Tag Archives: harbor branch

600 acres of Seagrass is Dead in “One of the most Biodiverse Estuaries in North America,” SLR/IRL

I was on the Army Corp of Engineers Periodic Scientist Call this past Tuesday. These are excellent calls and one learns quickly the difficulties and the burdens of water management for our state and federal agencies in the state of Florida. I have participated in the calls as an elected official for the Town of Sewall’s Point since 2012.

This past Tuesday, something was said that struck me. Mark Perry, of Florida Oceanographic, reported something to the effect that over 600 acres of seagrasses inside the St Lucie Inlet are now “sand bottom.”  Six hundred acres….

I went home and asked my husband that night at dinner…”Ed could it really be six-hundred acres? The seagrasses dead?”

“Easy.” He replied. “Just think of when I lived at the house at 22 South Sewall’s Point road when we first got married in 2005, and we’d walk out with the kayaks and there was lush seagrass  all the way out ….well that’s gone–its gone all around the peninsula–you can see this from the air.”

Ed took some aerial photos the day after this conversation. Yesterday. I am including them today.

—-So it’s true, 600 acres of seagrasses are dead in one of the most bio-diverse estuaries in North America, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon or southern IRL —for many years, as many of us know, confidently cited as not “one of,” but rather, “the most diverse…”

The Army Corp has been releasing from Lake Okeechobee this year since January 29th, 2016. We are only in June and there is more to come. Yes there is…there is “more to come” from us. There has to be. Because we are losing or have lost —everything.

Please compare the 1977 photo and then the 2012 map to photos taken yesterday. Please  don’t give up the fight to bring back life to this estuary.

Aerial of seagrasses in 1977 in and around Sailfish and Sewall's Point.
Aerial of seagrasses in 1977 in and around Sailfish and Sewall’s Point displaying rich seagrass beds. FOS
map of seagrasses in area
Seagrass map of seagrasses in area from SFWMD/MC ca. 2012. JTL

 

Aerial photos taken by Ed Lippisch, 5-25-16. St Lucie Inlet area, the Crossroads and Sailfish Flats between and around Sailfish Point and Sewall's Point in the confluence of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.
All aerial photos taken by Ed Lippisch, 5-25-16. St Lucie Inlet area, the Crossroads and Sailfish Flats between and around Sailfish Point and Sewall’s Point in the confluence of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon near the St Lucie Inlet. This area has been inundated by release from Lake Okeechobee and area canals for many years most recently particularly Lake O during 2013 and 2016.

IMG_1587 IMG_1598 IMG_1591 IMG_1602 IMG_1597 IMG_1584 IMG_1583 IMG_1604 IMG_1589 IMG_1605 IMG_1595 IMG_1576 IMG_1578 IMG_1585 IMG_1586 IMG_1582 IMG_1588 IMG_1603 IMG_1601 IMG_1590

Harbor Branch IRL: https://www.fau.edu/hboi/meh/IRL.Fact.Sheet.pdf

IRL Smithsonian/IRL: http://www.sms.si.edu/irlspec/Maps.htm

“Life in Seagrasses” UF: https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/southflorida/habitats/seagrasses/life/

Former JTL blog on ACOE Periodic Scientist calls: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2014/03/06/the-acoes-periodic-scientists-call-and-the-indian-river-lagoon/

L’Chaim! To the Pilot Whales of the Indian River Lagoon Region!

Calf short finned pilot whale that stranded with pod of 22, September 2012.
Calf short finned pilot whale that stranded with pod of 22, September 1, 2012. (Photo JTL)
Juvenile pilot whale being cared for on Avalon Beach, Ft Pierce. (Photo JTL)
Juvenile pilot whale being put on a stretcher, Avalon Beach, Ft Pierce, Fl. (Photo JTL)
The public and multiple state agencies trying to save the beached pilot whales, September 1,2012.
The public and multiple state agencies trying to save the beached pilot whales, September 1,2012. (Photo JTL)

“L’chaim!”

I have been told, that this Yiddish expression, used usually during a toast, means “to life!” I can’t say that I really understand the full essence of the word, as I am not Jewish, but I like the saying very much, and find myself exclaiming  it all the time.

After all, life is good, isn’t it?

The story I am going to write about today, is one I have been wanting to write about for a very long time….it is the story of my struggle with the ethics of keeping marine mammals in captivity.

Off the bat, I must say I am “not for such”…and the movie “Blackfish” was horrifying, but due to one very personal experience I have had, for me, there are exceptions….

First, I must go back…

In 2008, my husband Ed and I had only been married three years. After talking to friends who had had a good time at Sea World, we decided to visit Discovery Cove in Orlando. We were the typical clueless “tourists” and we looked forward to “swimming with the dolphins.” At the time, I did struggle a bit with the idea of marine mammals in captivity, but it was years before I became so wrapped up in the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon movement all all that comes with it, and honestly, at the time, I did not give it enough thought. I was just happy that I finally had a husband….

Natasha "our" dolphin, 2008.
Natasha “our” dolphin, 2008.

Once at Discovery Cove, Ed and I dressed in wet suits, and along with about twelve others, including young children, were introduced to our dolphin; she was just beautiful;  her name was “Natasha.” She seemed happy and did what her trainers asked her to do.  She kissed each one of us, “talked” to us, and took us for a short “ride.” The time was short, but indeed, we all felt as though we had bonded with her…

Ed riding Natasaha, 2008.
Ed riding Natasaha, 2008.
Kissing Natasha, Discovery Cove, 2008.
Kissing Natasha, Discovery Cove, 2008.

About half way through the show, Natasha was told to jump simultaneously with another dolphin. She jumped high and her body arched over the pool. Then I heard the slam of two bodies hitting hard and knew something had gone very wrong…Natasha and another dolphin had collided!

Natasha died there in the water as the Discovery Cove crew scrambled to get children and adults out of the pool. There was no explanation. They were trying to keep things in order. We went home. I was numb, and felt a sense of guilt and of anger…..

The next day, I pulled my “elected official card,” calling Sea World to get information; I  got nothing. I was furious. I swore to myself that “never again” would I attend such a show, and “never again” would I support Sea World’s “Discovery Cove.”

Fast forward four years…

I had matured as an elected official and wife;  I had become very involved in the river  movement through the River Kidz of the Town of Sewall’s Point; and,  I had become a volunteer in the marine mammal department with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

Then came  September 1st, 2012.

On September 1st,  a call came in to all volunteers.  22 short finned pilot whales had stranded at Avalon Beach, in Ft Pierce, just across from the east side of the Indian River Lagoon.  It was a weekend. Ed and and I sped up there meeting throngs of people from the public that had gathered. The state agencies of NOAA, Florida Fish and Wildlife, and FAU/Harbor Branch all came,  but it was the public that was there first,and it was the public that shone that day— carrying bucket after bucket of water to cool the ailing whales’ skin, and covering them with towels to abate the hot, hot sun…

22 pilot whales stranded along Avalon Beach in September of 2002. (Photo JTL)
22 pilot whales stranded along Avalon Beach in September of 2002. (Photo JTL)

It was a scene I will never forget, as the huge mammals lost their lives to the elements in great writhing agony, with the public watching on in a dreadful sadness…many of the whales expired naturally while others had to euthanized —-these whales, once beached do not return to sea, beaching again, and again, and again, if they are returned….

The social bonds of pilot whales are one of the strongest in nature, and they stay together at all costs, even if it costs them their lives…strandings are thought to be caused by sickness  or disorientation,  but no one really knows. Families die together, never apart.

The most touching of all was that there were five calves that day. Four were juveniles and one was probably only a few days old. Their parents did not live and the whales had not the skills to be released…

Smallest of the calves, said to be only a few days old. (Phot JTL.)
Smallest of the calves, said to be only a few days old. (Phot JTL.)
The 5 pilot whale in a pool with sunscreen to protect their sensitive skin, 2008. (Photo JTL)
The 5 pilot whale in a pool with sunscreen to protect their sensitive skin, 2008. (Photo JTL)
4 of the 5. (Photo JTL.)
4 of the 5. (Photo JTL.)

After great thought, NOAA (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/made the decision to place the four calfs in the Harbor Branch ambulance and take them to the institution’s facility. The small whales were carefully nursed and cared for day and night, one died but the rest made it. They were later officially deemed “unreleasable,” by NOAA and then transported to Sea World— the only facility fitted to care for the animals.

Raw footage on You Tube from Sept 1, 2012: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgemjXCoTbQ)

Brevard Times, Footage of whales being cared for and stranding: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta9dni_O3eA)

 

I have to admit I was happy for them when the took them away to Sea World. I was happy that they didn’t die. I was happy that they had each other no matter how horrible the past few days had been. I was happy that human beings have a heart and that I had witnessed it on the beach that day with strangers that suddenly were working together for a common cause…..

I did think about Natasha that died at Discovery Cove—but…..

 

Fast forward to 2015….

I receive a phone call. “The pilot whales are performing at Sea World. ” I am sent pictures.  Their names are the same are as they were when named by the public that day…. I am happy for them. I am proud of them. I am a hypocrite. I can’t help myself. I choose life—I do.  With all its complications, with all its imperfections….

“L’chaim!”

 

Piper the pilot whale.
Piper the pilot whale.
Ace the pilot whale.
Ace the pilot whale.
Ave the pilot whale.
Ave the pilot whale.

Sea World’s recent  video featuring the rescued pilot whales. (http://m.clickorlando.com/entertainment/seaworld/sea-world-50-years-of-caring/30925646) (7:52)

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*There are 4 whales; I am missing one photo.

NOAA/Marine Mammals: (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/)

Florida Fish and Wildlife/Marine Mammals: (http://www.fws.gov/habitatconservation/marine_mammals.html)

FAU/Harbor Branch/Marine Mammals: (http://www.fau.edu/hboi/marine_mammals/)

Orlando Sentinel/article on Sea World’s building of a marine mammal hospital in 2011: (http://www.dolphin-way.com/2011/07/seaworld-orlando-builds-hospital-for-wild-dolphins/#axzz3TVgOTPcy)
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I am posting this video 8-13-15. It is about the new show at Sea World called Dolphin Days that features relationship building shows with dolphins and pilot whales. I wonder if it is those mentioned in this blog?! (http://www.cbs8.com/story/29784600/dolphin-days-debuts-permanently-at-seaworld)

Mark Perry “Loves His Lagoon,” FAU/Harbor Branch Honors His Life and Work, SLR/IRL

Mark Perry with his father Clifton Perry (right) and another Gentleman, (left), (Year unmarked, Tides of Time, Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Florida Oceanographic Society, 1964-2014-puiblication, FOS.)
Mark Perry (middle) with his father, Clifton Perry, (right) and another Gentleman, (left). Clifton Perry was on the original board with James H. Rand, for FOS that Mark took over and has led to greatness. (Photo from “Tides of Time,” Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Florida Oceanographic Society, 1964-2014, publication, FOS.)
Brothers, Chris and Mark Perry sit on the bench along Hutchinson Island that is  in honor of their father, Clifton Perry. (Photo Sandra Thurlow, ca. 2000.)
Brothers, Chris and Mark Perry sit on the bench along Hutchinson Island that is in honor of their father, Clifton Perry. (Photo Sandra Thurlow, ca. 2000.)
1970 Martin County High School, funeral for the SLR/IRL. Mark was one of the students who participated in this Earth Day event. (Thurlow Archives)
1970 Martin County High School, funeral for the SLR/IRL. Mark was one of the students who participated in this iconic Earth Day event. This event had a huge impact on me as a kid…(Thurlow Archives.)
Budding Florida Oceanographic Society, ca. 1970s (Tides of Time, FOS.)
A budding Florida Oceanographic Society, ca. 1970s (Tides of Time, FOS.)
A young Mark Perry, ca. 1980s. (Tides of Time, FOS.)
A young Mark Perry, ca. 1970s/1980s. (Tides of Time, FOS.)
Photo by Thomas Winter of Mark Perry from Tom's blog about Lake O. releases 2012: (http://thomaswinter.com/blog/?p=432)
Mark Perry today, always teaching, always leading. Photo by photographer, Thomas Winter from Tom’s blog about Lake O. releases 2012: (http://thomaswinter.com/blog/?p=432)

One of the great things about living in the town you grew up in is watching people you know “grow-up,” and be recognized for their contributions to the Treasure Coast community.

One of these people, for me, is Mark Perry, who I have known since my earliest memories. Today, Mark is the Executive Director for Florida Oceanographic Society, (http://www.floridaocean.org), the epicenter in Martin County for education, protection, and advocacy for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. He has been leading the organization for 35 years…

Mark is older than me. I was born in 1964, and I believe Mark is about ten years my senior. When you’re a kid, that’s “a lot.” But it’s just enough to for constant admiration “from younger to older.” I have been admiring Mark Perry my entire life…

Mark, his brother Chris, and his parents Clifton and Mimi Perry attended St Mary’s Church as my family did and does today. I first met Mark at St Mary’s…I was probably 3 or 4 years old.

Me as a kid with my cat Misty, ca. 1968,. (Photo from Thurlow Family album.)
Me as a kid, with my cat, Misty, ca. 1968,. This is about how old I was when I met Mark Perry… 🙂 (Photo from Thurlow Family album.)

As I grew up, I remember my parents talking about the “older kids” in the youth group getting to go on a canoe trip down the Peace River, chaperones, sleeping bags, marshmallows, etc….It was the 1970s….I wanted so badly to be older and get to do the “cool” things the older kids did, but I was just a “kid,” and had to stay home…

Over the years, my parents kept me abreast of the Perry family and what was always most interesting to me was Mark’s journey with Florida Oceanographic, an organization his father helped found in 1964 that was originally located  in my childhood neighborhood of St Lucie Estates, along Kruegar Creek, in Stuart. I often visited there on my bicycle.

Early FOS, Kreugar Creek, ca. 1970s. (Tides of Time)
Early FOS, Kruegar Creek, ca. 1970s. (Tides of Time)

Over the years I grew up, moved away,  attended University of Florida, lived and worked in California, Germany, and Pensacola, and when I came home in 1997 to Stuart, to continue my teaching career, Florida Oceanographic had expanded from that neat place I saw on my bicycle to become the showcase institution it is today–-An organization that symbolizes the love and fight for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon-and the life of Mark Perry.

Mark Perry today, FOS.
Mark Perry today, photo, FOS, 2015.)

Tonight at FAU/Harbor Branchs’, “Love Your Lagoon” gala, (http://www.indianriverlagoon.org/Love-Your-Lagoon-Dinner-.htmlMark Perry will be honored for his St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon work. It is the foundations’ fourth annual, and those who preceded Mark in being honored are: 2012, Nathaniel Reed; 2013, Bud Adams; 2014, Alma Lee Loy.

Mark follows in big footsteps, and he has filled them, “completely.” Thank you Mark Perry for a lifetime of admiration, respect, and guidance in our love and fight to save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon!

LYL honoring Mark Perry
LYL 2015, honoring Mark Perry, invitation.
FAU Harbor Branch, Love Your Lagoon, 2015 honing Mark Perry.
FAU Harbor Branch, Love Your Lagoon, 2015 honing Mark Perry.(STD Cover)
Mark and hi swift Nancy at FOS 50th anniversary. (Photo from event.)
Mark and his wife, Nancy at FOS’ 50th anniversary. (Photo from event.)
LYL 20014. With Mark Perry and others. (Photo HBOI, Brian S.)
LYL 20014. With Mark Perry and others. (L to R to L: Comr. Doug Smith, Mark Perry, Joe Duke, JTL, Sen. Joe Negron, Sherri Plymale.) (Photo HBOIF, Brian S.)

(These are excellent resources):

View Mark Perry’s FOS Presentation Library power point’s on the SLR/IRL here: (http://www.floridaocean.org/p/177/presentation-library#.VNTBDFriuR8)

Palm Beach Post article: (http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/local/florida-oceanographic-society-head-marks-35-years-/nWnzC/)

 

 

HBOI’s Indian River Lagoon Symposium, Great Minds Collaborating to Save Our Greatest Resource, SLR/IRL

Central Indian River Lagoon (Photo Ed Lippisch, 2013)
Central Indian River Lagoon. The entire lagoon spans 156 miles from Volusia to Palm Beach county. (Photo Ed Lippisch, 2013)
HBOI IRL Symposium, 2015
HBOI IRL Symposium, 2015

Today, at the FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute is the “Indian River Lagoon Symposium.” (http://www.indianriverlagoon.org/Symposium.html) that is part of “Love Your Lagoon,” sponsored by the Harbor Branch Foundation (http://www.indianriverlagoon.org/Love-Your-Lagoon-Dinner-.html).

This symposium consist of one full day of presentations, and poster displays, and is then followed by a day including “public meeting and interaction” going forward. The symposium is a collaboration of many, but is led by beloved, Dr Dennis Hannisak of Harbor Branch, who specializes in seagrasses and has written many valuable publications on the subject. (http://www.fau.edu/hboi/meh/mb.php)

Dr Dennis Hannisak, HBOI.
Dr Dennis Hannisak, HBOI.

I would be remiss if I called the HBOI Symposium, the “4th annual,” as Harbor Branch (http://www.fau.edu/hboi/has a very long history of ocean, and thus estuarine research, here on the Treasure Coast, and has had a number of important symposiums over the past 40 plus years. (http://www.hboifoundation.org/p/28/history)

Nonetheless, the past four have been consistent and coincide with the recent crisis and super-bloom “crash” of the Indian River Lagoon’s northern and central seagrass health, and the 2013 “lost summer,” from devastating polluted releases from Lake Okeechobee on top of canals C-23, C-24 , C-44 and C-25 in the southern lagoon.

Since that time, there has been a public outcry for research, funding, and understanding. These symposiums provide an incredible opportunity for the scientific community, government agencies, youth, budding scientists, and the public to collaborate sharing  knowledge and questions regarding our treasured and ailing Indian River Lagoon. Harbor Branch, founded by Steward Johnson and Edwin Link in 1971 is the perfect place. 

 

Sunset , Indian River Lagoon. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow Lippisch, 2014.)
Sunset , Indian River Lagoon. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow Lippisch, 2014.)

The overview for the symposium states:

“The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) Symposium is the result of a multi-institutional, multi-agency effort to provide a forum for discussing IRL science and its application to management of the lagoon. The symposium is open to scientists, decision makers, students, education and outreach professionals, and the interested public. The intent is to help facilitate better communication among these groups so that the gaps between research and its application can be narrowed.”

Here is a summary over the past four years:

2102, “Looking Forward:” (http://www.indianriverlagoon.org/IRLS_2012_Program.pdf)

2013, “Health of the Lagoon:”(http://www.indianriverlagoon.org/IRLS_2013_Abstracts_of_Presentations.pdf)

2014, “Lagoon Bio-diverstiy:” (http://www.indianriverlagoon.org/IRLS_2014_Abstracts_of_Presentations_Final_copy.pdf)

2015, “Lessons, Challenges, Opportunities:” (http://www.indianriverlagoon.org/IRLS_2015_Abstracts_of_Presentations_Final.pdf)

SEE THIS LINK TO VIEW programs, and technical abstracts and more: (http://www.indianriverlagoon.org/Symposium.html)

Kudos to the Harbor Branch and to the steering committee and to the public.  Together, may we inspire each other, and our government to “Save our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon!”

•Jeff Beal – Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission
•Patti Gorman – South Florida Water Management District
•Dennis Hanisak – Florida Atlantic University
•Chuck Jacoby – IRL National Estuary Program/St. Johns River Water Management District
•Sea McKeon – Smithsonian Institution
•Mark Perry – Florida Oceanographic Society
•Chris Wilson – University of Florida
•John Windsor – Florida Institute of Technology

To attend the public form, this year entitled: “Engaging the Public: Citizen Science, “please see link: (http://www.indianriverlagoon.org/IRLS_2015_Forum_Program.pdf)(http://www.indianriverlagoon.org/Symposium.html)

A Whale of a Lesson, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

High school student and fire rescue volunteer, Chase Franco and I sponge sea water onto the whale to keep its skin moist in the hot sun. (Photo used with permission from Ginny Beagan, Scripps Newspapers, 2015.)
High school student and fire rescue volunteer, Chase Franco, Ed, and I sponge sea water onto the whale to keep its skin moist in the hot sun. (Photo used with permission from Ginny Beagan, Scripps Newspapers, 2015.)

Thank you to Scripps Newspaper, reporter and Facebook friend, Ginny Beagan, who contacted me encouraging me to write about this experience in my blog—giving me permission to use her photos.

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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.

Ginny Beagan
Ginny Beagan, 2015.

“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.

Ed and I had been through whale stranding before, most memorably, in 2012. (I have been a trained volunteer with Harbor Branch since 2011.) (http://www.fau.edu/hboi/marine_mammals/)

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…

Ginny Beagan, 2015.
Ginny Beagan, 2015.

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……..

Ginny Beagan, 2015.
Ginny Beagan, 2015.

 

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.

Ginny Beagan, 2015.
Ginny Beagan, 2015.

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….”

Ginny Beagan, 2015.
Ginny Beagan, 2015.

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…

Whale is taken to ambulance. (Ginny Beagan, 2015.)
Whale is taken to ambulance. (Ginny Beagan, 2015.)

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Pygmy Sperm Whale.(Public.)
Pygmy Sperm Whale.(Public.)

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

NOAA: (http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nmfs.noaa.gov%2Fpr%2Fspecies%2Fmammals%2Fwhales%2Fpygmy-sperm-whale.html&h=_AQHjYsC5) 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collection HBOI
Collection HBOI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Harbor Branch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________________________________________

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

Vibrio Vulnificus, Flesh-Eating or Not? St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

The Indian River Lagoon (Photo by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, 2013.)
The Central Indian River Lagoon. (Photo by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and Ed Lippisch, 2013.)

Although the Martin County Health Department reports that Vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria found in the waters of the Indian River Lagoon, is not truly a “flesh-eating bacteria,” in rare circumstances it  can cause horrific blisters, limb amputations, and even death.

The naturally occurring  bacteria is not well understood, but a study published in The Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology in 2004 regarding a study in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey states:

“V. vulnificus population dynamics are strongly correlated to water temperature and although the general trend is for V. vulnificus abundance to be inversely correlated with salinity, this relationship depends on salinity levels. Irrespective of temperature, high abundances of V. vulnificus are observed at 5 to 10 ppt, which thus appears to be the optimal salinity regime for their survival…”

This “ideal salinity level” is particularly noteworthy as during the rainy summer months salinities in the Indian River Lagoon lessen, due to polluted freshwater run-off and canal discharges. This situation is exacerbated in the southern lagoon if there are releases from Lake Okeechobee, as there were during the “Lost Summer” of 2013.

People are exposed to the bacteria through an open wound or through ingesting raw seafood, especially infected oysters. Cases occur though out the US, but according to the Center for Disease Control, Florida, Texas, and Maryland report the highest number of cases annually.

Contracting an infection from “vibrio” is extremely rare, and in fact, most people exposed to the bacteria may show no signs of infection at all. Others might experience mild effects such as diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. However, for those who have weak immune systems, chronic liver disease, or other serious health problems, the vibrio can strike very quickly and be fatal.

In 2013, Florida Today reported that Florida averages 50 cases, 45 hospitalizations and 16 deaths annually, most from the Gulf Coast region, according to the Florida Department of Health. They also report  that Brevard County, along the IRL, where Melbourne is located, has had 32 cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections since 1993.

Within the past year, two very serious, but non-fatal cases were reported in Melbourne, in Brevard County; and one fatal incident was reported in Ormand Beach, Volusia County, along the Halifax River, which is connected to the northern Indian River Lagoon, north of Ponce Inlet. Ironically, these central and northern IRL areas are the same locations where there have been high dolphin and manatee mortalities as expressed in NOAA’s 2013 “Unusual Mortality Events,” (UME).

As far as the southern lagoon, it was recently reported in Scripps Newspapers that two FAU/Harbor Branch scientists had found Vibrio vulnificus here as well.

This is unsettling, but to be expected, as this bacteria was probably here when I was 5 years old growing up in Stuart, every summer, full of scrapes and cuts swimming around in the warm waters of the lagoon. We must keep our perspective. Thousands of people have contact with Florida’s waters and the Indian River Lagoon and yet few become sick.

Martin County Health Department Director,  Klaretta Peck, stated in a press release to Martin County elected officials this year:”

“I am writing today to share some information with you regarding Vibrio vulnificus. As you may have heard, some news media outlets have taken a sensationalistic approach to this issue, going as far as reporting unconfirmed cases, which can cause unnecessary alarm to the public. There are no recent cases of Vibrio Vulnificus in Martin County and though vibrio can cause blisters and lesions, is it not a “flesh eating bacteria” and should not be referred to as such.”

This is reassuring, nonetheless, at the height of summer,  a Sewall’s Point mother called me, as I am a town commissioner.  She was worried by what she had read in the papers  and asked me if I thought it was alright to take her three-year old twins swimming at the Sandbar.

“Of course, ” I replied, then  I hesitated:

“Do they have any open scratches?…”

________________________________________

Vibrio vulnificus information: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: (http://www.cdc.gov/vibrio/vibriov.html)

American Society for Microbiology: AEM Journal: “Effects of Temperature and Salinity on Vibrio vulnificus Population Dynamics as Assessed by Quantitative PCR”
Mark A. Randa, Martin F. Polz, and Eelin Limhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC520858/#!po=85.4167)

2013’s “Unusual Mortality Event,” now a 2014 Morbillivirus Outbreak, the Ailing Dolphins of the Indian River Lagoon

Bottle nosed dolphin photograph. (Photo courtesy of  Oxstyletech, public photos.)
Bottle nosed dolphin photograph. Prior to 2013, HBOI reported there to be between 800-1000 bottle nosed dolphin in the IRL. (Photo courtesy of Oxstyletech, public photos.)

By now, just about everyone has heard that the beloved dolphins of the Indian River Lagoon are struggling with health issues exacerbated  by poor water quality and compromised immune systems.

I wrote a blog on August 14, 2014 dealing with these issues. Today’s blog goes one step further as since one week, yet another sickness is being reported. It’s called “morbillivirus,” a deadly virus related to human measles and canine distemper in dogs.

At this point, it has only been reported in the northern central lagoon, mostly in the Brevard/Volusia areas.

Florida Today’s report on morbillivirus /IRL 8-29-14: (http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/environment/2014/08/29/virus-deadly-dolphin-hits-lagoon/14826577/)

WESH: 9-2-14 report on morbillivirus IRL (http://m.wesh.com/news/scientists-baby-dolphin-likely-killed-by-virus-in-indian-river-lagoon/27843604)

Just to set the record straight, as all of this becomes very confusing,  in 2012 and 2013, at the height of the northern central Indian River Lagoon’s crash and 60% of their seagrass die off, NOAA, a federal agency, declared two marine mammal UMEs or “Unusual Mortality Events,” for the area of the northern central lagoon.

The first was for manatees that were dying by the hundreds and the second was for IRL bottle nosed dolphins that were also dying at an alarming rate. In both instances the state and federal agencies declare the deaths a “mystery,” even though every second grader can figure out if 60% or more of your food source habitat has suddenly vanished and the waters of your home are toxic with an unpresidented “super bloom” and brown tide of often toxic algae, it just may kill you….

To pull back from my rant, so yes, in 2013, NOAA declared a UME for IRL bottle nosed dolphins in the IRL.

NOAA UME for 2013 bottle nosed dolphins:(http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/floridadolphins2013.html)

Sadly and ironically, almost simultaneously though slightly earlier, NOAA  had declared another UME for the bottle nosed dolphins in the Atlantic Ocean along the eastern United States. This time thought, the agency knew that the mortality event was due to morbillivirus, sickness related to measles and canine distemper in dogs. (http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/27/health/noaa-dolphin-deaths/index.html)  Many hundreds of ocean dolphins have died and therefore if an Atlantic bottle nosed dolphin beaches along the Atlantic Coast (Treasure Coast included)  by law it must be euthanized so as not to spread the disease to other dolphins. Specifically here, dolphins of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

The two species are related but genetically distinct. Most IRL dolphins are thought to remain in the lagoon…

Unfortunately, about a week ago, as the first two links in this blog show, it was reported that the morbillivirus is now killing dolphins in the northern central lagoon. According to WESH 15 dolphins were found dead in August, 8 of those were determined to be caused by morbillivirus. As one would expect, the disease is killing dolphin calves.

I am no scientist but I am very interested in bottle nosed dolphins as I was a volunteer at Harbor Branch in the marine mammal department and one of my best friends, Nicole Mader works for the Dolphin Ecology Project and photo IDs all of the dolphins in the St Lucie River/Southern IRL.

I  also have had the opportunity to meet and correspond with Dr Gregory Bossert who now works at the Georgia Aquarium and is one of the foremost scientist on documented sickness in the Indian River Lagoon.

Morbillivirus has hit the lagoon and Atlantic bottle nosed dolphins before. Dr Bossert  when he worked at Harbor Branch, wrote a paper along with others studying the disease from 2003-2007 in Charleston, South Carolina and the IRL.

According to the paper:

“Between 1987 and 1988 an epizootic of morbillivirus infection characterized by widespread mortality occurred in bottle nosed dolphins along the eastern coast of the US. An estimated 2500 deaths occurred. Stranded dolphins were found along the cost adjacent to the IRL and inlets connecting the ocean to the estuary. In retrospect serological testing of archived samples indicates that morbillivius infections had been present in the IRL since at least 1982.”

The paper goes on to read:

“The most important finding in the study was the detection of antibodies against DMV and PMV in dolphins from the IRL in absence of an epizootic and typical morbillivirus associate pathologic lesions.”

Hopefully this means that some of the IRL dolphins may have an anti-body to help them fight this next wave of morbillivirus along the eastern coast that has now entered the Indian River Lagoon.

__________________________________________________

Florida Today article, The IRL, What went Wrong?(http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/environment/lagoon/2014/05/03/indian-river-lagoon-went-wrong/8672245/)

The Importance of Florida League of Cities’ Statewide Friendships for the Indian River Lagoon

 

Commissioner Ziffer of Tallahassee and I serve together on the FLC EENR Committee. (Selfie FLC Annual Conference, Hollywood Florida, August 16, 2014.Commissioner Ziffer of Tallahassee and I serve together on the FLC EENR Committee. (Selfie 2014 at FLC Annua Conference. )[/caption (http://www.talgov.com/commission/commission-officials-ziffer.aspx)
Commissioner and friend Gil Ziffer of Tallahassee and I serve together on the FLC EENR Committee. (Selfie at evening gathering, 8-16-14, FLC Annual Conference. ) (http://www.talgov.com/commission/commission-officials-ziffer.aspx)
No matter the focus of technology, there is nothing more important than human relationships. I believe that the Florida League of Cities and the relationships I and others have made there in the past years have been key in giving statewide recognition to the problems of our St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

Almost all cities and towns are members of the league and membership allows cities to have many business and educational services such as insurance and legal benefits at a reasonable “collective” price.  Another aspect of the league is its legislative committees that work months prior to each legislative session to come up with a “policy statement,” for league lobbyist to use during the legislative session to promote the business of the league.

The five  committees are Energy, Environment and Natural Resources; Finance, Taxation and Personnel; Growth Management and Economic Development;  Transportation and Inter-govermental Relations; Urban Administration.(http://www.floridaleagueofcities.com)

I first joined the Environmental, Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 2010. It was intimidating to sit at the table with fifty or more mayors and commissioners from all over the state but it was enlightening to learn together about their issues.

It was here that I first learned first hand the extent of the destruction of our state aquifers and springs, (http://springseternalproject.org) and it was here that I got my nerve up to share about the problems of the sick St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon bottle nosed dolphins, and share how the southern Indian River Lagoon, my hometown,  has the highest level of lobo mycosis, a terrible skin disease,  as documented by Dr Gregory Bossert, formerly of Harbor Branch. It was here at this table I could relay the issue of  the documented compromised immune systems of these dolphins due to poor water quality from pollution of local canals and especially the ACOE’s releases from Lake Okeechobee. It was here and this table that I received support.  (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16426180)

2012 IRL sick dolphins as topic for the FLC EENR Committee discussion.
2012 IRL sick dolphins as topic for the FLC EENR Committee discussion.

photo 2

Over the years, the people on this committee and the staff of the Florida League of Cities like lobbyist/staff Ryan Matthews and Scott Dudley became my friends. I learned about the league and many cities’ environmental problems and they learned about Sewall’s Point’s. Ryan and Scott taught all of us how to advocate in Tallahassee for legislation on our issues.

Then in 2012, something amazing happened to me.

President of the League for 2013-14, Dr. PC Wu, councilman from Pensacola, appointed me Chair of the Environmental, Energy and Natural Resources Committee. I had written Dr Wu asking to chair the committee and he gave me the honor even though I am from a very small town compared to many of my fellow members. Mayor Sam Henderson of the City of Gulf Port was vice-chair. We had a good year and although not much legislation came forth this session, Springs, Septic Tanks and  Estuaries, our top priorities, were hot topics of discussion and received funding from the legislature. A start…

This work occurs due to relationships. I believe the only way we will ever really save the Indian River Lagoon or the treasured springs of Florida is “together.” Water knows no boundaries, just as friendship goes beyond political parties, backgrounds, and religion.

I thank my friends from the Florida League of Cites;  I will continue teach and learn about your aquifer/springs  issues and I thank you for learning about our east coast Indian River Lagoon. Together we will effect change.

IMG_7997 IMG_7999 IMG_8001 IMG_8002 IMG_8003 photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

The National Academy’s “Clean Coastal Waters” and the Irony of “More Studies” for the Indian River Lagoon

 

Toxic Algae bloom washes up  along the shoreline, St Lucie River, Riverside Drive, Stuart, Florida. (Photo Jenny Flaugh, 7-13)
Toxic Algae bloom washes up along the shoreline. St Lucie River, Riverside Drive, Stuart, Florida. (Photo Jenny Flaugh, summer 2013.)

RECENT HEADLINE: “FUNDING FOR  82 Million in NEW RESEARCH/CAUSES/CONTROL OF ALGAE BLOOMS IN US AND IRL– SPONSORED BY U.S. SENATOR BILL NELSON D-FL”

As much as I am thankful for the politicians and policy makers who have recently gotten monies allotted to fight the “toxic algae in Florida’s waterways,” I am slightly miffed. From what I understand, and have learned over the past years,  much of the research to understand these problems has already been accomplished, particularly by the National Research Council.

In 2008, when I was just beginning to really plow in and try to understand why the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon issues were happening and basically at the time being ignored publicly and politically, I was recommended to read “Clean Coastal Water, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution,” published by the National Research Council in 2000.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is a non-profit organization in the United States. Members serve pro bono as “advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine”. Election to the National Academy is one of the highest honors in U.S. science. The academy was signed into law under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in 1863. These public documents are available to all and these agencies give presentations to the US House and Senate and have done such on “algae blooms in coastal waters.”

The National Academy of Sciences is part of the National Academies, which also includes:the National Academy of Engineering (NAE); the Institute of Medicine (IOM); and the National Research Council (NRC).

It is an honor to be a member or to do research for a member and nearly 200 members have won nobel prizes. These scientists and their affilliatoins are the “best of the best.”

Locally, Dr Brian LaPoint working in St Lucie County, helped with the publication. He is from Harbor Branch/FAU. Also  Dr Margaret Leinen, the Executive Director of Harbor Branch at the time, now of Scripps Oceanography in California, was invited to speak before Congress on the subject.

Toxic algae, photo by Mary Radabaugh of St Lucie Marina, July 2013.)
Toxic algae, photo by Mary Radabaugh of St Lucie Marina, summer months of 2013.)

So, in 2000, the National Research Council’s book Clean Coastal Waters, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution, was published and it is very clear in its studies, and recommendations. I will quote from the executive summary:

“What common thread ties together such seemingly diverse coastal problems as red tides, fish kills, some marine mammal deaths,  outbreaks of shellfish poisonings, loss of seagrass habitats, coral reef destruction, and the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone? Over the past 20 years, scientists, coastal managers, and public decision makers have come to recognize that coastal ecosystems suffer a number of environmental problems that can, at times, be attributed to the introduction of excess nutrients from upstream watersheds…the driving force is the accumulation of nitrogen and phosphorus in fresh water on its way to the sea. For instance, runoff form agricultural land, animal feeding operations, and urban areas, plus discharge from water water treatment plants and atmospheric deposition of compound releases during fossil fuel combustion all add nutrients to fresh water before it reaches the sea.”

On page 34 the writers note:

” Inorganic fertilizer accounts for more than half of the human alteration of the nitrogen  cycle. Approximately half of the inorganic nitrogen fertilizer ever used on the planet has been  used in the last 15 years… The increased use of commercial fertilizer over the last 50 years has contributed to dramatic increases in per acre crop yields. But it has also brought problems, (e.g., adverse changes in soil properties and offsite environmental problems caused by runoff.)

Later in the book nutrient pollution is recognized as an enormous, complex and difficult issue but the NAS’s advice is to implement policies in a coordinated effort, locally, state and nationally to control nutrient pollution at its sources. Guidance for this is provided in chapter 9 “Source Reduction and Control.”

For me as a  Sewall’s Point commissioner, our commission fought and passed a strong  fertilizer ordinance in 2010, and since that time many others have as well along the Indian River Lagoon.  This is just a start and local governments will have to do more in the future.

NAS states nutrient pollution problems come from “agricultural land, animal feeding operations, and urban areas plus discharge from water water treatment plants and atmospheric deposition of compound releases during fossil fuel combustion all add nutrients to fresh water before it reaches the sea.” We along the coast in cities, etc..qualify as the “urban areas.” And locally that is all we have the jurisdiction to control. The rest, particularly  agriculture issues of “best management practices” and more, has to come from the state and federal governments. 

So back to Senator Bill Nelson, who I admire very much, and who grew up in the Melbourne area along the IRL, spearheaded a recent bill by the US Senate that will “fund research into the causes and control of large algae blooms.” This is terrific, but guess what? “We” basically already know the causes.

Let’s get some nerve politicians, and use this money to help and demand those who are not making fast enough efforts to lower their output of nitrogen and phosphorus. Let’s break the wall of not being allowed to implements restrictive laws on the agriculture industry that is protected by the “”right to farm act;” and let’s assist them in the funding they need to make these changes and find other ways to grow crops or different crops to grow…

Lets continue dealing, moving and helping dairies and animal operations close to waterbodies; let’s implement even stricter laws  on water treatment plants like the one along the Banana River in the Coca Beach area, in the northern central lagoon, where all the Unusual Mortality Events (UME) occurred last year of manatee, dolphin, and pelican deaths, and the majority of the 60% seagrass loss in the IRL since 2009 has occurred.

Atmospheric compounds? Perhaps require /inspire higher emission standards for cars in our Treasure Coast and continue the fight for clean air on a National/Global level through are Congressional representatives. Learn to “make money” for people from this problem rather than limiting people.  No easy task…

“Invasion of government,” you may say. “Yes it is.” And I don’t like it either, but at this point in order to to save the SLR/IRL, is their any other way?

If  we need the local data, then lets get it, but I do believe we already know where to start and I do believe we already know what to do.

_________________________________________________________

National Academies Press: (http://nap.edu)

National Academies of Science: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_National_Academy_of_Sciences)

Sunshine State News: (http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/story/bill-nelson-and-bill-posey-team-pass-bill-fighting-algae-outbreaks) 

 

C-25 Canal/Taylor Creek Impacts the “Best of the Best” of Our Indian River Lagoon

 

Aerial photo of C-25 canal carrying what DEP and SFWMD district note as "nutrients and agriculture chemicals to the Indian River Lagoon." (Photo Ed Lippisch, July 10, 2014.)
Aerial photo of C-25 canal depositing what DEP and SFWMD note in their Eco-Summary literature as “nutrients and agriculture chemicals into the Indian River Lagoon.” (Photo Ed Lippisch, July 10, 2014.)

Ed and I returned from California on July 9th and within 24 hours he was up in his plane and took these photos of C-25’s Taylor Creek outlet in Ft Pierce releasing excessive rain water runoff into the Indian River Lagoon. Still recovering from the three hour time difference, I gladly stayed home!

C-25 runoff into IRL. (Photo Ed Lippisch 7-10-14.)
C-25 runoff into IRL. (Photo Ed Lippisch 7-10-14.)

The C-25’s  canal outfall, although not connected to Lake Okeechobee, is one of the most dramatic and heartbreaking sites of our Indian River Lagoon’s destruction as it releases very close to the Ft Pierce Inlet so the difference in the water color is extreme. C-23, C-24, and C-44 releasing into the St Lucie River are probably quite similar, however, because the St Lucie River is dark in color and not close to an inlet to the ocean–the brown on brown water does not give the same effect as C-25’s brown on blue.

C-25 canal in Ft Pierce. (Photo Ed Lippisch 7-10-14.)
C-25 canal in Ft Pierce. (Photo Ed Lippisch 7-10-14.)

During last year’s heavy releases from Lake Okeechobee by the ACOE, my husband Ed and I flew up to Ft Pierce and flew the entire length of the C-25 canal which attaches  to the C-24 canal, which in turn attaches to the C-23 canal. The water can be”made” to go in any direction by the South Florida Water Management District for agriculture purposes or otherwise. So water from C-23 or C-24 could theoretically be moved into C-25 and visa versa.

So anyway, Ed and I were taking a video for Dr Edie Widder of ORCA who is studying the water issues of the area. The ride was so bumpy and windy I became very sick which is not unusual for me in airplanes.

“Ed can you turn around?” I think I am going to puke.” I muffled through the microphone.

“Sorry babe, we’re in for the long haul with this wind; we should just  follow the canal in this direction and ride it out….”

At that point my jacket  in the back storage area flew out of the Cub and I envisioned it going over Ed’s face and us crashing, but it did not, and instead floated to the ground below. I held my stomach wondering what the person or cow who saw the jacket fall to the ground thought, hoping it did not land on someone’s windshield.

That trip, along the C-25, C-24 and C-23 back to Stuart was the worst ride of my life and I got sick many times while looking over mostly acres of orange fields and other agriculture. I saw some cows and then development as we got closer to the coast.  I really just remember that is was acres and acres of land.

In the wind, the trip took over an hour from Ft Pierce, inland, south, and then back to  the east coast of Stuart. The map below shows how the canals are connected and you can see the path we took–like a giant tall open rectangle.

Canal and basin map SLR/IRL. (Public)
Canal and basin map SLR/IRL. (Public.)

There is great literature on the C-25 and from what I have read the state agencies have been aware of the destruction caused by the canal for many years.

The ECO SUMMARY written by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection 1998, unfortunately, mostly still applies today, as the Indian River South Plan, has not come into being yet. The Indian River South Plan is a component of the Central Everglades Restoration Plan or CERP, that was approved by Congress around 2000. This plan would and hopefully will, one day, acquire lands, to hold water so it doesn’t just run untreated into the lagoon.

C-23, C-24 and C-44 are part of this IRL Plan as well, and as we know we have been fortunate this year and in recent past years to have been appropriated partial monies by our US Congress, the state of Florida and Martin County to build the C-44 Storm Water Treatment and Reservoir system–they are building it now.

But back to the C-25 the Eco-Summary. This link  below interestingly states:

“The C-25 Canal was created as past of the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project (1950/60s) and discharges into the Indian River Lagoon…The section of the lagoon currently impacted by discharges from C-25 comprises one of  the best remaining segments of the lagoon, namely the area just north of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution to the Ft Pierce Inlet…Thus C-25 potentially impacts the best of the best.”

“C-25 delivers a greater volume of water and thus a great net pollutant load that the other major upper east coast drainage canals C-23, C-24, and C-44. ( A surprise to me.) C-25 has been shown to transport pesticides, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, and heavy metals into the estuary as well as offshore…”

DEP: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/c-25.pdf)

As you would expect, the C-25 is an “impaired” water body and was determined as such by the Department of Environmental Protection in 2003. Yet the IRL, from Vero to Ft Pierce Inlet, has been designated by the state as  a protected Aquatic Preserve since 1975.  

Did I just write that?

An impaired canal full of heavy pollutants has been running into an Aquatic Preserve?

 Yes, I just wrote that. This is the truth. 

This to me is even more heartbreaking than the photo. To know  “we” have known the situation since the 1970s really and have not fixed the issue is a crime. We are all guilty as it is we that direct the course of our government.

So please don’t forget:

“The power of the government is derived from the consent of the governed….”Let’s keep pushing our elected officials and be prepared ourselves to do what it takes to fix this mess! 

Thank you for reading my blog and for caring about our rivers.

_________________________________________________________ 

Department of State/Impairment C-25 Canal: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/C-25_Impairment.pdf)

IRL Aquatic Preserve Vero to Ft Pierce: (http://www.liveoakproductiongroup.com/AquaticPreserve/indian_river_south.html) 

Aquatic Preserves DEP (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/programs/aquatic.htm)

SFWMD: Indian River Lagoon South Project/CERP: (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/common/pdf/irl_south_042804.pdf)

Fresh Water Pollution, a Destructive Force in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Fresh water releases from local canals C-23, C-24 C-44 and polluted fresh water from Lake Okeechobee cover near shore reefs off of Stuart and Jupiter Island, 2013. (Photo Ed Lippisch)
Fresh water releases from basin runoff through local canals C-23, C-24, and C-44 as well as  polluted fresh water from releases from Lake Okeechobee through C-44, cover near shore reefs off of Stuart and Jupiter Island. (Photo MC archives,  2011.)

The concept that fresh water is a “pollutant” is sometimes confusing as we typically associate pollution with heavy metals, nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizer, and muck accumulation, on the bottom of the river, from sediments running off of lands, through canals. Believe it or not, too much fresh water is just as polluting and has dire consequences for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

This is historically ironic as well, as when the Ais Indians lived in this area,  the St Lucie River was a large fresh water “stream.” Throughout history, most of the time, the “St Lucie,” was not connected to the ocean. The natural inlet at what was later called “Gilbert’s Bar” by the Spanish was  sometimes open, sometimes not, but never for too long, and the inlet opening was much smaller and shallower than today’s St Lucie Inlet.

Yes, we are going back,  before we go forward, but history is important to know!

The “St Lucie Inlet” was permanently opened by hand using shovels, in 1892, by local pioneers who wanted access to the ocean for trade and communication. They had no idea that by doing this they would create “the most bio-diverse estuary in North America.”

As the salt water came in and mixed with the fresh water of the St Lucie and the “fresher than today’s water” of the Indian River Lagoon, one ecosystem, a freshwater ecosystem was destroyed by the salt, and another was born.

Over time, more fish and critters entered the St Lucie/ Southern Indian River Lagoon than at any other time in known history. The forks of the St Lucie, north and especially north, remained more “fresh” as the salt water usually did not go up that high into those areas. Perfect! Salt and fresh water fishing! It was a unique situation and as mentioned in the day before yesterday’s blog, presidents and other famous people swarmed to the St Lucie for its amazing fishing during this era, and all enjoyed.

Then things changed. In the late 1920s and early 30s, due to flooding  of agricultural lands and bad hurricanes killing people living and working in the southern area surrounding the lake, the Army Corp built the C-44 canal from Lake Okeechobee to the south fork of the St Lucie River.  Then in the 50s and 60s they built canals C-23 and C-24 as part of the Central and South Florida Flood System, another “flood protection project.”  Although all of these drainage programs helped agriculture, especially the sugar industry south of the lake, and citrus, in mostly St Lucie and parts of Okeechobee counties, as well as greedy developers, it did not help the St Lucie River. In fact, these drainage canals have been slowly killing the St Lucie and Indian River Lagoon ever since.

How?

Through many things, but believe it or not, mostly through fresh water.

Once the estuary (St Lucie/IRL) became brackish, a mixture of fresh and salt water, this delicate balance was important to the fish, mammals and others critters that made the river/lagoon their home in this new found paradise.

Briefly, I will summarize some of the killer effects of fresh water on its residents:

1. Fish: When there is too much fresh water the fish get lesions. This is from a fungus that only can live and operate in a fresh environment. The name of the fungus is Aphanomyces invadans and its spores get into fish skin when temperatures are low and water is fresh causing horrible lesions. More lesions have been reported over time in the St Lucie River that any other site in Florida according to the FDEP report at the end of this blog. The worst outbreak was in 1998 after the ACOE had been releasing fresh water from Lake Okeechobee in the winter months due to heavy rains. Thousands of fisherman were reporting fish with lesions; it is well accepted in the literature of our state agencies that this outbreak was connected to the gigantic releases of fresh water from Lake O.

Striped mullet with lesions. St Lucie River, 1998. (Photo, DEP State of Florida.)
Striped mullet with lesions. St Lucie River, 1998. (Photo, DEP State of Florida.)

2. Bottle nosed dolphins: Dr Gregory Bossert formerly, of Harbor Branch, has done extensive research into lobo-mycosis, an awful skin disease, in dolphins of the SLR/IRL. The highest number of dolphins with lobo in the entire 156 mile Indian River Lagoon system from Jupiter to New Smyrna Beach, are in the Stuart to Sebastian area. Dr Bossert’s 2009-20014 “Application for a Scientific Research Permit” to NOAA states on page 59:

“Water quality in the central and southern segments of the lagoon, is influenced by infusion of water from flood control drainage canals, e.g., in particular, run-off form agricultural watersheds and fresh water releases from Lake Okeechobee. (Sime, 2005.) Discharges from these sources introduce higher amounts of nutrients, metals, pesticides and suspended solids into the system (Woodward-Clyde, 1994). Analysis of spatial distribution of presumptive cases showed that the highs rates occurred in the IRL  segments 3 and 4 confirming our earlier observations.” (Mazzoil, 2003/Rief, 2006).”

(Sections 3 and 4 are the “south central” and “south” IRL/SLR-from-south of Sebastian Inlet, to Stuart’s St Lucie Inlet. IRL dolphins are “site specific” staying usually in a 30 mile range. The St Lucie River is considered part of the southern IRL.)

S. Indian River Lagoon Dolphin with lobo mycosis. (Photo Dr Gregory Bossert.)
S. Indian River Lagoon Dolphin with lobo mycosis. (Photo Dr Gregory Bossert.)

3. Seagrasses: Seagrasses are the basis of health for the entire SRL/IRL. Seagrasses that live in an “estuary” need sunlight and brackish (part salt/part fresh) water to survive. among other problems, the fresh water releases cause turbidity in the water so the grasses can’t get light and they die. Mark Perry of Florida Oceanographic states that during the Lake Okeechobee and canal releases from 2013, that lasted five months, up to 85 percent of the seagrasses died around the St Lucie Inlet. All nursery fishes are affected by this and of course it goes right up the food chain. Manatees, an endangered species, that live exclusively off of seagrasses, are very affected and reduced to eating drift algae that in some cases kills them. Dolphins are swimming around saying: “Where are the fish?!”

Unhealthy looking seagrasses coated in algae as seen 6-14 near Sewall's Point at low tide. (Aerial photo, Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch)
Unhealthy looking seagrasses coated in algae as seen 6-14 near St Lucie Inlet at low tide. (Aerial photo, Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch)

4. Near shore reefs: The reef system in our area is the northern most of a tropical reef system that goes all the way south to the Keys. It cannot survive with fresh water dumping sediment on its delicate system and altering the salinity of the St Lucie Inlet. Insaine. These reefs are supposedly “protected.”

Freshwater pollution and near shore reef, St Lucie Inlet. (Photo JTL, 2013)
Freshwater pollution and near shore reef, St Lucie Inlet. (MC archives, 2011.)

I could go on and on, but I will stop here. I’m sure you get the point. Salinity is a delicate and important part of a healthy estuary. Generally short lived fresh water releases during heavy rains by our local canals are bad enough, but long term dumping of Lake Okeechobee releases on top of that, is certain death. It must stop. Send the water south.

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FDEP, SLR Impairment/fish lesions: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/SLE_Impairment_Narrative_ver_3.7.pdf )

WETLANDS Volume 25, SFWMD, Estuary in Distress: (SRL/IRL:http://www.evergladesplan.org/pm/recover/recover_docs/cems/cem_st_lucie_irl.pdf)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chart needlefish

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

map

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

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

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

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

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

___________________________________________________________________________

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

Non-Native Species Along the Indian River Lagoon

Common orange rat snake and Knight Anole in a life or death struggle, Sewall's Point. (Photo by Nina B, 2014.)
Common red rat snake and knight anole fight to the death on the back porch, Sewall’s Point. (Photo by Nina Barsik, 2014.)

I believe that all animals are God’s creatures and I try to be kind to every single one, even snakes, lizards and ants. I drive my husband crazy, and he rolls his eyes if I scold him for killing a fly,  but I have been this way since I was a kid. All of the animals are my friends. I always wanted to be Snow White and have the birds land on my shoulder and talk to me. So far, the cardinals in my yard sometimes come close when I put out their sunflower seeds, but that’s about it.

Upon seeing this photograph yesterday, I wanted to share because if nothing else it reminded me that we are not the only ones fighting for our lives here along the Indian River Lagoon!

This photo, taken in Sewall’s Point, is of an red rat snake, a native, and a knight anole, a non-native, that according to the Florida Wildlife Commission has lived and bred in our area for around ten years. I have had  both species  in my aquarium at one point or another if they were injured to rehabilitate;  from what I was told, these two in the photograph were in a very healthy death grip, until one “won” of course….

By the way, in case this photo  freaks you out, snakes are great natural pest control of especially rodents; they will not attack a well cared for “Fido,” so please don’t kill them.

As afar as the knight anole, non-native species are not a problem unless they start to take over native  species to the point that the entire eco-system radically changes. For instance, many of you may be familiar with lion-fish which are now invading the lagoon and according to Harbor Branch Oceanographic kill/consume about 67 % of all life around them; or pythons in the everglades eating, deer, panthers, and alligators and now becoming the top predator. This is a problem… At the end of the day, it is usually humans that bring the animal into the non native area by releasing pets.

The Florida Wildlife Commission defines non-native animals as “exotic” saying:
“Exotic species are animals living outside captivity that did not historically occur in Florida. Most are introduced species, meaning they have been brought to Florida by humans. A few of Florida’s exotics arrived by natural range expansions, like cattle egrets which are native to Africa and Asia but flew across the Atlantic Ocean and arrived in Florida in the 1950s. Several common nonnative species, like coyotes, armadillos and red foxes, were not only introduced by humans but also spread into Florida by natural range expansions.”

So let’s know our environment, please be kind to all animals,  and let’s all help nature’s balance by not releasing exotic pets into the wild along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

Who won? I knew you were wondering about that…the snake!

Florida Wildlife Commission/FWC: (http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/exotic-information/)

FWC Knight Anole: (http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/reptiles/knight-anole/)

FWC Red/(Orange) Rat/AKA “corn snake” Snake:http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/imperiled/profiles/reptiles/red-rat-snake/)

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2-11-15:  Just to follow up and note how small the world is– as well as how much can happen through social media… a Harvard Professor and Curator of Herpetology, at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, at Harvard University, Johathan Losos, saw this IRL blog post above on the invasive Knight Anole and native Rat Snake fight in Sewall’s Point. He then got in touch with me, spoke to the woman at whose home this occurred, and  published his own blog post for his Herpetology community. Read his blog here! Thank you Dr Losos! (http://www.anoleannals.org/2015/02/09/knight-anole-vs-red-rat-snake-who-will-win/)

Tallahassee’s Dolphins and the Sadness of the Indian River Lagoon

Stormsong

The last time I was in Tallahassee was I eighteen and there to cheer on the Florida Gators.Today I was there to visit the Capitol and  the city looked very different with thirty plus years under my belt.

I noticed the city was actually quite beautiful, very southern, with magnificent, awe inspiring oak trees, tall stately buildings, and dolphins.

At the back of the Capitol, which today almost acts like the front of the Capitol, there is a large statue called “Stormsong” composed of stainless steel dolphins. The animals seem to soar joyously in invisible waves.(http://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/17019) The large piece is beautiful.

The statue is by Hugh Bradford and is a “celebration of Florida’s wildlife.” A public private partnership, from Florida’s  Bush administration, that was started in 2000 and completed in 2008, made the work possible.

As breathtaking as the statue is, I could not help but be saddened knowing that the dolphins who live in my home town of Sewall’s Point in Martin County are probably the sickest in the state. These dolphins suffer from suppressed immune systems, multiple sicknesses and more than anywhere else, lobomycosis. This has all been written about and documented by Dr Gregory Bossert previously of Harbor Brach Oceanographic Institute. His research states that it is believed the filthy fresh water releases from Lake Okeechobee exasperate an already toxic water system in the southern Indian River Lagoon.
(http://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/abs/10.2460/javma.228.1.104)

On top of this the northern and central lagoon has had a UME or “unexplained morality event” since 2013 and over 90 dolphins have died, “mysteriously.”
(http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/floridadolphins2013.html)

It is time for the Capitol’s politicians to look deep within themselves and out the widows and start working for the irreplaceable wildlife in our state instead of against it.

Love Your Lagoon? I Think We Better Save It.

S. Indian River Lagoon Dolphin with skin disorder due to impaired immune system
S. Indian River Lagoon Dolphin with skin disorder due to impaired immune system from polluted-water discharges (photo Dr Gregory Bossert)

Tonight I am chairing “Love Your Lagoon,” a fundraiser of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation. http://www.indianriverlagoon.org. Funds will support and benefit the HBOI Symposium, that occurred yesterday and will again next year. Over 300 scientists and students from across the state collaborated giving  presentations on “bio-diversity,” within the 156 miles lagoon and it’s changes. It was an inspiring and depressing day.

I first became became intrigued with Harbor Branch  four years ago when I read the research of  Dr. Gregory Bossert and lobo mycosis numbers in southern IRL/SLR  dolphins.

His research documents  that  the southern IRL dolphins are “sicker” that their lagoon comrades north of them. Dolphins are site specific and  have strong family and territorial bonds. Their ranges generally are limited  to one “area” of the lagoon. So even when water quality is awful from discharges, they stay, as we would to protect our homes after a hurricane.

Dr Bossert’s work states the polluted discharges from local canals and Lake Okeechobee are the reason southern IRL dolphins are even “sicker” with lobo mycosis.  Since his research came out in the mid 2000s,  starting in 2013, a “UME” Unexplained Mortality Event has taken the life of  92 northern lagoon dolphins, 132 manatees, 350 pelicans and 40 percent of the seagrasses have died since a “super-bloom”/brown tide in the northern/central lagoon that started in 2011.

Love Your Lagoon? South, north or central, I think we better save it.