When I was a kid, I often walked to the Indian River Lagoon and just stood there in amazement watching the hundreds, if not thousands, of baby horseshoe crabs winding their way through the sands. They left circular trails, crossing over and over again…
Where were they going? What were they doing? Why were there so many?
Every once in a while, I would pick one up and place it carefully in the palm of my hand. Its sharp tail and prickly feet pushed against me. I watched in wonder at its strength as it bent in half. Once returned to the sand, the little crab went back to work immediately as if nothing had happened at all.
My mother had told me the horseshoe crabs were more ancient than the dinosaurs and had been here “forever.” “They are living fossils” she would say. “And they can live over 20 years and take 10 years just to mature.”
Although I picked them up with such care, today, forty years later, when I try to find them, they’re gone.
What happened to the horseshoe crabs of the Indian River Lagoon? How did a creature so ancient, resilient, and prevalent almost “disappear?”
Although there is quite a bit of literature on the Central Indian River Lagoon, I could not find much on the Southern Lagoon. Some of the best documentation came from Gretchen S. Ehlinger and Richard A. Tankersley. On line, they are cited multiple times for their paper “Reproductive Ecology of the American Horseshoe Crab, Limulus Polyphemus, in the Indian River Lagoon: An Overview.” I was also able to read “Evaluation of the Horseshoe Crab Fishery in the Indian River Lagoon Using Catch Data From Two Power Plants,” and a September 2014 “FPL Cape Canaveral Energy Center Horseshoe Crab Deterrent Fence Specifications” publication.
All of these lead to the following observations: decline of the species has been noted for around three decades. There have been UME’s or “Unexplained Mortality Events” where up to a 100,000 have died in the same area around the same time.
Factors that are related to their overall decline in the lagoon include intense coastal development, shoreline breeding grounds destruction, and unbridled human population growth; expansion of agriculture drainage watersheds into the IRL; deteriorating water quality; power plants sucking up as many as 100,000 a year into their intake canals; and over-fishing. The crabs are used as bait, collected for marine purposes, and more recently captured live and bled for their “blue-blood”that is invaluable to human health.
Unfortunately, for many years, the value and importance of the horseshoe crab was not recognized. For instance, Ehlinger and Tankersley note a one year study in the early 2000s at two Indian River Lagoon power plants that recorded a total of 39,097 crabs trapped on the intake screens at Cape Canaveral, and 53,121 at the Orland Utilities Plant. The scientists also mention a previous study from 1975 that estimated 69,662 at the Canaveral Plant, and 104,000 trapped annually at the Orlando Utilitility’s Indian River plant. “This alone could easily account for a decline in the Indian River population.” (Ehlinger and Tankersley 2007)
The St Lucie Power Plant located here in the southern lagoon did not agree to be part of the study and there is very little research one can now find on the subject.
In any case, the good news is that just recently the Cape Canaveral plant has installed a wall to protect the horseshoe crabs and science’s recognition of the species has people wanting them to come back.
The Florida Wildlife Commission notes:
“Horseshoe crabs are extremely important to the biomedical industry because their unique, copper-based blue blood contains a substance called “Limulus Amebocyte Lysate”, or “LAL”.This compound coagulates in the presence of small amounts of bacterial toxins and is used to test for sterility of medical equipment and virtually all injectable drugs. Anyone who has had an injection, vaccination, or surgery has benefitted from horseshoe crabs!”
…”in March 2000, a series of management measures for horseshoe crabs went into effect in Florida. The regulations required a license to harvest and set a limit on the number of animals each licensee could harvest per day (25 to 100 animals allowed per day per person depending on the permit). In 2002, a biomedical permitting rule created a mechanism to allow for biomedical collection.”
Personally, looking at these photos of the horseshoe crabs being bled is like a science fiction movie to me. Never as a kid would I have imagined my little friends with needles in their heads being milked for their blood.
….But if this is what is going to save them… I must say, if they could talk, I bet now is the strangest part of their 450 million year journey. In my mind, they will always be free and drawing circles in the sand.
“Here is the basin right now. It may not be the blue-green algae but I am willing to bet it has some of the same properties that created the algae bloom.” —Mary Radabaugh, Central Marine
Central Marine…the epicenter for the St Lucie River’s “Algae Crisis of 2016.” More photographed than a movie star, the marina became home-base for reporters, politicians, as well as state and federal agencies. All witnessed something beyond human imagination. It is something we will never forget…
Mary and Dutch Radabaugh, who manage Central Marine, bravely and eloquently handled the situation, and kept working….
Mary became the spokesperson for Martin County on local, state, national, and international media. Her confident and calm southern manner gave stability when it was difficult to breathe.
This year, in 2017, Mary has remained low-key. Although the ACOE is not discharging Lake Okeechobee waters in to the St Lucie River, the marina definitely has been showing signs of a possible coming bloom…
The “circus” too fresh in Mary’s memory, she has not spoken, until now.
The photos below are Mary’s; they are dated. As one can see, although there is no blue-green algae visible, there are the signs. The signs we learned to recognize in 2016. The bubbles, the foam, the nutrient swirls of seeming organization…
So, with no dumping where are the nutrient bubbles coming from? These nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) are known side effects from years of careless agriculture and development—- that feed the “algae…”
Is it there from last year, or before? Is is rising from the putrid muck of the river where the blooms sunk and died only to rise again?
Most important. Is it now endemic to the system? Will it affect our health?
~Just to look and see if we could follow the bubble/foam for Mary, Ed and I flew on Sunday, July 30th, from the St Lucie Locks to the St Lucie Inlet. It was early morning, and the light was not great, but one could see the intermittent bubble swirls like a gigantic serpent to the Inlet. In the video they are most visible rounding the peninsula of Sewall’s Point.
Mary just happened to be at the Sandbar and St Lucie Inlet on Sunday, just off Sewall’s Point. She texted a photo and wrote:
“I really have a hard time watching people swim in the water when it is that gross brown color. I truly believe if they were dumping the lake right now we would be way worse than last year. This that we are seeing I believe is remnants of algae settled in our river bottom being churned up in combination with natural runoffs. Keep up the documentation so when they do decide they need to open them we can show it will be a catastrophe to human health.”
Mary’s photos of dark river water flowing out towards the St Lucie Inlet, July 30th, 2017:
The fact that Lake Okeechobee, the St Lucie River, and other water bodies of our state are in such poor condition puts the state of Florida “between a rock and a hard place.” After all, for centuries just saying the word “Florida” conjured up visions paradise…
Cyanobacteria, that often becomes “toxic algae,” is bad for business. In fact, perhaps nothing is worse for business. It is also bad for people’s health. Hmm? How does the state report toxic algae and fulfill their responsibility for safety without scaring people away? And without hurting business?
The answer is of course that “you really can’t…” But you can be honest and take leadership. You can turn a bad situation into a good one, because after all, a very powerful force of human nature is a common enemy.
Cyanobacteria, toxic algae, is our common enemy. For ALL of us.
The state has known that Lake Okeechobee has been eutrophic (prone to algae blooms) since at least the 1960s–the time of my birth. Early documentation from the state Geological Societies and Water Management Districts clearly documented the over nutrification of the lake, due to agriculture and development’s run-off exacerbated by channelization of rivers, lakes, the draining of lands, later the spreading of bio-solids (treated human waste) on fields, and a population explosion.
It is time to start diligently approaching the reporting of algae blooms and tracking their sources. There is a lot of area to cover; we can’t just test from the side of the road. Algae is living and changing and morphing every second. It is worth the investment to monitor it for what it is, an enemy. 24 hours a day…
On Saturday, my husband, Ed, took my brother, Todd, up in both the Cub and the Baron to look for a the large algae bloom Ed and I had seen last Wednesday in Lake Okeechobee. I went along for the Baron ride, but the Cub only holds two.
Maybe you, like me, after listening to the news the past few days, realized there were other blooms reported, even a “small one” in Pahokee on May 20th by famed biologist Barry Rosen, of USGA. I wondered if Todd and Ed would see more blooms, other blooms…
Saturday, July 22, 2017, was much more overcast than the previous Wednesday, so the lake photos Todd took are not as bright in color, but the “southwest of Port Mayaca” bloom is definitely still there. Todd did not report any others during the trip and the GPS track shows that he and Ed went quite far north and west. (Channel 12 reported on two blooms on Lake O’s western shore…)
Before the flight, Todd also shared the most recent Landsat 8 satellite image that shows where the large “southwest of Port Mayaca” bloom is located although here too, there are a lot of clouds blocking the image…
After Wednesday’ s post, many were asking me if there were visible blooms in the St Lucie River or C-44 Canal.
The answer: “No.” From 1000 feet up, there are none visible. But there are the “bubble like nutrient swirls” that seem to proceed the blooms in some areas. (You’ll notice these in Todd’s photos and all 350+ photos are linked at end of post.)
I did notice that on Facebook a small bloom was reported at Rivers’ Landing in Palm City, and another one on rocks in the North Fork. The Caloosahatchee has indeed reported a pretty significant bloom…blooms are in the estuaries but the motherload is Lake O.
Have you seen any blooms? If so, here is the link to report algae blooms to the Department of Environmental Protection, “DEP.”
I happened to notice when I visited the DEP website that DEP states: “Blooms are naturally occurring.”
…Yes this is true; so is cancer.
However, nutrient pollution that feeds these algae blooms and is killing our estuaries, and possibly us, is entirely man-made. We know what causes it.
We must be more diligent and creative in stopping the nutrient run of from agriculture and development. “Taking measures”as noted in the DEP quote as the game plan just isn’t enough. After all, this is a war to save our Florida.
“There are no short term solutions to rectifying the situation; this is a naturally occurring phenomenon that the State monitors closely. However, the state is taking measures that in the long-term will reduce nutrient loading and improve water quality.” DEP, 2017 website
Even though I am supposed to be on a “blogcation,” my husband, Ed, and I decided to fly over Lake Okeechobee this morning as yesterday Dr Susan Gray of the South Florida Water Management District reported on the Army Corp of Engineer Periodic Scientist Call that recent Landsat Satellite images had revealed significant algae in the middle of the lake- – – an area known as “LZ40.”
Sure enough, once Ed and I got up in the air, just a few miles west of Port Mayaca, the strings of bright green algae were visible from about 1000 feet —-looking down— up to as far as eye could see…
Very strange to be surrounded by water and bright-colored lines of algae; it resembled miles of suspended fluorescent paint. I have heard the scientists talking about how the algae comes up in the morning for sunlight and then goes back down into the water column later in the day. It is intelligent, like an animal, and knows how to hide. You have to track it….
The living bloom was quite extensive, going on for many miles. My photos do not do the color or amount justice, but do document. This is important.
Thank God the ACOE is not dumping into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon this summer. Poor lake O, on the other hand, has been getting “backwards flowing” C-44 water and back-pumped water from the EAA, STAs, and WCAs. No wonder its a mess!
Thank you to the SFWMD for the heads up! We do appreciate your work. We have inherited and created “quite an animal.”
*Reader, Professor Geoff Norris recommends we ask NOAA to create a bulletin for Lake O like this one here for Lake Erie since basically we are “in the same boat:” I think this is a great idea. I will have to contact NOAA.
I wanted to personally thank the South Florida Water Management District for their awesome new website “Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir Project, A Timeline Toward More Water Storage South of Lake Okeechobee” that tracks Senate Bill 10 and the EAA Reservoir’s progress. I saw many people Tweet and post on this wonderful new tool, and wanted to share also and say THANK YOU!
Note below from District, what a nice gesture!
Hello, I’m not sure we have ever been formally introduced. My name is Jerry Eisenband and I’m the Comms Director at the SFWMD.
I was on your website the other day and saw this posting about SFWMD deadlines in relation to the EAA Reservoir.
I wanted to reach out and make sure you saw our latest and greatest webpage dedicated to this exact topic. Our goal is to keep the public informed.
I hope you like this website and encourage your followers to utilize it. If you can give us any help to promote it, we would be extremely grateful.
West Palm Beach, FL – The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) today launched a new webpage, featuring an interactive map and milestone tracker to allow the public to follow the progress of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.
“This project was approved by the Florida Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, as part of an effort to reduce harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Dan O’Keefe. “This new web page allows citizens to see how their tax dollars are being spent on this project, as well as track the progress of this reservoir.”
The Water Resources Law of 2017 — Senate Bill 10 — calls for SFWMD to construct a reservoir that can hold 240,000 acre-feet of water on about 18,000 acres of state-owned land in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) south of the lake. This property was originally purchased with the intention of building a shallow Flow Equalization Basin (FEB), which would have been known as the A-2 FEB.
The project was included in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, as well as Central Everglades Planning Project to improve the conveyance of water south from the lake to Everglades National Park. Instead, the land will now be used to build the much deeper 240,000-acre foot reservoir. The EAA Reservoir is intended to help reduce damaging estuary discharges from the lake.
The web page displays to the public where the reservoir will be located, what steps required by the Legislature have already been completed and what key points remain. To date, SFWMD has identified the approximately 3,200 acres of land it owns (currently leasing to private entities) that would be used for the project and about 500 acres of privately owned land that would need to be acquired. SFWMD has already contacted the private landowners to express interest in acquiring their property.
By July 1, SFWMD will take the next step by sending a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requesting that the Corps develop with SFWMD a “Post Authorization Change Report” to the project for approval by the U.S. Congress. This is necessary since the land was originally slated to be used as part of the Congressionally-approved Central Everglades Planning Project.