It’s an honor to present:
“Florida’s Summer of Slime: Stuart and Lake Okeechobee,” photo essay by John Moran, August 2018
I reported last month on the plight of the Caloosahatchee River and its befouled waters flowing from Lake Okeechobee; delivering slime to waterfront neighborhoods in Fort Myers and Cape Coral along the way to the Gulf Islands of Southwest Florida.
Next up on our Summer of Slime photo tour is a visit to Stuart and Lake O…Stuart and environs is a glistening jewel born of water. It may well top the list of Florida cities in shoreline per capita. There’s simply water everywhere. Two forks of the St. Lucie River, the Indian River Lagoon, canals and peninsulas and islands, and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Stuart is pictured above; below is neighboring Hutchinson Island.
But it wasn’t Stuart’s reputation for abundant clean water that drew me south from Gainesville with my cameras. In effect, I’ve become a traveling crime scene photographer—and slime is the crime. A devastating outbreak of toxic algae has once again hit the St. Lucie River and the Treasure Coast, fueled by the polluted waters of Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River basin to the north. Damaging headlines trumpet the story to the nation and the world and Governor Scott has declared a state of emergency. It’s déjà vu all over again.
Here’s Lake Okeechobee and the western terminus of the St. Lucie C-44 Canal. Administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam has the capacity to discharge 14,800 cubic feet of water per second downstream to Stuart and the St. Lucie River Estuary, 26 miles away.
Sugar industry representatives say the water coming out of Lake Okeechobee is not the problem and that the algae outbreak in Stuart is primarily caused by Stuart’s own septic tanks and urban stormwater. This claim is contradicted by the extensive algae mats seen along the C-44 Canal between the Port Mayaca and St. Lucie Locks, well upstream from Stuart.
A view of the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, several miles southwest of Stuart. On the day of my photo flight in late July, the dam gates were closed, visibly holding back algae from flowing downstream. Look closely and you can see what some people call The Seven Gates of Hell.
The St. Lucie Lock and Dam are an integral part of South Florida’s complex web of water management structures, born of an age when the Everglades was reviled as a watery wasteland and America was driven to drain it.
Below the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, in Palm City and Stuart, you can still find waterfront homes untouched by the algae bloom. But that’s no consolation for the thousands of Martin County residents whose lives are in upheaval once again this summer. The familiar pattern of algae outbreaks is fueled by fertilizer, manure and urban sources of nutrient pollution, including septic tanks.
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch took me on a driving tour of the C-44 Canal from Stuart to enormous Lake O, which is more like a stormwater treatment pond than a biologically healthy lake. “There are toxic algae blooms across the globe, but only one place where the government dumps it on you: Florida,” she says.
Dinner in hand (speckled perch), Felix Gui, Jr. has been fishing Lake O for 30 years. “The algae doesn’t affect the fish,” he says. “They eat the same, algae or no algae, and I haven’t gotten sick.” Experts have warned against eating fish exposed to the algae.
“It’s totally unacceptable to me what we’re doing to this planet because we’re very rapidly destroying it,” Knepper says. “My children and grandchildren will be paying the price for all the bad decisions we’re making today. I want to be able to look them in the face and say, ‘I tried to make a difference.’”
Meanwhile, we’re getting conflicting messages from officialdom. Martin County has erected signs warning against contact with the water but the Florida Dept. of Health website, under the heading How to Keep Your Family Safe While Enjoying Florida’s Water Ways, has this to say: “Cyanobacteria/ blue-green algae…are naturally occurring in Florida’s environment and are also found all over the world. They are part of a healthy ecosystem and help support a wide variety of aquatic life.” (http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/aquatic-toxins/cyanobacteria.html) In other words, Lighten up, Florida. This is just nature being natural.
The sign at Ocean Blue Yacht Sales in Stuart echoes a wide swath of community sentiment. Asked to describe in a word how the algae outbreak has impacted his business, president Bryan Boyd replied, “Horrible. The last three years, our bay boat sales have been a third of what they used to be.”
A roadside sign seen in Stuart in late July. If you’re wondering what you can do about the ongoing crisis of Florida waters, we are called to consider our own water footprint, learn about the issues and get involved. And never forget that elections have consequences. Vote for Clean Water. (https://www.bullsugar.org/#)
What we have here in Florida is not just a crisis of water, we have a crisis of democracy and civic engagement.
From the beleaguered springs of North Florida to the sickened rivers and coasts of South Florida, we must understand that no savior is waiting on the horizon who will fix this thing for us.
It took a group effort to create this mess and we need all hands on deck if are to reclaim our waters. Florida needs environmental patriots willing to face down politicians funded by wealthy interests who think nothing of sacrificing our public waters on the altar of their private profits.
We don’t have the luxury of time to get this right. We are losing our waters now. This is our moment. It’s time to set aside our differences and focus on what is at stake, for this is nothing less than a battle for the soul of Florida.
The pictures don’t lie. We the people of Florida bear witness today to nothing less than a crime against nature, and a crime against the children who shall inherit our natural legacy.
A long time ago, Florida political leaders—Republicans and Democrats in common cause—understood there can be no healthy economy without a healthy environment. They wisely enacted laws and regulatory safeguards accordingly.
But that was then and this is now. It’s time to end the popular fiction in Florida that we can plunder and pollute our way to prosperity.
Gov. Reubin Askew said it best when he declared in 1971, “Ecological destruction is nothing less than economic suicide.”
In this, our Summer of Slime, can I get an amen?
by John Moran
Feel free to forward or post this photo essay as you wish; attribution is appreciated. Please share this with elected officials and ask them: what’s their plan to clean up our waters?
Part #4 in a series about the Constitution Revision Commission, (CRC) and how to get involved, by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch
Environmental Provisions in Florida’s State Constitution/Getting Your Issues in Front of the CRC (https://www.flcrc.gov)
The Florida constitution….(http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?submenu=3)
It is amazing to realize how much of the Florida Constitution ensures protections of the environment, and yet we see the continued degradation of the natural resources of our state. It’s time we learn our constitution by heart, make sure it’s followed, and take action to see if something need be added.
Today, I am going to list the areas of the constitution that have to do with the environment for easy reference. You can click the links below to see the full amendments.
In 1968, “ardent environmentalist” and respected state representative, John Robert Middlemas, of Panama City, insisted that words of support for environmental policy were placed in the historic constitutional revision that same year.
In his honor, I ask that all fellow environmentalists review below, and ask oneself how to make these words take on a new sense of urgency as our springs, rivers, and natural lands need our voice. At the end of this article, and after reviewing our state constitution, if so inspired, please feel free to enter your own constitutional proposal or improve one that’s simply being ignored.
The CRC is considering September 22nd as the deadline for public proposals so please submit soon!
As an aside, it is my honor to serve as the Chair of the CRC’s General Provisions Committee, which is charged with examining Article II of the Florida Constitution. If you have comments or thoughts regarding Article II (or other provisions relating to the environment), please email me at Jacqui.Lippisch@flcrc.gov.
Here is the list of current environmental provisions in the Florida Constitution:
- General Provisions (Article II): Section 7, Natural Resources & Scenic Beauty/Everglades Agricultural Area
- Executive (Article IV): Section 4 (f), cabinet/Internal Improvement Fund/Land Acquisition Trust Fund; Section 9, Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
- Finance and Taxation (Article VII): Section 3 (f), conservation easements/ taxes -exemptions; Section 4 (b) taxation-assessments ; Section 9 (a), special districts/water management; Section 11 (e) state/revenue bonds; Section (14) bonds-pollution control
- Miscellaneous (Article X): Section 11, sovereignty lands; Section 16, limiting marine net fishing; Section 17, Everglades Trust Fund; Section 18, disposition of conservation lands; Section 28, Land Acquisition Trust Fund, (Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, 2014.)
To enter your own proposal or idea regarding the environment:
- Go to gov/Proposals/Submit to create a free account and submit your proposed change to the Florida constitution. The online tool allows you to create your proposal using legal language by redacting or adding language. Remember to keep it simple and clear.
- Using the same program, submit your proposal to the Constitution Revision Commission and sign up for the alert emails. Commissioners will review proposals and determine which proposals should be placed on Florida’s 2018 General Election ballot.
- You can advocate for your proposals by contacting commissioners directly via email or phone at gov/Commissioners. Better yet, attend a public hearing if one is scheduled in your area at a future date (flcrc.gov/Meetings/PublicHearings).
*Proposals can also be emailed to the commission at firstname.lastname@example.org, or sent in the mail to: Constitution Revision Commission, The Capitol, 400 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee, FL 32399. Thank you so much for conserving and protecting the great state of Florida!
“Visit Florida” is Florida’s tag line for tourism.
And yes, in recent years, Florida has had a record numbers of tourists visit. In fact, tourism is the state’s #1 industry.
With Florida’s present water woes, one wonders if tourism can hold its # 1 place for our economy.
The life blood of this state has always been its waters, and right now the waters of our state are running with blood…but our government does not see this, nor are they listening, not empathically anyway.
This disconnect is clear by the Governor’s response to the recent Central Indian River Lagoon fish kill that lauds state agencies for their clean up work rather than noting the severity of the situation:(https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLDEP/bulletins/13f39d0)
Yes the Governor’s office and the state legislature are “working hard, “but a 30 year “Best Management Practices –Total Maximum Daily Load” plan and a watered down Amendment 1 compromise are not enough. The status quo response is trashing tourism. It is trashing the waters of the state. Let’s get to work and show a sense of urgency so people will continue to visit Florida in the future.
This weekend I received an on-the-ground account of th Central IRL from blogger Jansen Jones : (http://phostracks.com/). Thank you Jansen.
JTL blog post: Death in Every Direction, the State of Florida’s Waters: (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2016/03/21/death-in-every-direction-the-state-of-floridas-waters-slrirl/)
Thank you John Moran for allowing his photos to be shared and making a special trip to the IRL to photograph. Mr Moran can be contacted at (http://springseternalproject.org)
North, South, East, West….
You know I have really just about had it. I know you have too.
I am so tired of posting and writing about the sad state of affairs of our state waters. Every direction one turns!
This weekend many photos showed up on Facebook reporting an enormous fish kill in the Central Indian River Lagoon near Melbourne and Cocoa Beach. These photos of hovering and floating fish are very disturbing.
What is even more upsetting is when one considers the state of just about all of Florida’s waters. Is this the same state I grew up in as a child. Really?
To summarize a few recent, ongoing situations:
CENTRAL INDIAN RIVER LAGOON-experiencing “brown tide” and fish die off…
NORTHERN LAGOON: 2011-2013 Super Bloom, morality events (both north and central), 60% seagrass die off…
Florida Today: http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/2016/03/18/report-fish-kill-brevard-county/81992006/ or http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/environment/os-florida-water-catastrophe-statewide-20160304-story.html
–ST LUCIE RIVER/S. INDIAN RIVER LAGOON: repeated discharges from Lake Okeechobee and area canals have destroyed the heath of the river. It was declared “impaired by the state in 2002. State of Emergency due to Lake O called in Feb. 2016).
—-CALOOSAHATCHEE RIVER (The western outlet for lake Okeechobee discharges, the river has been straightened, and connected to Lake O. Sometimes suffers from too little fresh water/high salinity. State of Emergency due to Lake O called in Feb. 2016)
—FLORIDA BAY: over the past few years has lost massive amounts of sea-grasses due to high salinity. When I was just there with my UF NRLI class this year, the bay looked murky. This bay historically received the fresh waters from Lake O.
(Article: Miami Herald http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article37583577.html)
—FLORIDA SPRINGS– Some have gone dry and others are lacking sufficient flow due to aquifer withdrawal. Many have experienced algae blooms. Photographer John Moran has documented their decline.
–LAKE OKEECHOBEE–deluged with water from the mostly straightened Kissimmee River and others. It has been dammed and directed to the northern estuaries.
(State BMAP plan to improve: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/watersheds/docs/bmap/LakeOkeechobeeBMAP.pdf)
–BISCAYNE BAY has also had seagrass die off and water quality issues/high human impact)
Keep documenting. Keep posting. Keep reading. Keep learning…Keep writing your elected officials…
Keep pushing for a better state. A better state of Florida’s waters.
(Thank you to Ms Bobbi Blodgett for getting me the details on the fish kill photograph.)
3-25-16: I am adding this follow up article on the fish kill by Florida Today. The blog was written on 3-21-16. http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/environment/2016/03/23/what-we-know—-and-dont-know—-fish-kill/82163574/
Yesterday, I stumbled out of bed by 5:00 A.M to write my blog and make it to Palm City for the Collaborative Chamber Breakfast starting at 7:30 A.M. I had to get up as Governor Rick Scott’s kick off campaign tour to publicize his “Let’s Keep Florida Beautiful Plan,” was kicking off, in of all places, Martin County, Florida. I wanted to hear what he had to say.
Scripps reporter, Isadora Rangel, implies this morning in our Stuart News that Martin County was chosen as the kick off location because “it is the epicenter of grassroots efforts to clean the estuary.”
There were about 200 people at Martin Downs County Club and both Democrats and Republicans and were present. The Lagoon goes beyond political boundaries. But politics abounds…
I greeted everyone from Democrat Maggie Hurchalla, to Republican Senator Joe Negron, and found my seat. I introduced myself to the people at my table. I looked around the room to see a veritable “who’s who.”
Hmmm? I thought.
In spite of the politics. This is pretty cool. Martin County has been chosen to kick off the governor’s reelection campaign. Why?
Because we are the most vocal little county in the state! Because 5000 people protested last summer at the height of the SLR/IRL toxic algae outbreak and releases from Lake Okeechobee. Our voices were heard. We practiced our right to assemble under our constitution. We are fighting still as last weekend’s 1500 plus at the Clean Water Rally showed. We have made a name for ourselves. Some of our politicians helped us, yes. But WE did it. We have called attention the dying St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, the canals and Lake Okeechobee and maybe now there will be help.
As I was daydreaming about how great Martin County’s River Movement is, the governor walked to the front of the room and took the microphone.
He was very well dressed and looked more comfortable than usual. He greeted the crowd and then told the story of his life:
Born in Illinois, single mom, did not know his father, step dad, poor, Eagle Scout, Navy, University of Missouri, Law-Southern Methodist, no money, worked since a kid, rose to success, went to church a lot as his mother said he would….no money…family….made money….the importance of jobs…
I sat there thinking that if the governor had a really good P.R. person they would have written a book on the “Eagle Scout” part….and not concentrated so much on the business….
So anyway, his assistants walked around the room and passed out a booklet with a photo of a spring on the front reading “Rick Scott, Let’s Keep Florida Beautiful.”
“Hmmmm? I thought. This is different. A pretty picture of a Florida spring and Rick Scott’s name on it.”
I opened up the booklet and right on the first page it read: DURING MY SECOND TERM I WILL: 1. Ensure that Everglades and Indian River Lagoon Restoration continue to have the vision and funding to provide a restored ecosystem to our children…”
“Remarkable” I thought. After the “Indian River Lagoon” having “no name” in Tallahassee for years, it is now listed in the first sentence of a governor’s reelection booklet. Will it happen? Time will tell. At least we are recognized.
One thing is for sure. Martin County is not just the epicenter for the Indian River Lagoon, it is the epicenter of water change for the whole state. No place has a reputation like we have. The governor choosing Marin County to start his campaign supports this point. Like him or not, that’s cool.
I have included photos I took of the booklet below. Some are blurry but it will give you an idea of what it says.
Politics are as toxic as the waters of the SLR/IRL. And we, little Marin County, have risen to the top of the fermenting algae heap. Be proud and keep fighting for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon!
Booklet passed out at yesterday’s kick off re-election campaign for Rick Scott.