9 of Article IV of the Florida constitution “to provide that the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shall exercise the regulatory and executive powers of the state with respect to habitats, including wildlife corridors…”
Full text proposal # 48: http://www.flcrc.gov/Proposals/Commissioner/2017/0048/ProposalText/Filed/HTML
Before I continue, I would like to state that I have sponsored Mr Veaux’s public proposal, #801227, that is one of thousands of proposals, many addressing wildlife and conservation issues, that were submitted to the Constitution Revision Commission, (CRC) and brought to the attention of the commissioners during the public hearings.
Mr Veaux, though, stood out. He was very persistent in his communications with me. I came to learn through his multiple calls and emails something that I had not listened hard enough to hear. When he sensed my fatigue, Mr Veaux informed me, “…don’t you know, I speak for the animals.” I woke up.
I am also supporting this proposal because there is a need to define “wildlife corridors,” and work through the controversial details. We must step up and do this, as a CRC body, because protecting wildlife corridors in our constitution is the most logical and effective way to address and direct wildlife conservation for future generations.
So just in case you do not know, what is a “wildlife corridor” is anyway…To animals, lands that are not connected for travel, territory, food, shelter, raising young, and “socializing” are not as valuable as those lands that are CONNECTED.
You may have been exposed to this terminology through “The Florida Wildlife Corridor?” In my opinion, The Florida Wildlife Corridor is the most impressive conservation effort happening in Florida today. You can learn about its ambitious goal to connect lands throughout Florida by clicking on the link above.
Years ago, I heard through the grape vine that Attorney General Pam Bondi likes this program. Although I have never asked her about it, every time I walk by her office in Tallahassee I notice the most beautiful eagle painting hanging in her office. A clue!
The Florida Wildlife Commission is part of the executive branch; they are an executive agency. Their board members are appointed by the governor; however they are very independent. Their mission is to “managing fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well-being and the benefit of people.”
So how would this work to affect the the constitution?
According to Florida Audubon, (http://fl.audubon.org) the “Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission operates with Florida Constitutional authority to regulate direct impacts to fish and wildlife including protected species. For state Threatened species, they can require minimization or mitigation for impacts to the habitat of species that are designated as state Threatened, but there is no comprehensive way for them to engage on threats to the habitat of not-yet-listed species, or impacts to habitat that individually may not cause take to threatened species, but cumulatively will cause tremendous harm.”
The protection of wildlife cannot be accomplished without protecting their habitat; this amendment would give FWC the authority they need to achieve the work they’ve been tasked with. And that authority would extend to corridors needed by certain species.
So the proposed change would simply allow, but not require, the seven person appointed FWC to establish rules and permits limiting impacts to habitat in the same way they currently establish limits on impacts to individual animals.
Proposal #48 belongs in the constitution. There will be a things to work out, there always are but I think “we’re covered.” When I asked Mr. Veaux, who is 79 years old, if he could come to Tallahassee to speak on the issue, he said not, “Tallahassee is a long way, but that should not be a problem the wild animals all over the state are spreading the word!”
Proposal #48 is sponsored in honor of Mr Carl Veaux
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch is a commissioner on the 2017/18 Constitution Revision Commissioner, *this proposal will go before the Executive Committee November 28th. You can support this proposal by writing the Executive Committee here: https://flcrc.gov/Committees/EX/
The population increase of the Goliath Grouper is one of those rare “feel-good” conservation success stories. With the help of a 1990 law of protection, the species has come back from being historically over-hunted.
I was recently contacted by advocate goliath grouper protectionist, Ms. Katie Carlsson, who spurned my interest in the debate to “reopen hunting on the species.” I also knew I could share my mother’s plethora of historic St Lucie River “Jew Fish” photos labeled such during the non-politically correct era that was part of my childhood and before. In today’s blog post the original terminology is used in the photographs as documented.
Now for today’s “Goliath Grouper!”
I wanted to speak up for Katie’s cause, questioning the reopening of the hunt. She has forward much information on FWC meeting dates, etc. Thank you Katie.
Before presenting you with many links to explore and opinions to read, I will say, that according to the Snook Foundation, “vast technological improvements in spear guns and diving equipment in the 1960s and 1970s made no wreck, cave or hole safe for Goliath grouper to hide. They have few natural predators and little fear of divers.They are easy prey.”
Of course anglers have the right to argue that the grouper in some areas, like South Florida, have been perhaps “too successful” and believe hunting should be reopened.
My question is if the giant fish will basically look you in the eye and let you kill it, or if there is a question as to the efficacy of the conservation program, why do it? There are so many other fish in the sea.
These are the locations and dates for future hearings:
Oct. 9: Jacksonville, Pablo Creek Regional Library, 13295 Beach Blvd.
Oct. 10: Titusville, American Police Hall of Fame & Museum, 6350 Horizon Drive.
Oct. 11: Stuart, Flagler Place, 201 SW Flagler Ave.
Oct. 12: Davie, Old Davie School Historical Museum, 6650 Griffin Road.
Oct. 16: Pinellas Park, Bill Jackson’s Shop for Adventure, 9501 U.S. Highway 19 N.
Oct. 17: Port Charlotte, The Cultural Center of Charlotte County, 2280 Aaron St.
Oct. 18: Naples, Collier County Public Library – South Regional, 8065 Lely Cultural Parkway
Oct. 25: Tallahassee, FWC Bryant Building, Room 272, 600 S. Meridian St. (6-9 p.m. ET)
In the earlier part of the last century, Atlantic goliath groupers were abundant from Florida to Brazil and throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. If you have been lucky enough to be in the water with these creatures, then you appreciate their unflappable personality and awe-inspiring size, which reaches up to 8 feet and 1,000 pounds. The goliath grouper has no natural predators besides large sharks and humans. We are writing with regards to the latter.
Goliath groupers reached commercial extinction in the late 1980s. For this reason, in 1990 a federal and state ban on killing them was implemented for U.S. federal waters and state waters of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, followed by a 1993 ban in the U.S. Caribbean. Twenty-seven years of protection have led to a population increase, although not a recovery to pre-exploitation levels, in the state of Florida alone. Spawning aggregations are forming again off the east coast of Florida. It’s the only place in the world where goliath groupers are now reliably found in significant numbers, as juveniles in mangroves, and as adults in reefs, solitary or forming spawning aggregations. People come from all over the nation and the world to see the goliath grouper spawning aggregations in the late summer, bringing big dollars that boost local economies.
“Diving in the Palm Beaches back in the late 1980s, to see a goliath grouper was the holy grail. Many of us dove year after year, and saw perhaps one, maybe none,” said Deb Castellana of Mission Blue. “To witness the resurgence of the species since protections were enacted has been heartening, a real story of hope.”
Yet, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is currently considering allowing the limited take of goliath groupers in state waters. The proposal would allow the killing of 100 goliath groupers per year for 4 years, for a total of 400 goliath groupers. The sizes targeted are breeding individuals. If implemented, the kill will exterminate most of Florida’s breeding population of goliath groupers, destroying 27 years of conservation management effort. This “limited take” is not supported by scientific evidence. Critics of the goliath grouper say the species is overeating and responsible for declining fish and lobster stocks. Yet, actual scientific data from researchers like Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D. show that overfishing, not the goliath groupers, is the reason for declining fish and lobster stocks.
Some say that a “sustainable” take of goliath groupers is possible, but many scientists agree that the current population would not last more than one, or perhaps two years after opening the fishery. And groupers have no nutritional value for humans since they contain levels of mercury that are unsafe for human consumption according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Health.
“I repeatedly asked what scientific evidence the FWC has to support killing the goliath groupers, because all scientific research published to date does not support a fishery for this species and shows the species is highly conservation dependent and highly vulnerable to overfishing,” said Dr. Frias-Torres. “Many don’t realize that goliath groupers actually eat predators of juvenile lobsters, allowing more lobsters to grow to legal size and making more lobsters available to fishers.”
Don DeMaria, a local professional diver, adds, “the annual goliath grouper spawning aggregations that occur off the coast of South Florida are spectacular natural events on a world scale. Efforts by the FWC, and others, to reopen a take of this fish are sure to disrupt, and eventually eliminate this natural wonder.”
If a hunting season is opened on the goliath grouper, the FWC has floated the idea of charging $300 per fish killed. Yet, recreational divers pay around $100 for one goliath grouper sighting. Think of that: a single goliath grouper in the water is supporting local business to the tune of $36,500 per year or more than a million dollars over its lifetime. But one spawning aggregation alone, made by several goliath groupers, generates about half a million dollars a year for one dive business. Financially speaking, that’s a much better investment than collecting a one-time payment of $300 per dead fish.
“Killing goliath groupers will also kill growing economic benefits derived from divers who revel in the opportunity to be in the presence of these iconic animals who are often as curious about us.” – Dr. Sylvia Earle
A Final Message from Katie:
We are aware that the FWC is gathering public input on the possibility of a goliath grouper killing season in Florida. As such, we have called for our supporters to attend one of the many workshops held in the state in August and October, as well as to submit a public comment on FWC’s website. We will also gathering signatures to a petition, which will be delivered to the FWC in anticipation of the goliath grouper decision coming down later this year.
“Although the species has not recovered to pre-exploitation levels, enough goliath groupers are showing up at a few spawning aggregation sites that their presence, and the SCUBA divers that come to visit them, bring a much-needed lifesaver to small businesses in Florida, between late August and early October, just when transition between the summer and winter seasons will leave these businesses in the doldrums,” said Dr. Frias-Torres. “A live goliath grouper is more valuable than a dead one. And living goliaths will keep forming spawning aggregations and contributing to the Florida economy for as long as they live.”
We strongly urge the Commissioners of FWC to maintain protections for goliath groupers in Florida and to deny any requests for opening the fishery. A policy such as this would represent the best interests of the wildlife and humans in Florida, as well as rest on conclusions drawn from the best available science.
HELP US: Ask the FWC to maintain protections for goliath groupers!
You don’t have to live in Florida to help. Please take a moment to tell the FWC to continue protections for the goliaths at this link. Feel free to use the language below as your comment.
“I am disappointed to learn the FWC is considering allowing the taking of goliath groupers. Many countries look up to the United States as a leader in so many fields, including conservation, and here we are about to permit fishermen to take goliaths—a species depleted throughout its range, except Florida—and nursed back to healthy numbers over the course of 27 years of Federal and state protection. We strongly urge you to maintain protections for goliath groupers in Florida and to deny any requests for opening the fishery. A policy such as this would represent the best interests of the wildlife and humans in Florida, as well as rest on conclusions drawn from the best available science.”
I know this is a lot. This is a pretty interesting problem from science, conservation, and politics. The voting in the hearings is by clicker and is shown on the screen so have everyone who goes take a picture and post it. People that are under eighteen can attend and vote. They can also comment online at the FFW link.
The photo below of was shared by my friend, and UF NRLI class member, Florida Wildlife Commission, senior wildlife biologist, Angeline Scotten. Angeline was recently called to Sebring, located northwest of Lake Okeechobee, to identify an unusual and beautiful canine hit by car, a black bobcat. Black bobcats, more properly called “melanistic,” are often reported as “black panthers.”
Melanism, like albinism, is a rare genetic trait that few are able to witness…in the photo below we can see the cat’s unique coloring in the sunlight.
This remarkable creature is one of thousands of animals killed on Florida’s highways every year. I am posting this photo in hopes that by seeing it, somehow it may will help save the life of another. Please drive carefully looking out for bobcats and the rest of God’s creatures!
*Thank you to Angeline Scotten for sharing this photograph.
melanism [mel-uh-niz-uh m] noun Zoology. the condition in which an unusually high concentration of melanin occurs in the skin, plumage, or pelage of an animal.
Martin County’s theme is “Our Good Nature.” We have kept some of it, unlike so many other counties in the state of Florida. I grew up appreciating this. My mother and father used to bring home injured animal for my sister, Jenny, my brother, Todd, and me to care for when we were growing up in Stuart in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. I was taught never to be afraid of wild animals, but to respect them.
One of my favorite fascinations with local wildlife is the black, or “melanistic,” bobcats of western Martin County. I have written before about this local genetic phenomenon. In fact, it is one of my all time most popular posts. Indeed, there are more reports of black bobcats or “black panthers” occur right here, especially around Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie Canal, than anywhere else in the state!
Yesterday, my friend and UF NRLI classmate, FWC biologist Angeline Scotten– who was in town to give a coyote presentation for Sewall’s Point and Martin County, took me to visit Busch Wildlife Sanctuary and to meet her mentor– of animal-fame– David Hitzig, Busch Wildlife’s long time executive director. I was totally impressed. What an amazing place. You must visit! http://www.buschwildlife.org
Early on in the conversation I told Mr Hitzig that for whatever reason, although an animal fan, I had never visited Busch Wildlife Sanctuary—but that I had written about a black bobcat that was documented to be at the sanctuary after being trapped near the St Lucie Canal in Western Martin County. This bobcat had been eating somebody’s chickens.
Excitedly, Mr Hitzig noted that yes, the melanistic bobcat had been at the center a few years ago, and was released. He also shared that just this month, April 2016, there had been reports of not one, but two, black bobcat cubs walking behind their mother; he later shared this rare and awesome photo.
What a sight! Two black bobcat cubs strolling happily along behind their mother in western Martin County. I love this place. Don’t you?
Correction to blog 🙂 Just after completing this post, I just received an email from David Hitzig of Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, and this black bobcat cub photo was taken in Okeechobee, a western neighbor to Martin County not Martin County itself as I thought when I wrote this! Certainly there are no boarders for the cats and Okeechobee and Martin are side by side “out west.” See map below. Wanted to note for the record. jacqui
Thank you Mr David Hitzig for sharing this marvelous photo.
Thank you to FWC Angeline Scotten from UF NRLI Class XV for taking me to the Busch Wildllife Sanctuary and for her excellent coyote presentation for the Town of Sewall’s Point: http://nrli.ifas.ufl.edu
This is one of my favorite historic aerial photos of Sewall’s Point; I have used it before. It is on page 11 of my mother’s book “Sewall’s Point a History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast.”
Taken in the 1950s, the peninsula is basically undeveloped. The spoil islands, from dredging the Intercostal Waterway, sit to the east of the island lone and unattached…
One very special spoil island is in this photo as well. I think it is the one furthest north: Bird Island, or MC 2, is a small spoil island now off the Archipelago. Comparing the photo above and below you can see the changes to the east side of Sewall’s Point and Bird Island.
I visited Bird Island yesterday with the Florida Wildlife Commission preparing for a field trip for their board who is meeting in South Florida this week. Bird Island was the first Critical Wildlife Area in the state of Florida designated in 20 years in 2014. This was an enormous accomplishment!
Kipp Fröhlich who was aboard boat yesterday said, “Yes it is amazing, we still don’t totally understand why the birds choose this particular island!” This is true. There are many to choose from.
One thing is for sure, the birds and humans love it here! It is a wonderful thing when wildlife and humans can reside together. Thank you FWC!
So close to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon… Do you see his tracks?
I have been holding back on writing this blog, but today seems like the “puuurfect” day to write! Trapped inside with all this rain has me daydreaming about Florida adventures.
Did you know that a panther was spotted just ten miles west of Palm City in November of 2015? Just two months ago? Maybe he is there today– hiding in the palmettos– trying to get out of this rain.
I learned about the panther’s visit to Martin County when I attended my University of Florida Natural Resources Leadership Institute in January. I didn’t write about as I was not sure I could share the photos. As I have learned the photo are public, I am now sharing. I learned the following from my source:
The person who shared today’s photos with the Florida Wildlife Commission advised that the photos were taken on a trail camera at Allapattah Flats in Martin County’s Wildlife Management Area on November 22, 2015. He/she advised the camera was in the Wildlife Management Area off of State Road 714, but did not give any more specific location.
Panther biologists confirmed that this is “FP232.” This panther was hit by a car in Ft Meade in Polk County northwest of Lake Okeechobee, in April of 2014. He is a male and was given veterinary care by the University of Florida for his broken leg, and rehabilitated in Yulee until his release in January of 2015. FP232 was released at Kissimmee River Prairie Preserve State Park, and has since roamed all over south central Florida. It was very exciting to learn of his appearance in Martin county.
I think this is so totally cool. Panthers were once common in Martin County, in all Florida, but now as Florida is full of highways, houses, and swimming pools they are very, very rare; I have written about panthers before, but never thought I’d get to share a photo of one right here. Very rarely are they photographed…
May the panther who visited us have the very best of luck! I will take this public opportunity to name him “Martin” as FP232 is not a name fit for such a magnificent creature.
Don’t get me wrong… the first time I read that coyotes were “here,” in Marin County…the first time I saw Bud Adams’ picture on the back page of “Indian River Magazine,” the hair went up on the back of my neck. Old wives tales and ancient fears gripping me….
Since that time, I have read a lot and learned more. I am cautious but not afraid. In fact my roommate at this month’s University of Florida Natural Resources Leadership Institute class was a coyote expert for the Florida Wildlife Commission. We stayed up late into the night; she showed me photos of all the things coyotes eat and told me first hand stories of how places like Hernando County, Florida, are dealing with the issue.
I sat in silent awe….
One of the most interesting things she shared was that the population of coyotes goes up the more populated an area is–you would think the opposite. “Coyotes have moved in and adapted so well we sometimes wonder who the suburbs were actually built for, us or them.” Her excellent article is at the end of this post.
Last night at a Sewall’s Point Commission meeting, a resident came forward during public comment to report about the coyotes in her subdivision. Passions flared! The discussion included guns, protected wildlife, unprotected wildlife, trapping, not leaving out cat food, not leaving out cats, as well as not leaving your small dogs or small children outside unattended. In the end, it was decided comprehensive town education was the best approach.
I find my self struggling with the image of coyote. Last night after the meeting, I took a walk and kept waiting for one’s red eyes to shine in the reflection of my iPhone. At every corner I was sure one was standing….They do intimidate me, but I am intrigued with their success. I respect them.
This animal is deeply associated with Native Americans who of course “we” eradicated. Remember the Seminole Wars? The US relocation plans? Not that long ago really. Perhaps this is our karma?
For many Native American tribes the coyote, known as a trickster for his ability to “be everywhere at once,” was the most powerful of creatures. In fact, it was believed that tribal members of tremendous power could “shift” shape into a coyote achieving amazing things….Why the coyote? The reasons are many, but one is because “Coyote,” just as in the Greek story of Prometheus, —-(also a clever trickster)—-brought fire from Heaven to the Earth, betraying the Gods, to help us survive.
Perhaps there is a greater message here? I don’t know…but it has me thinking…One thing is for sure: smart, master-adapter, coyote is here in Sewall’s Point, and throughout Martin County. And he is so smart and adaptable that “he is not going away.”
—Coyotes are now reported in all 67 counties of the state of Florida. They also live throughout much of the nation.
–Due to agriculture/rancher and landowner complaints, California spent 20 million dollars to eradicate coyotes with no success and now ironically the population is perhaps higher than ever.
—Coyotes are omnivorous, like people, eating everything especially insects, pet food, vegetation, road-kill, rodents, and “trash.” Thus they adapt easily.
—-Coyotes have flourished and spread since the human eradication of the larger canine family wolf —in Florida and through out the U.S. When top predators are removed others expand.
—Coyotes hunt in family groups not “packs, or alone; ” They mate for life and their social nature is part of their success.
—Read article below for tips on how to live and/or deal with coyotes.
Hutchinson Island is located on the east side of the Indian River Lagoon–
I find myself thinking of bears…recently I was in Silver Springs with my UF Natural Resources Leadership Institute class. We were staying at the Florida Wildlife Commissions’ Ocala Conservation Center and Youth Camp. That night, I couldn’t sleep, tossing and turning—the springs under my mattress squeaked relentlessly through the dead-aired, dark, dusty cabin. I knew I was keeping my bunk-mates awake. It was 2:00AM. I decided to get up. Walking out the door into cool darkness the stars shone like diamonds in a velvet sky; Orion looked down on me as he has since my childhood.
Standing alone in glory of the night, I wondered if I would see a bear. After all, I was in “bear country”…There had been a lot of talk about bears and the controversies of hunting during our session. I imagined that if I did see a bear, I would do what they say to do. I would stand tall and slowly back up. I would not run.
Later that night I fell asleep in my car, and dreamt of bears. In my dream, I forgot the rules and I ran. The bear did not chase me, but rather stood up like a human and summoned me to a large rock; I went to him and he told me a story… his story of being the last bear shot on Hutchinson Island in Martin County, 1926…
The bear looked me straight in the eye and began speaking in a steady, low voice:
“For countless centuries there were black bears on Hutchinson Island…they co-existed with the Indians whose mounds are found there. We roamed the beaches on the long summer nights, digging up loggerhead turtle eggs. When the white settlers came a few sailed over from the mainland to put out bees on the island and we knocked over the hives to get the honey…
It was tough being a bear….white men and bears were enemies in a one-sided war. In 1926 I was shot by Captain Billy Pitchford. I was the last bear on Hutchinson Island…”
Suddenly I awoke. My car window was open; I heard owls hooting close by and the wind whistling through the spanish moss. My bones ached and moisture coated everything. I rolled on my side thinking about my dream. Thinking about the last bear shot on Hutchinson Island and the old Stuart News article my mother had given me…
Bears, I though…
“A one-sided war….”
That was the message.
The Florida Wildlife Commission sanctioned bear hunt, the first since 1994, will begin in two days on October 24th. There is nothing wrong with hunting, but a man of dignity should never take pride in winning a one-sided war.
Mullet are famous for being excellent jumpers. In fact, Florida Fish and Wildlife states “it’s often easy to identify their locations by simply watching for jumping fish.” Me? When I see a mullet jump, I have a tendency to personify thinking, “now there’s a happy fish!”
This beautiful jumping mullet-sunset photo was taken by my brother, Todd Thurlow, this past Saturday evening, October 10th, 2015 just off of North River Shores.
Former Stuart News editor and river advocate Ernest Lyons wrote about mullet jumping in his essay ” Never a River Like the St Lucie Back Then.”
There was never a river to compare to Florida’s St Lucie I when I was young….the river fed us. You could get all the big fat mullet you wanted with a castnet or a spear. If you were real lazy, you could leave a lantern burning in a tethered rowboat overnight and a half-dozen mullet would jump in, ready to be picked off the boat bottom next morning….at the headwaters of the south fork of the St Lucie….the waters were clear as crystal… (Ernest Lyons 1915-1990)
Today, the water of St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon are anything but clear, but “hail to the mullet that are still jumping!”
A friend of mine, Mrs Mary Chapman, once described Stuart News reporter, Ed Killer, as “the only reporter in America who got her to read the sports page.” I feel the same way. Ed Killer’s past Sunday article entitled: “Bearing Down for the Bear Hunt,” was quite the read, and I have been thinking about it the past few days.
Bears….to think that they used to live right here in along the waters of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, and now there are none.
Today I thought I’d share a photo I have shared before, but it is certainly worth dusting off and bringing out of the archives again.
The above photos are from my mother’s book, “Sewall’s Point,” and shows Mr Reginald Waters with multiple black bears he killed on Hutchinson Island, a mother and two cubs, around 1918. The other is the “last bear shot on Hutchinson Island, 1926.” Historian, Alice Luckhardt, wrote a comprehensive piece on these black bears that once roamed our region. Here is an excerpt from a recent vignette:
“At one time, Florida black bears existed in fairly large numbers along the ocean coast between Jupiter and Fort Pierce, living in and among the mangroves and feeding on palmetto fruits and turtle eggs buried in the beach sand. However, as more people began settling the area, bears became unwelcome guests, and many were hunted and killed by early pioneers.
By the 1920s and early ’30s there were still a few wild black bears in the area. They found a tasty delight in honey and bee larvae from the numerous beehives in operation on Hutchinson Island at that time.
Jensen resident William Pitchford felt the only solution was to hunt down the bear that had been raiding his bee hives during the summer of 1931. Pitchford first thought to capture the bear using a steel trap he set out over several nights near the hives. The bear, however, was too smart to fall for that trap, avoiding it each night and still getting into the honey, destroying several hives.
Determined to end the bear’s raids, Pitchford, with the assistance of a neighbor, Vincent Wortham Sr., laid in wait one Saturday night, Aug. 8, 1931, with weapons in hand. As hoped, in the darkness of night, the bear appeared and the men turned on their flashlights. Pitchford immediately fired three times using his 303 Savage rifle, and Wortham fired his 32-20 Smith and Wesson revolver twice at the animal. The seriously wounded bear managed to scramble a short distance away before the two men later found him dead near the Pickerton farm. They managed to bring the 200-pound animal back to Jensen where photos documented the event, as this marked the last bear killed on Hutchinson Island.”
So, quite sad as far as I am concerned that we killed all the bears here. Let’s figure out how FWC, the Florida Wildlife Commission, the agency making the laws on bear hunting today “works.” —How do they fit into Florida government? How were they able to determine it is OK to shoot bears this season? For one thing FWC is not “under the governor,” a situation many state agencies would “kill for.” Oh, no pun intended… 🙂
Also, I must state that the structure of the agency is confusing like everything else in government.
There is “US Fish and Wildlife,” a federal agency, and then there is FWC, or the Florida Wildlife Commission, a state agency. One will also hear this same agency referred to as Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Why I am not sure. So Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) are the same thing. If anyone knows more about this please let me know….
In 2004 the agency, FWC. was restructured by an act of the Florida Legislature:
This excerpt below explains:
“The FWC was established with a headquarter in Tallahassee, the state capital on July 1, 1999 after an amendment to the Florida Constitution approved in 1998. The FWC resulted from a merger between the former offices of the Marine Fisheries Commission, Division of Marine Resources and Division of Law Enforcement of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP}, and all of the employees and Commissioners of the former Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) serves as the environmental regulatory agency for the state, enforcing environmental legislation regarding air and water quality, for example. In 2004, the Florida Legislature approved a reorganization of the FWC that integrated parts of the Division of Wildlife, Division of Freshwater Fisheries, and the Florida Marine Research Institute to create the ‘Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’ (FWRI) in St. Petersburg, Florida.It has over 600 employees. As of 2014 FWC had over 2,000 full-time employees, maintained the FWRI, five regional offices, and 73 field offices across the state.”
Looking at the structure one can see that the commissioners are at the top of FWC chart and the “people” are over the governor for DEP chart….
If the bears had a seat at the table, I wonder where they would be?
Full note from my historian mother when she sent the “last bear” photo:
“Jacqui, Here is a photograph of Bill Pitchford’s “last bear” that Alice Luckhart wrote about. I have a file on the Waters family who lived in Walton on Indian River Drive. The photograph of Russell Waters with the mother bear and two cubs had “1918” written on it. I am glad Ed Killer’s article explain that hunters will not be allowed to kill a mother with cubs. Reginal Waters Rice who supplied the photograph said his uncle Russell felt very bad about killing “the three bears.” Mom
Today and will share some history, and today I will honor Mr Leon Abood, who has led the Rivers Coalition of Martin County for the past seventeen years…
In 1998 a terrible thing was happening. An uncanny number of fish in the St Lucie River had lesions, and for the very first time, numerous algae blooms were being reported the river. The ACOE and SFWMD had been releasing fresh water from Lake Okeechobee into the estuary for a longer period of time than “typical” due to high rains and high water levels in Lake Okeechobee; this had occurred before, but this time something was different. Really different.
“Fish with lesions? Disgusting. And those poor fish! What’s going on?”
Fishermen were confused and furious; the public was just learning the extent of the problems in their beloved St Lucie River; and real estate agents were desperate because they could not sell houses. All were watching the economic vitality of Martin County and its essential natural system (that brought residents here in the first place) collapse.
The standing motto of the day became: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
Agencies as usual declared uncertainty of why the fish were so sickly, everyone looking at everyone else…In time, very quietly, studies did verify that high levels of fresh water in brackish systems allow a bacteria to grow that promotes lesions, as a fish’s delicate slime coat is compromised….It was Lake Okeechobee exacerbated by the other canals….
This is taken into account today before decisions are made…When possible, “pulse releases” became more common rather than giant long-lasting slugs of water into the system….
As far as “the river,” other groups had been fighting for the St Lucie River/Southern Indian River Lagoon since the 1950s, but now it was time for “business!”
In a fit of fury and desperation, the Realtor Association, on May 12th, 1998, formed the “Rivers Coalition.” The group was built from the earlier formed El Nino Task Force and focused on group rather than individual membership.
Founding members in 1998 included the St Lucie River Initiative, the Realtor Association of Martin County; Stuart/Martin Chamber of Commerce; Treasure Coast Builders Association; Martin County Conservation alliance; Economic Council; Florida Oceanographic Society; Marine Industries Association; Audubon of Florida; Audubon of Florida; and the Martin County Farm Bureau.
Leon has led the coalition through the horrors of fish lesions, toxic algae blooms, releases from Lake Okeechobee and area canals, along with Mr Karl Wickstrom–a law-suit against the federal government, and has been the face and front man of the river for a confused and desperate public. His calm and authoritative demeanor gives people confidence. He is a true leader, calm when surrounded by controversy and sharks at every turn.
Leon’s goal has always been that all stakeholders are to take part: business, environmental, and residential…. and to bring information forward for the public so they can make “logical and intelligent decisions about what is going on.” He has helped achieve this important goal. —And without information and discussion there is no change…
Since 1998, the Rivers Coalition has grown and evolved but always remained a consistent “voice for the river.” Without the voice the Rivers Coalition, our river situation would not have the statewide recognition and there would not be the pressure on government to fix the problems.
We all know, it is a problem of monumental proportion, TO MOVE WATER SOUTH and not through our estuary, that will take generations. Knowing this, Leon Abood gave the first “go ahead” to support the River Kidz in 2011 so they could one day “take the baton.”
Please read more about Leon Abood and the accomplishments of the Rivers Coalition below on Rivers Coalition link.
Leadership for the future will be made soon. Leon will not walk-away until he has given his blessing and guided new leadership. After 17 years of investing heart and soul it’s not as easy as “passing the baton,” and the River Kidz are just a tad too young. We are going to need some leaders just a bit older….:) He has a few in mind…
Why is he leaving?
After 17 years, he is tired. And Leon simply wishes to spend more time with his wife Georgia, a well-known artist; they love to travel to Europe specifically Paris and Italy. What do they say in real estate? In life too, “Time is of the Essence….”
Thank you Leon, you will never be replaced, and you will always be remembered!
Know the Rivers Coalition will have a rebirth with you always at its side.
Just the other day, one of my readers sent me a funny but educational video on Lake Okeechobee and the continued sightings of Pacu fish. Pacu Fish are related to Piranhas and both fish live in the Amazon River of South America. Both have TEETH.
Since my husband pulls out wisdom teeth and replaces teeth with implants, teeth are often a topic of discussion for us, even at the dinner table….when we first met, he told me my teeth were great, except my “lateral incisors were too prominent…..:) —-the vampire teeth! 🙂 I was not happy…:)
Anyway. Today’s blog post is meant to be fun but serious.
Invasive species are forever changing South Florida. Between pythons in the Everglades, Lion Fish in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, Cuban Tree Frogs as well as Bufo Frogs in Sewall’s Point, and Pacu Fish with their “human like teeth” in the Lake Okeechobee—that of course is periodically dumped into our rivers—our world is changing. Native species are being replaced and overwhelmed.
In their 5th Biennial Review of Progress in the Everglades or lack thereof, the National Reasearch Council noted Invasive Species as a top concern for Everglades Restoration.
I read about all this and get upset at the invasive species problem…then it dawns on me that some may say “we, modern man, in South Florida, are an invasive species too.”
Food for thought anyway….
Thank you to Ricardo Zambrano and Kelly Gestring of the Florida Wildlife Commission for replying to my question about PACU and Lake Okeechobee as seen below:
Dear Commissioner Thurlow-Lippish,
To the best of my knowledge, this report of a singleton pacu being caught by a commercial fisherman in Lake Okeechobee is true. The reporter contacted several FWC people and I was asked to confirm the identity of the fish.
We receive numerous reports every year of singleton pacu being caught (primarily in HOA ponds) every year from locations around the state. However, there is no indication that pacu are reproducing in any of our waterbodies. This strongly suggests that the illegal releases of pacu are by owners who no longer want their pet.
Pacu are primarily herbivores and pose little threat to native species. Anglers should be careful removing the hook as pacu’s have very strong jaws and their molar-shaped teeth could inflict a lot of damage to a finger.
We encourage anglers that catch a pacu to remove them to reduce any potential impacts they may have on the environment.
Thank you for your concern and if you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Non-Native Fish and Wildlife Program Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 10216 Lee Road Boynton Beach, FL 33473 (561) 292-6007 office (561) 234-9925 cell firstname.lastname@example.org
Miracles abound all around us, but sometimes they are hard to “see.” Life harden us, or keeps us so busy that sometimes we forget. One miracle I have been aware of most of my life is the journey of the sea turtles, especially the loggerheads, that hatch along our Atlantic shores here in our Indian River Lagoon region.
When I was a kid, during early summer my mother and father used to take my brother, sister, and I on midnight turtle walks. This was Stuart in 1974. Not many people lived here. We kids would watch in complete amazement the gigantic mother turtles emerge from the sea to drop their eggs, like slimy ping-pong balls, into a deep hole meticulously dug while tears rolled down their faces.
“She is crying,” my mother would say…
Knowing that mom had borne us, we kids wondered about all this, but were soon swept up again in the dropping, the slow plopping of those eggs. Maybe a hundred or so of them…Hours later it seemed the giant and mysterious turtle— that my dad said had been on the Earth when dinosaurs roamed—would make her way back to the ocean. The stars overhead, clear and shining, revealed life’s great mystery. The turtle gone, her tracks reflecting in the moonlight, our family felt bonded having witnessed this ancient ritual…
These memories have stayed with me….
Over the years, I volunteered as a turtle scout and learned about the loggerhead’s maybe 8000 mile migration in the Atlantic Ocean and how they have magnetite in their brains and are capable of reading God’s compass….I learned about how after floating around and hiding in the seaweed for up to twelve years they eventually find their way home to their birth beach, stay in area lagoons or “safe areas”, and not until maybe 30 years or so, if female, lay their own eggs…
Yesterday there was a photo on the front page of the Stuart News, “In Defense of Sea Turtles.” A wonderful article about Inwater Research Group’s releasing of the animals.
Ironically, the day before Ed and I had gone to Indian River Side Park to walk our dogs by the shoreline and found a dead juvenile loggerhead that had been killed by a boat hit. I called the Florida Wildlife Commission and reported the animal. They were very helpful. I talked to a nice young man named “David” in Jacksonville. He said there were only six people in the entire state covering reported deaths like this juvenile sea turtle….pathetic…
While waiting on hold, I couldn’t help but think about how this young sea turtle until now had beat all the odds. Only one in approximately 4000 make it maturity, after swimming around in those ocean currents for years, avoiding predators, and reading the magnet of the Earth in a way we humans still have not completely figured out….how amazing that this turtle found its way home only to be stuck by a speeding boat……
Not an inspirational end to a miracle.
I share this story not be negative but in hope that boaters in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon will keep an eye out and SLOW DOWN.
As Ed and I meandered home, I looked back and saw the turtle in the dark waves, as I was told to leave it there….I thought to myself, “a dead and broken sea turtle in the polluted and dying Indian River Lagoon—now that is a tragic metaphor for our times…..”
I grew up in both Stuart and Sewall’s Point, not on, but close to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. My mother named our second home, “Shady Refuge,” because of the tremendous oak trees arching over the property. Many animals visited, and we welcomed them. Some even lived with our family for short periods of time. Early on, there was no Treasure Coast Wildlife Center like today, so we took animals that needed care to the vet or tried to help them ourselves. My mother was an expert at this. We were taught not to fear animals, even poisonous ones, but to respect them, and to learn from them. It was a great childhood; a great lesson for life.
The photos I am sharing today were taken at my parent’s home in Indialucie over many years.
I still live in Sewall’s Point today, 30 years later. Of course with continued development of the Treasure Coast, population growth, and continued degradation of our waterways, wildlife is not as plentiful. But it is still here! When I see an any animal, it is one of my greatest joys. Right now, a hawk is living in my and Ed’s yard. I always feel that having one of God’s wild creatures visiting me is a gift.
Thank you mom and dad for keeping this family wildlife album and know that siblings, Jenny, Todd, and I, are “passing it on….”
In these parts” it’s very important to know the definition of “cane!”
Yesterday’s blog referred to “Cane Slough”on the historic 1909 map by the Army Corp of Engineers. I made a joke about “cane” not meaning “sugarcane” as one may first think when hearing the word “cane” today. After publishing the post, I learned even more about “cane” from a long time family friend and wanted to share this with you today.
Fred Taylor informed me that “cane” is referring to “maidencane,” and that there are still places where maidencane grows today, it is great for wildlife and also the cows eat it. I think I had thought that MAIDENCANE was a hard-rock band…According to the Florida Wildlife Commission:
Maidencane: This vaulable and common native can form large stands in the water or even on dry banks. It may be confused with torpedo grass, para grass, cupscale grass or blue maidencane. It provides food, protection and nesting materials for wildlife.
Maidencane is a grass. rhizomes extensive; stems to 6 ft. long, narrow, leaning or erect; leaf blades flat or folded, wide, to 1 in. wide, to 12 in. long, tips pointed, usually smooth; sheaths loose, hairless to hairy; inflorescence erect, narrow, spike-like, closed, 4-12 in. long, ascending branches pressed to main axis; spikelets stalked, flowers to 1/8 in. long, green, pressed against branches. ( FWC:http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/node/306)
Who is the woman with the rifle in the classic historic photo above? She is Mrs J.J. Pichford.
Mrs J. J. Pichford has just shot a wild turkey for dinner. She is camping at “Cane Slough” around 1918. Her young son nearby, they stand in what is a now developed portion of our St Lucie/Martin County region.
On the back of the photo, my mother wrote: Wagon Wheel Hammock–Would travel by wagon through White City to the back country where there were no roads. Young Robert would always fear his family would get lost in the wilderness…
Well that wilderness is gone today, and my husband Ed is lucky if I’ve had time to stop by Publix! Times have changed as has our treasured St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon Region, but apparently there is still some maidencane left if you know where to look. 🙂
The word is out. There have been sightings of bright green, toxic-looking algae in Palm City, just two weeks after the Army Corp of Engineers, with the blessing of state agencies, began releasing toxic waters from Lake Okeechobee. Such has been the fate for many years for our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, but now we’re “on it.”
As we continue to document this issue, we can draw the line on abuses from Lake Okeechobee, and promote change within the law.
What is the procedure for our government to “dump toxic algae” anyway?
Well, at this point according to my research, the process goes something like this:
–the South Florida Water Management District test water quality at various locations in Lake Okeechobee; if they see a substantial algae bloom, they contact the Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, a state agency, who then test for toxins; if the bloom is toxic, the DEP then contacts the Florida Department of Health who together with DEP is responsible for communicating with others such as the Florida Wildlife Commission, local governments, the public and the Army Corp of Engineers. Then if the bloom is not too much of a health hazard…the blessing is given to the ACOE to dump.
How quaint…what teamwork, don’t you think?
I think our state and federal agencies have dumped many times with out us really understanding what was happening and we thought the algae was coming just from our own watershed….certainly the problems of our own, over-enlarged watershed exacerbate the situation, but there is no question the microcystis species of algae comes from the lake and that the lake has poisoned our estuary over the years so the bacteria/algae is latent in the fresher areas of our river now, at all times….
Anyway, as we have seen this round of releases, the ACOE and the state agencies decided on May 1st to release the toxic algae into the St Lucie River even after a call regarding the toxic algae from Senator Joe Negron, and inquiries from Congressman Patrick Murphy’s office. After great study, and determining the bloom was toxic, but not “too toxic,” the various state agencies determined the salinity in the St Lucie River would “break up the bloom,” a freshwater bloom known as microcystis that can only grow in the lake. So then the ACOE opened the gates.
For two weeks the fresh waters of Lake Okeechobee have flowed through S-308 and S-80 into the C-44 canal into the St Lucie River….
And as our estuary becomes fresh, losing salinity due to these freshwater releases, the microcystis species of algae can now grow and reproduce in the river. In 2013, the river was so fresh that even at the Crossroads of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, off of south Sewall’s Point, toxic microcystis blooms blossomed from shore to 40 feet off the peninsula– a peninsula that basically sits inside the mouth of the St Lucie Inlet!
We must remember as mad as we are, not to kill the messenger….
Our state and federal agencies are the “messenger,” as well as the “executioner,” in this scenario. The guiltily who created this poison water of Lake Okeechobee, and how they are protected is a story for another blog, and one we all actually know quite well.
I must drive to Ft Pierce this morning so I do not have very much time to write– this post will be short and undeveloped, but you’ll get the idea.
Yesterday, I received information from a very reliable person, and it is making me wonder…
“The information” is the image above showing an algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee on 4-14-15. I don’t know why it says “unvalidated data,” but if you look at it closely it shows an algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee. I was told this image and an algae report can be found on the “Lake Okeechobee Operations” page of the South Florida Water Management District.
If this is true, and I believe it is, why didn’t the public or the local governments hear about this bloom before 4-24-15? Also, who is really in charge of this information? Yes, I was told it can be found on the South Florida Water Management’s web site, but then it is the Army Corp of Engineers, a federal agency, that is responsible for opening the S-308 structure at Lake Okeechobee to release water when “necessary” into the C-44/St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon….(The SFWMD is a state agency….ACOE is federal…..)
Are the state and federal agencies talking? Why isn’t the ACOE “in charge of the water” if they dump it? I don’t get it….
The bottom line is the information is “out there.” It was known to both the state and federal agencies that an algae bloom was in Lake Okeechobee before Kenny Hinkle and Mike Connor’s video spurred outrage along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and the ACOE was contacted by citizens and Senator Joe Negron and made the decision not to open S-308 this past Friday. This has come up in more places than one.
I am happy “they” didn’t open the gate, but I am confused why we didn’t hear about the very large algae bloom earlier.
I don’t get it. Am I naive? Am I becoming a crazy conspiracy theorist? Is this information purposefully not being shared, and if so who is not sharing it?
Is the government above our heads? If so we must change this. We must become in charge of this information for ourselves as it is public’s information paid for by our tax dollars.
I think we must push for a web cam at the gates of the lake that we, the public, can easily access and EASY access to the website that has live maps of algae blooms. As I have stated, I believe this information is here now, but how do we access it?
The information for blooms knows as HABs, or Harmful Algae Blooms, must be EASILY available to all citizens. I believe that the Florida Wildlife Commission, FWC, also had a very developed program and WEBSITE AREA on algae blooms because in the past as I even wrote about it in a previous blog. I seems like their committee kind of died off for some reason….
HABs are a problem all over the world, and they can be spotted with satellite imagery. They should be spotted for all of us. Unfortunately, this is the “now” and this is the future.
In the age of information, you’d think if would be “easier than this,” but is not. We must control our destiny, if we are to protect our lives and our property. The government is not doing this as it should be. They may not even really know this as they have been not doing it for so long….Very, very, sad.
In first grade, I attended Parker Elementary School in Stuart. In 1970 it was called “Parker Annex.” I remember those days well and can still recall many of the names of the kids in my class; my teacher’s name was Mrs Jerdeman. Tomorrow, I will be returning to the school, 45 years later, as a guest speaker on the subject of “River Kidz and the protection of sharks”—a subject chosen at the requests of students in Mrs Maya Gebus-Mockabee’s first grade class.
Am I a shark expert? No. But I can give a good lesson as a former teacher and someone interested in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon as well as our Atlantic near shore reef habitat that is connected to our rivers. I have been a guest in many schools, mostly elementary. It’s a riot. A blast. I taught middle and high school, but elementary kids seem smartest of all. So creative! So enthusiastic! So wanting to help! Visiting these young students gives me hope for our rivers and “puts gas in my tank.”
Interestingly, if one takes a look at the River Kidz workbooks, both first and second edition, one will see that it is the bull shark who recites the River Kidz mission statement: “Our mission is to speak out, get involved, and raise awareness because we believe kids should have a voice in the future of our rivers.”
Hey, did you know that the Indian River Lagoon is considered the second most important bull shark nursery in North America? Mother bull sharks come here (mostly central IRL) to have their live young and these juveniles may stay here for up to nine or ten years? Did you know that bull sharks swim way up into estuaries, can endure fresh water, and have even been reported to live in Lake Okeechobee?!
Cool! Yikes! Wow!
The River Kidz’ mission of course applies to ocean reefs as these waters and the creatures of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon are all connected!
We all know they are often needlessly exterminated for “fun,””sport” or wasteful “shark-fin soup.”
Kids with their creativity and sensitivity are able “see” that the fear and hatred directed towards sharks is sometimes extreme. And all kids know, hating just to hate, is not good.
Yes, we humans need to be careful and stay out of their way….but we need not hate sharks; it is better to respect them for the role they play in our oceans keeping disease at bay and populations in check.
3. Bull- 10 feet (The IRL is a bull shark nursery)
4. Hammer Head- 20 feet
5. Nurse- 14 feet
6. Bonnet 5 feet
7 Lemon-10 feet
8. Spinner-10 feet
9 Sand bar-10 feet
10. Great White- 21-26 feet (sometimes off our shores as they migrate through)
Legions of sharks migrate through our waters, and in winter especially, can be seen by plane sometimes by the hundreds. My husband Ed and I have seen this. And although I like and respect sharks, I have had visions of the plane crashing into the water and having a really bad day!
Yesterday, Terry Gibson, of the Pew Charitable Trust, and I spoke. What I got out of that conversation was that sharks are “really not protected;” this has to do with the politics and structure of federal and state agencies, and a “conflict of interest.” (Kind of like the Department of Agriculture oversees the Department of Environmental Protection for the state of Florida—now that’s something to be afraid of! )
Personally, I have seen boats right at our St Lucie Inlet, over the nearshore reefs, catching sharks and leaving them on deck longer than they could possibly survive– holding them up hooked to take pictures and then throwing them back hours later to sink to the bottom. I witnessed this from afar when I was a volunteer on Nancy Beaver’s Sunshine Wildlife boat from 2011-2012.
There is a long history of shark fishing in our area and acting like “sharks will last forever.” It is well documented that Port Salerno was an active and “productive” shark fishery in the Martin County’s early days—–until the resource was exhausted of course.
We must admit, that over recent generations, many of us have not been good stewards to our waters, or to sharks. Many of us we were not educated to be….I remember the movie JAWS in eighth grade. Do you? I never thought that sharks could become as they are today, a threatened species.
Hopefully the upcoming generations will be better than we were, than our parents and grandparents were. Considering these Parker students asked to study and protect sharks all on their own, a brighter future just may be coming.
The Department of Environmental Protection, the South Florida Water Management District, Departments of Health,—less so, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission….Afraid to speak?
Yes, and to a degree, it has probably always “been this way,” but right now, based on what I’m learning, I believe, it’s the worst it’s ever been.
My feeling now is that many wonderful employees who work for our Florida state agencies, —many historically the “best in the world,” have “gone mum” feeling that in order to survive, or to fit in, to keep their jobs, or positions, they have to remain “quiet and happy.”
The recent climate change debacle in the national and state media is just the tip of the iceberg.
All things start with leadership–with a tone that is set from “above–” This is true whether it be a family or a state agency. In Florida all state agencies are directly answering to the governor, Governor Rick Scott.
I met Rick Scott face to face in 2014. I have to say I liked him. I liked him for coming to Stuart to see our toxic, polluted St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. I liked him for sitting on the couch with me at Kevin Power’s house, of the SFWMD Governing Board. I liked that he used a Sharpie blue pen to take notes on a yellow legal pad, and I have taken to signing many documents with a Sharpie as well. (It makes your name stand out…) I do appreciate the great effort that has been made to connect with local leaders and the monies towards area canal runoff for the C-44 STA/Reservoir… but I would be remiss if I did not say that “something is wrong.” Something is terribly wrong when people say they feel stifled, when people feel hand-cuffed, when people feel threatened.
This is as un-American as communism or socialism.
The red on our flag stands for the blood that was shed to extract tyranny. There must be a moral code to allow people to speak, to allow the agencies to advise. It is well-known that the golden area of conservation in the state of Florida occurred under both democrats and republicans in the 1970s and 80s when governors allowed talented, educated scientists and specialists to ADVISE and speak. Ofcouse there were “politics” but there was most definitely more freedom than today.
For example, two weeks ago, after 80 people signed up to speak on behalf of getting on the agenda the possibility to buy US option land south of Lake Okeechobee, the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District did not say one word. Not the scientists. Not the board. Not leadership.
Another state agency, the Department of Environmental Protection, you would think would be documenting the destruction of our St Lucie River by Lake Okeechobee, was so “gutted” in 2010, that basically their reef protection programs are now funded and run by a federal agency, NOAA. It’s hard for DEP to say a word I am learning because basically no one is around….and yeah, isn’t it the SFWMD that’s been given the job to document the dying seagrasses anyway? No report lately? I wonder why….
Supposedly, if were not for NOAA, the state of Florida probably would not have a Department of Environmental Protection. —-YES. The 2008 Financial Crisis ….I get it. I lived it as a small town commissioner in south Florida. It was scary, but we did not fall over the edge of the cliff, almost, but we didn’t. Money is slowly coming back into the system. But many agency scientists and leaders are still “scared” as under the Scott administration they watched their friends get fired and years of work and institutionalized knowledge get wiped off the map like toy soldiers swiped off a dining-room table. Could it happen again? Absolutely. A precedent was set….OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!
It is time for the governor’s office and those of traditional power and influence, who are running the show behind the curtain, the agriculture community and some water utilities, to look at our flag, and to remember that we are American, and that we are a state tied to the values of our forefathers, and that no government shall abridge the freedom of speech. That tyranny is repugnant….
Whether the chains are seen or unseen, they are chains…
It is also time for state employees to recall that in 1992 Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, (PEER), was formed. PEER is a non-profit service organization with the goal to protect local, state, and federal government employees “committed to upholding the public trust through responsible management of the nation’s environmental and natural resources.”
PEER objectives include:
-Organizing a support base of employees from public sector resource management agencies, retired public employees, and private citizens.
-Monitoring local, state, and national resource-management agencies in an effort to defend the environment for the public interest.
-Informing the federal and state administrations, politicians, media, and the public about crucial environmental issues.
-Defending public sector “whistle-blowers,” and striving to strengthen their legal rights in regards to environmental issues.
-Providing free legal assistance to “whistle-blowers” and others when necessary.
Usually, my husband, Ed, does not like it when I ask him to “do things”…like take out the trash or blow leaves off the driveway. But he always likes it if I ask him to go up in the plane. He did so yesterday, and was able to visually document the polluted discharges pouring into our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Yes, once again.
The Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE), and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) agreed to have the Army Corp start releases this year on January 16, 2015 at 200 cubic feet per second (cfs) through S-308 into the C-44 canal which is attached to the South Fork of the St Lucie River, and then in turn is connected to the Indian River Lagoon “my town,” Sewall’s Point.
Exhausting isn’t it?
The ACOE is now discharging at a rate of “950 cfs.” This rate goes up and down. It is going up because Lake Okeechobee is not going down…
Today I will share Ed’s photos and show how to “see” how much the ACOE is releasing at S-308. (Structure 308) which is located at Port Mayaca, in Indiantown, Martin County.
Ofcouse, there are discharges from area canals C-44, C-23, C-24 and C-25 as well, but today for simplicity’s sake, I will focus on the lake discharges today, which in my opinion, are the worst of all anyway—because they are not at all “ours.”
You can search “Jacksonville, ACOE” or just go to this link: (http://w3.saj.usace.army.mil/h2o/reports.htm). You can then very quickly check two things: Lake Okeechobee’s level and how much the ACOE is dumping at S-308 from the lake.
To do so, after accessing the site, go to “Current Lake Okeechobee Water Level” at the top left: Always one day behind or so, the latest date reported is 3-7-15– Lake O is at 14.71 feet. Then go back to the main page to the last link: “Port Mayaca Lock, S-308 Spillway.” View by date; the last date shows 873 cubic feet per second (cfs) being discharged.
Here are some more photos Ed took yesterday, 3-8-15, of the SLR/IRL.
When Ed got home, he said I was lucky I did not go up with him as it was windy which means bumpy…He also said the plume looked different from what we have seen before. It looked “chalky” as is seen in these two photographs below and extended about two miles off shore and further south of the St Lucie Inlet.
I am no scientist, but I would imagine this is silt/suspended solids in the water as everything is “stirred up” from the wind. Suspended solids falling on and smothering our reefs….
In closing, I must thank my husband for the photos, and I must point something out.
This area around Sewall’s Point and Sailfish Point, this “confluence” of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, in the not too distant past, has been documented as the most bio-diverse estuary in North America (Dr. R. Grant Gilmore, senior scientist with Estuarine, Coastal and Ocean Science, Inc., (ECOS)(http://www.floridaoceanscouncil.org/members/bios/gilmore.htm).)
The map below allows us to see where these precious seagrass beds are/were located. The map above shows where our “protected” near shore reefs are located just outside the St Lucie Inlet where the discharges go out to sea. These reefs are the northern most “tropical reefs” on the east coast of Florida…
I think it is a truly a sin that the ACOE and SFWMD year after year discharge onto these productive sea grass beds and near shore reef habitats that are the breeding grounds for thousands of fish and sea creatures. Its loss is felt all the way up the food chain, including “us.”
Where is the Department of Environmental Protection? Where is the Florida Wildlife Commission? Where is NOAA?
Not to mention, last year a designation of “Critical Wildlife Area,” —the first in 20 years for Florida—for 30 plus species of nesting and resting protected birds, was established on “Bird Island,” located just 400 feet off south Sewall’s Point….”Now” is right before nesting season’s height. Where will the birds find food when the seagrass beds are covered in silt and the water is so dark they can’t really see? Chances are these releases will continue.
Don’t our state agencies have a duty to protect? Don’t they have a voice or has it been muffled? Not a word? Not a peep. Where is our governor? Isn’t this money? Isn’t the productivity our of waterways linked to our businesses? Our real estate values? Where is our local delegation? Have we all become numb to this destruction? Beaten down and manipulated so long we that have no reaction?
It breaks my heart.
Our state and federal government entities responsible for “protection” especially should hang their heads in shame.
If nothing else “speak out” about how bad it is. Recognize the loss. Address the “constraints,” killing this ecosystem and local economy. Take leadership!
Be true to our heritage. We are the United States of America. Be brave. Speak out!
Last Sunday, I had wanted to go to church, but there was a different lesson in store for me that day…
At 8:01, Steve Burton, the head of FAU’s Harbor Branch Marine Mammal Rescue Team, sent out a call to its trained volunteers: “A kogia (pygmy sperm whale) had beached itself at Stuart Beach, less than five minutes from where I live in Sewall’s Point. I texted that I would be there, and the morning took on that surreal experience that goes along with meeting on land, our deep water friends from the sea.
“Ed, let’s go!” I called to my husband down the stairwell. We put on warm clothes, grabbed every bucket in the house, and in silence, drove the jeep over the bridge on the other side of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
In 2012, a call like the one this morning came in. Not one, but twenty-two pilot whales had beached themselves along Avalon Beach in north Ft Pierce. Like a war scene, their bodies flailing in the breaking waves, Harbor Branch, NOAA, St Lucie County Fire Rescue and police, the Florida Wildlife Commission, and concerned members of the public, did all they could to save these protected marine mammals. Five calves were saved; the rest did not make it off the beach being humanly euthanized, moved, and studied for disease giving clues to their stranding.
Apparently these creatures have such strong social bonds, they will follow their sick family leader to shore, even to their deaths. A bond that serves them in nature most of the time…..
The whale this day was a pygmy sperm whale, not a pilot whale, but both are deep divers and rare to see.
Within minutes Ed and I arrived: it was very windy, and the surf was kicked up. Florida Wildlife Commission officers, and Martin County fire rescue and lifeguards were at the scene waiting for Harbor Branch, NOAA and a veterinarian to arrive. (People come as far as Vero and Boca to assist in such rescues.)
On the beach, I nodded at the officers—–they saw my Harbor Branch shirt.
I immediately filled a bucket with ocean water and slowly poured it over the whale to keep its skin moist in the hot sun. The whale was about 10 or 12 feet long; female: a thousand or so pounds; with a pink belly, and grey-black “smooth as plastic” skin; her head was blunt and beautifully shaped—I remembered how I’d read that the US Government studied deep-sea whales to derive the shapes of World War II submarines….Her blow-hole was off centered on the top of her head, an adapted nostril; her eyes were low on her body and small; barely open…Originally, she was on her side, breathing heavily. These whales can dive more than 1000 feet.
I leaned down, slowly…
Looking in the eye of a whale is something that is a lesson in and of itself. They are intelligent, and look back at you, like a dog, or a person. They know you are there. I sensed no fear in this whale, only total exhaustion.
She had scrapes and abrasions all over her body from coming in the harsh surf. Usually these whales are seen alone or in groups of five or six in the deep ocean. Scientists don’t know for certain, but it is believed they dive over a thousand feet to catch squid and they even sequester the ink in their own bodies using it too as a way to escape and confuse predators…sometimes they just float like logs in the ocean, and as a boat approaches, they submerge. A lot is not known about them.
Over the next few minutes, Ed and I met some of the others already there. The press arrived. Throngs of people gathered.
The couple that had found the whale at 7AM, while walking the beach, the Sopkos, were visiting from Cleveland. He, a steelworker; she a caretaker. They were so interested and wanted to do all they could to help. Making a 911 call to save a whale was not what they had expected that morning…They stayed the entire time, helping in any way they could.
Once all of the authorities and the veterinarian had arrived, it was decided to take the whale into the Harbor Branch ambulance, but she was too uncomfortable, and would not be carried, so the work up was done right there on the beach. It took hours. The veterinarian was excellent– Dr Kilpatrick, from Vero. His compassion showed as he determined the whales’ vital signs. She was not well and her breathing had become stalled and labored. The vet explained that heart problems are commonly seen in these whales. This is being studied…
He also explained that, pygmy sperm whales do not have a good record of survival once beached. In a majority of instances when they have been put back out to sea, they beach again, and again, and again, sometimes with sharks waiting in the waves.
Their bodies, usually “weightless” in sea water, feel the full force of gravity once on land. Their internal organs are under tremendous pressure. The animals are literally collapsing under their own weight.
Another hour passed……..
During the scene, Chase Franco, 14, was next to me, a student at Jensen Beach High School. Chase is affiliated with the fire rescue team. They allowed him to take part.
Over time, all had been done that could be done for the ailing whale. The call was made to euthanize her to put her out of her agony.
On my knees, there next to Chase, whom I know from him being a bag boy at Publix… The tension was thick. Having been through this before in Ft Pierce that awful day, I braced myself.
Others took the position to hold the whale; long time marine mammal volunteer, Jim Moir, held her tail; he encouraged us to softly speak to the whale and warned us they sometimes fight.
I looked at Chase. Although he is an avid fisherman, this was different. To see him now faced with the whale’s impeding death was unsettling. We held tight.
“Help me.” I said, to myself….”Help me find something to say to this young person….”
Chase looked at me, his big blue eyes questioning…
I started speaking….
“Chase, as you know the whale is going to be euthanized. It is sick. This is always difficult. This is what I try to do and maybe you can do? Concentrate, give the whale part of your energy, and know you are receiving some of hers…think about all of those wonderful years under the sea, blue light, and friends… Happiness, hunting, and survival. She had a good life; now it’s time to let go….but she will be with you, always….”
Chase closed his eyes. He concentrated….
No one spoke….
The whale had not taken a breath for minutes; her eyes were closed in peaceful repose; she did not fight.
Chase finally looked at me, glassy blue eyes reflecting blue ocean and blue sky…He understood.
We carried the whale to the Harbor Branch ambulance. Some people fought back tears. It was another whale of a lesson…a lesson that only our friends from the sea can give…
When I was a kid in the 1960s and 70s growing up in Stuart, urban legend was that a large, male panther lived on Jupiter Island. Both local fisherman and doctors swore they had seen this panther swimming across the St Lucie Inlet to Seminole Shores, today’s Sailfish Point.
During my childhood, these stories resonated and inflamed my imagination, but I, myself, never saw a panther…
Now that I am older, I am still fascinated with these captivating creatures eking out a life as an endangered species in a much changed Florida. Recently, I came upon information that helps support my childhood beliefs that until fairly recently, they lived right here in Stuart as I usually associate them with Florida’s west coast.
Let’s take a look…
As seen above, before Florida was “developed,” and the animal was over-hunted; its range included the entire state and far beyond. Today, as seen in the map below, their range has been greatly reduced and no longer includes the Treasure Coast. Sightings and unfortunate “road kills” are usually in the -south-western part of the state.
When I started asking my historian mother, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, if there were any accounts of panthers here, she shared a transcript by Rush Hughes of Mrs Ethel Porter taped in 1960. At this point, Mrs Porter was of very advanced age. She lived right here in Stuart in what we know as todays “Owl House,” as a pioneer beginning in the late 1800s until her death. Her account of seeing a panther at her homestead along the shore of the St Lucie River is quite entertaining, here is an excerpt:
Did you ever have any trouble with the Indians?
Oh no. No.
Did you ever have any experience with the wild animals?
Well yes. I had company from North Carolina and we heard something coming up the path, where the bank is now. It was crying like a child. And I said, “That cannot be a child, because there is no child anywhere around. It couldn’t be lost because there is no family near enough.” When it got almost opposite the house – it was in the days of lamps – I took a lamp and I went out on the porch and took a lamp and held it above my head and out of a clump of bushes came two great big eyes of fire and I screamed and when I did, I could hear it jumping. Then my husband came in and I told him about it and he said, “You know you have such fear down here that your imagination goes ahead of you.” But next morning we went down on the beach – we used to have beach before the canal – and there was a footprint of a panther that a number two tomato can could not cover.
My goodness – that was a big one!
Yes, but I didn’t mind that like I did the snakes…
In my option, a woman’s knowledge of a #2 tomato can’s size in the late 1800s is about as solid as documentation gets!
Another sure-fire documentation is a photograph taken along the Indian River Lagoon area in around the 1870’s by Jupiter Lighthouse keeper, James A . Armour and/or Melvin Spencer. This photograph is widely distributed and is now in the archives of the Historical Society of Palm Beach. The photograph shows a dead, 106 pound, 6 foot 8 inches panther, a sad trophy but reflective of the values of the era.
Today, thankfully, we protect these graceful and secretive creatures and appreciate their struggle to survive…
In closing, before you go to sleep at night, never think that the panthers only belong to Florida’s west coast; they belong here as well. After all, the St Lucie Indian River Lagoon, is really a “jungle….” 🙂
Does the above photo make your stomach turn? What is it?
It is a HAB or Harmful Algae Bloom, taken four days ago, right here in Martin County.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “over the past century, alterations of land use and acceleration in the rate of cultural eutrophication have led to widespread increases in harmful algal blooms in Florida, including toxin-producing species.”
First, what is “eutrophication” and why is it “cultural”?
Eutrophication is is when a body of water becomes enriched in dissolved nutrients (such as synthetic phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizer) that stimulate the growth of aquatic plant life usually resulting in the depletion of dissolved oxygen and a “bloom.” These algae blooms can be toxic.
“Cultural means “created by humans.”
So what are we doing about this especially since “we” caused it?
In my opinion, as usual, our state governors and legislatures did not pay significant attention to these studies, and failed to implement policies that would help overcome this crisis issue. How many of them even read the report?
Case in point, recently, it was the local governments and local residents of the towns, cities and counties along the west and east coasts of Florida who advocated and achieved strong fertilizer ordinances not allowing fertilizer use during the rainy season while the state continues to fight and support less restrictive rules.
1. Time-Series Sampling in Pinellas and Manatee Counties) Researchers conduct detailed sampling to better understand when, where and under what conditions harmful algal blooms form.
2. Tampa Bay Monitoring ProgramResearchers monitor 10 sites in Old Tampa Bay for the presence of, or conditions favorable to, harmful algal blooms.
3. Red Tide Offshore Monitoring Program
Encouraging people to learn about the program and learn how to become volunteers, collecting water samples around the state to help scientists monitor the Florida red tide.
4. Monitoring Toxic Algae Species and Shellfish in the Indian River Lagoon (2002-present)
Periodic testing of water samples and clams provides an early warning of bloom occurrences and shellfish toxicity and minimizes the risk of human exposure to saxitoxins.
Those are great present HAB programs, so why don’t we hear more about them and why don’t they include Lake Okeechobee, obviously the toxic algae is there as well…
Here at home, when the gates of S-308 open from Lake Okeechobee to the C-44 canal that is connected to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, the algae in the photo above goes directly into the our river system.
It is 2014. The state has been studying this problem since 1997. They do not have all the answers but we do know by now that HABs are fed by cultural eutrophication due to clearing of land that can no longer clean water on its way to estuaries, rivers and lakes; building of towns and cities that create concrete and asphalt barriers to water reabsorption; fertilizer and other runoff; oil/chemicals from thousands of miles of highway and roads; septic effluent; canals and redirection of water such as Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee; agriculture’s heavy destruction of native lands and the fertilizer and chemical runoff associated with their business, unregulated golf courses fertilizer run off and re-use of high nutrient water resources….it’s endless.
It is said that “ignorance is bliss,” well the state of Florida doesn’t have that luxury anymore.
Dr Widder is a world-renowned bioluminescence expert; she has even worked with the US Navy in the “design” of ships that would not cause bioluminescent disruption in the oceans, and thus give away their location to enemy ships.
This was my question to Dr Widder:
Dear Edie, My parents rented kayaks to go see the bioluminescence in the IRL. It got me thinking. Is the light caused by the same creatures that cause toxic algae blooms in the lagoon? Is the bioluminescence a bad sign for the health of the lagoon? Thank you. Hope all is well.
Hi Jacqui – It’s kind of a good news bad news story. The dinoflagellate producing the light show, Pyrodinium bahamense, happens to be one that produces saxitoxin. Interestingly it’s the same dino that’s responsible for the bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico and in those bays it doesn’t produce the saxitoxin. Here it does. It’s not known why although I have a theory and it has nothing to do with pollution. (It’s a long story having to do with how their bioluminescence functions to protect them from predators under different concentrations.)
Dino blooms are usually preceded by rain events that flush nutrients into the water and then a series of calm sunny days that promote photosynthesis. Blooms like the one we’re seeing now used to be routine according to some of the older fishermen I’ve talked to. They called it fire in the water. The fact is the water can’t be too polluted or the dinoflagellates won’t grow. I’ll send you an article with some pictures I took.
Here is a photo Dr Widder took of bioluminescence in the lagoon I copied and a link to a remarkable video.
In conclusion, I looked up saxitoxin and learned it is a “paralytic shellfish toxin” that is found is some shellfish and especially puffer fish. It has been found in few other places in the US as well as in the Indian River Lagoon. I guess the little dinoflagellates, the same ones that make the pretty bioluminescence light, not always, but sometimes, will produce this toxin which gets spread to some shellfish and some fish. If such a shellfish or fish is ingested, it will make a human very sick. Around 2002, 28 people got so sick here, in the Merritt Island area, and in a few other areas of the county, that now there is a permanent government ban on harvesting/eating IRL puffer fish in the entire IRL.
Since I am nowhere close to a scientist, I will just share some links below and refrain from speculating what is “good or bad. ” Nonetheless, I think I can safely say that sometimes beauty and danger walk hand in hand in this magical world of our Indian River Lagoon.
I have always liked alligators. I have been around them as long as I can remember in one way or another. When I was a kid and we would go water skiing near North River Shores close to the North Fork of the St Lucie River, we would see small ones leisurely resting in storm pipes coming out of people’s seawalls; in my household everyone was always cheering for them as my grandfather Henderson, my parents, and later myself and brother also graduated from University of Florida. Jenny my sister is a traitor and went to Emory. 🙂
My parents have an awesome collection of alligator postcards that I will share today, and I figured now is a good time to write about gators as their babies should be hatching soon in nests along the fresh and some brackish areas of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. The females lay their eggs in early June and the little ones hatch out about 65 days later.
“Crocodilla” fossil records show alligators have been on the earth for more than 200 million years. That’s pretty amazing in and of itself. But they have had many hardships.
According to Sandra Thurlow’s history writings on our Treasure Coast, when many of the first pioneers came to Florida and took river tours, they often just shot as many as they could “for fun.” This went for egrets and herons too. Sorry. But what a bunch of idiots. I know, I must be open minded and look at things “historically” within the context of the times….kind of like how people drained the whole state with out thinking…
As far as alligators, more recently, hunting, poaching, the fashion industry, pollution, and loss of habitat pushed the Florida alligator to the brink of extinction by the 1950s. In 1967 the US government listed alligators as an endangered species and gave them protection. In one of the great comebacks of the “endangered,” alligators were increasing in numbers by the 1980s. They still have protections today, but are off the “endangered” list.
Here are some of the antique postcards from my parents’ collection.
Recently, a friend called me up and asked if there was someone who could move a small alligator on her property in Palm City. I called trappers recommended to me, and each of them said by law, if the alligator was reported as a “nuisance” and was over four feet, it would be removed and killed, not relocated.
I found this depressing but this is how the state manages the “nuisance gators.” Apparently they may be used for their leather and meat keeping the population in check. Hmmm? The trapper also said, “If you don’t want it killed, just leave it alone, chances are it will move in time to another area.” This makes sense to me.
According to a Stuart News article by Ed Killer in 2010, in the state of Florida, the Florida Wildlife Commission from 1948 to 2009 documented that there were a total of 512 allligator bites; unprovoked: 330; provoked, 182; fatalities, 22. There have been two deaths in our Martin/St Lucie area. In 1978 a 14 year old boy was killed while swimming across Hidden River Canal off Bessey Creek and in 1984 an 11 year old boy was killed while swimming in a canal in St Lucie County. The alligators were 11-12 feet long.
This is terrible and heartbreaking. Like sharks, alligators share our environment are dangerous when large; we must be careful in their presence.
To end on a more positive note, in my reading I learned alligators have been noted using tools, like humans, a trait that belongs only to a few “intelligent” species. Yes. Alligators have been documented purposefully diving under the water putting sticks on their heads so water birds will land on them when looking for sticks to build their nests. Ingenious!
Maybe if we destroy the Indian River Lagoon and St Lucie River completely, along with the rest of the planet, they will return walking on two legs? Perhaps they would manage the waters of South Florida a lot better than humans…
Coyotes are here along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Coyotes were historically associated with the American West, but now they are now in most states and have been reported in 66 of 67 Florida counties, other than Monroe. There is no one to thank for this but humans. With the near eradication of the the American wolf and family of big cats related to the mountain lion since the 1800s, coyotes have no natural predators, other than man, and thus the coyote has flourished.
Most recently, along the Treasure Coast you many have read about Indian River County using cameras to see if coyotes are raiding sea turtle nests, or the controversial trapping and killing of the coyotes at Witham Field in Stuart interfering with plane landings, or the many residents in Palm City or western St Lucie County, who say they hear coyotes howling at night. Coyotes have also, within the past six months, been reported in the Town of Sewall’s Point, in the vicinity of South River Road on the south end, and Castle Hill in the north.
As a long time resident of Sewall’s Point, I love the wildlife and encourage all to live in harmony with these animals. They are God’s creatures and they keep the rat population down! I have seen both grey and red foxes, as well as many bobcats. I have friends who swear in Sewall’s Point’s earlier days, they witnessed panthers.
But I have yet to see a coyote. Unlike native bobcats who are solitary animals, unless mating or raising young, coyotes usually hunt in pairs and belong to a pack of about six members.
Coyotes are in the dog family and are related to wolves, foxes and domestic dogs. Coyotes and dogs can mate although this is unusual as coyotes have specific social ties and mate only once a year. When dogs and coyotes do mate, the hybrid offspring is called a “coydog.” Coydogs are well documented out west and are said to make poor pets, as more often than not, they are very high strung.
The photo below is a grey fox for comparison. Coyotes are taller and weigh more than foxes; in our area sometimes weighing up to 30 pounds, whereas a fox may be closer to 12.
Should we be scared? I don’t think so. We just need to be smart, coy and cautious, like the coyote.
Many Native American myths laud the craftiness of “coyote” and often in Native American mythology, he is so respected, he is portrayed as the “Creator.” He is respected for being “ubiquitous,” as he is so successful, “he appears to be everywhere at once,” or “seems to appear everywhere at the same time.” He is not to be outsmarted.
One thing for certain, now that coyote is here, chances are, he will not go away. We must learn to live with him by keeping our distance, not leaving pets out for long periods unattended, in the evening or early mornings, and by not feeding him. He is smart enough to feed himself.
It is said we all have a bit of fear in our inner most nature, as the collective memory recalls the earlier times of fires and wolves, but then humankind tamed the wolf and hence today, we have “man best friend,” our dogs.
Remember that the coyote is related to dogs if you see him, and if you look him in the eye ask for a sliver of his adaptability and success surviving on an ever changing planet and an ever changing Indian River Lagoon.
I added this photo from Dr Gary Goforth 8-13-15 that was taken this February in Foxwood off 96 A in Martin County.
I added this link on 8-13-15 written by my classmate Angeline Scotten whom I met last week at the UF Natural Resouces Leadership Institute. She is an expert on the subject of coyotes for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. This article was written for Hernando County but certainly applies to us as well. I found it very informative. (http://hernandosun.com/coyotes_in_hernando)
Every day, I look to nature for inspiration, hoping for a model of success to save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
One of the “greats” is the little snowy egret. All wading birds were almost hunted to the point of extinction during the feathered ladies hat craze of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and because the snowy egret was the most desired of all birds for its beautiful nuptial plumes, it, more than any other wading bird, was hunted.
There was great motivation to hunt birds as at the time, their feathers were worth more than gold.
It is well documented that the plume hunters shot birds by the thousands in rookeries through out Florida, especially the Everglades, during breeding season when the birds’ feathers were most beautiful. The birds were shot right off their nests with the baby birds left to die. Entire rookeries disappeared.
After witnessing such, many hunters reported feeling sick at the “sight of thousands of little hanging necks over the nests” and “repented,” refusing to go back after being part of such cold blooded carnage.
But times were tough and there were alway more men behind them to take their place. In the late 1890s the Ornithologists’ Union estimated that five million birds of all kinds were killed annually.
The story of what birds remain and have rebounded is yet another story of American inspiration though everyday people demanding more of their government.
In 1886, Forest and Stream editor, George Bird Grinnell, was “appalled by the negligent mass slaughter of birds.” Based on studies of painter John James Audubon from Ornithological Biography, he created an organization devoted to the protection of wild birds and their eggs. Within a year the the Audubon Society had over 39,000 members including very prominent figures of the day and eventually a US president. Their numbers and financial support grew and the organization evolved throughout many states. Letter writing campaigns ensured, many from churches, state laws were passed starting in New York, banning the sale of plumes, and by 1920 similar laws were passed in other states. In 1918 US Audubon lobbied for the Federal “Migratory Bird Treaty Act” and convinced the US government to support the National Wildlife Refuge system, the first being Sebastian, Florida’s “Pelican Island.” Today migrating and resident birds are protected, or at minimum, regulated, by hunting license in all communities.
So again, the stories are many of mankind’s propensity to kill the world around “him,” and then to pull back from the brink of total destruction by the intervention of a small group of people.
The story of the Indian River Lagoon will hopefully be a similar tale to tell. So when you are around town and see a little snowy egret, feel inspired!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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.
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…”
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.
Bird Island is one of the most productive breeding grounds for more than 15 species of birds and a rookery/visiting grounds to even more species. The island is owned by the state of Florida and managed by Martin County. It is located 400 feet from the Town of Sewall’s Point. (Most photos by Greg Braun, Sustainable Ecosystems International, story below.)
Just over three years ago, I was going through I guess a kind of mid-life crisis where I really was questioning what I was doing with my life. When I couldn’t seem to get it together, I decided to spend some time going back to “my roots,” to the things that made me happy as a kid. I called up family friend Nancy Beaver of Sunshine Wildlife Tours in Port Salerno, and asked her if I could volunteer on her boat a couple of times a week. She obliged, and slowly, I felt my passion for life return while being surrounded by the animals and birds in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. The highlight of every tour was “Bird Island,” located off my “very own” Sewall’s Point, as I was mayor of the town at the time.
I had seen the birds from far away, but to see the beautifully colored birds, especially their babies, through binoculars up close was incredible.
Bird Island, located in the Indian River Lagoon, just 400 feet off of the Sewall’s Point’s Archipelago is one of the most valuable nesting bird habitats along Florida’s east coast, really in all of Florida. Rarely are so many different kinds of birds in one location, breeding…
A wonder of nature, birds of all kinds fill the island, over 40 types visiting or roosting and at least 15 species of birds simultaneouly raising young. At any time of late fall through spring hundreds of birds sometimes over a thousand, some say more, fill the island.
Greg Braun, of Sustainable Ecosystems International, was hired by Martin County for avian monitoring September 2011 thorough August 2012 and he documented observing 240 pairs of birds of 15 species nesting including the Wood Stork; Brown Pelican; Double-crested Cormorant; Great Egret; Cattle Egret; Anhinga; Tri-colored Heron; Snowy Egret; Great Blue Heron; Litle Blue Heron; Black-crowned Night Heron; Great White Heron; Roseate Spoonbill; Black Vulture; Oystercatcher; and suspected White Ibis and a couple of invasive Egyptian Geese.
So why this island? There are plenty of others to choose from in the area. Maybe it is for protection? Maybe its the eastern sandbar that keeps boaters at bay and gives the chicks a place to practice swimming and flying and the older birds can just hang out? Maybe its the nearby western seagrasses with its rich production of fish.
Nobody really knows but obviously the birds like it. Originally Bird Island, more scientifically known as “MC-2” was created in the 1940s as a by-product of dredging the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, (Braun, Avian Monitoring). My mother, historian, Sandra Thurlow, says there are verbal accounts of birds nesting on the island since the 60s and 70s, but again nobody is really sure when it began…
Man’s involvement remains controversial with the removal of tall Australian Pines a few years back that the amazing Frigate Birds sat on, and then the building of a $600,000, 400 foot long rip-rap on the island’s northern side by Martin County to offset documented erosion. Now in the process is the Florida Wildlife Commission’s (FWC) possible creation of a CWA or Critical Wildlife Area so that trespassing onto or very near the island would be a crime.
Personally, I think the bird’s habitat should be very protected as the importance of the island is obvious and it is a rare thing. As far as the CRA status, the County is working through issues with local fishermen who use the area for bait catching, and other users of the area surrounding the island. I do hope some higher level of protection can be met.
Right now, signs surround the island in hopes of giving the birds the privacy they need to raise their chicks, but curious kayakers and others often go very close flushing the birds off their nest, with masses of crows waiting close by, putting the chicks at risk. Sun exposure can also kill the young chicks. People don’t mean to but they often do disturb the island.
Another common problem is fishing line. Nancy Beaver and the FWC when in the area often see birds entangled in monofilament caught in the mangroves. Many birds are taken to the Treasure Coast Wildlife Center and saved; but many more are euthanized due to emaciation.
Bird Island was definitely affected by last year’s putrid release water from Lake Okeechobee and the other canals as is visible in an aerial photograph included in this blog. During the releases, 85 percent of seagrasses died last summer according to Florida Oceanographic Society. The bird’s feeding was/is certainly affected by such loss.
In the end, I do believe everyone agrees that Bird Island is an amazing place. Let’s get along like the many birds do and protect it! And if you have not seen it, maybe put it on your list of things to do!