As much as I romanticize my youth along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, one thing I did not see were birds of prey. Populations had plummeted here and across our nation. The use of DDT, for mosquito control, especially, had drastically reduced bird populations. I truly do not recall even once seeing an osprey fly over the Indian River Lagoon when I was a kid….Hard to believe, isn’ it?
Today, forty years later, every single time I walk the Ernie Lyons Bridge to Hutchinson Island I see multiple ospreys sitting on light posts and diving like missiles into the shallow waters of the Indian River Lagoon. On the Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart there is a resident osprey I count on seeing each time. He sits on the railing completely unaffected by the stream of civilization passing by. Last week, while driving home from Belle Glade, I saw a bald eagle near the Dupuis Wildlife Management Area. “An eagle!” I exclaimed out loud pulling over my car to watch its unmistakable white head and magnificent wing span glide over the tops of the pine trees. “Amazing…” I thought to myself.
The point is, good things happen. Good things are happening now too, but like the birds of prey we may not see the difference until many years have passed. Have hope. Know your work is making a difference for our river and our environment. Things can change for the better. The osprey and the eagle, they are proof. When you see them, be inspired!
So there Ed and I were, in San Francisco, for my 50th birthday, and although we had a fantastic trip, everything I looked at that had to do with water, I saw through my “Indian River Lagoon” muck colored sunglasses…
Photos: Water quality sign San Francisco Bay; restored tidal marsh at Chrissy Field; map showing former natural tidal marsh area of San Francisco Bay compared to today.” (Photos Thurlow-Lippisch, 2014.)
On our first day, we decided to rent bicycles and ride over the Golden Gate Bridge as my sister Jenny and her husband Mike had recently done the same. It was great fun, and once I got my legs moving, we first explored a nearby area that is being restored and redeveloped around Chrissy Air Field.
There were educational signs discussing the importance of salt marsh habitat and a map showing how much marsh had been lost in the development of the San Francisco Bay area. The main focus was on the “restored” marsh in front of us that had been a dump for the military and filled in with sediment from the bottom of the bay.
From the 1800s through around 1960 marshes were considered “unhealthy.” But in time it was realized that marshes contributed greatly to environmental health and were critical for good water quality, wildlife habitat, and linked to clean drinking water.
Reading the signs I said to Ed: “Wow! Look Ed, see that NOTICE sign for the bay’s water quality and bacteria levels.? Just like home!” Ed smirked, more interested in the old airfield that still took up a good portion of Chrissy Marsh.
So we rode our bikes over the Golden Gate Bridge and as I was struggling to breathe and not collide with on coming bicyclists, I thought about salt marshes in my own home town, and how they were destroyed not by a dump, filled in to become an air field, but mostly by mosquito impoundments.
Ed and my bicycle ride over the Golden Gate Bridge, 2014.
Before and after the turn of the 19th century, Florida was full of mosquitos and even in the 1960s when I was living in Stuart, they were ferocious. I remember being at the bus stop in in middle school and running in place the entire time so they couldn’t bite my legs. There were positives as well, like the social event of riding my bike with my friends behind the mosquito truck with its billowing cloud of pesticide spray that came to visit every few evenings during the summer. 🙂
Today it is well accepted in scientific circles that the most extensive impacts of Florida’s salt marshes have been associated with mosquito control programs which continue to be in great demand in Florida today. Some of the highest densities of mosquitoes ever recorded in the continental US occurred right here in south Florida before mosquito control.
To alleviate this issue and encourage development in Florida, salt marsh impoundments were constructed as a government management technique to decrease mosquito populations by continually flooding impounded areas of marsh. Around 1930, thousands acres of wetland marshes along the Indian River Lagoon were flooded to keep misquotes from hatching as salt marsh mosquitoes lay their eggs just above the edge of the water level in these areas. By flooding the impounded marshes, mosquito managers could flood the impoundments and drown the eggs.
Today there are 192 impoundments along Florida’s east coast. A large percentage of these impoundments are in IRL as the IRL takes up 40 % of Florida’s east coast. These impoundments are separated from the lagoon by dikes built around a designated area so it can be filled with water via a pump systems. Over 40,000 acres…
Filling these areas with water has had a huge ramifications on wildlife in the lagoon as the dikes cut off juvenile fish and other critters from their needed protective mangrove/seagrass areas and habitat. Over time, this habit disconnect and loss has led to the extinction the dusky seaside sparrow in the 1987 and much lower and less healthy fish populations.
Also, in some cases the impoundments did not work, or were not well managed, and became breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Drowned native vegetation suffered, especially noticeable is the loss of the giant black mangroves, whose breathing, tubular root systems were drowned killing these ancient trees and leaving them as sentinels of death within the system.
Things have gotten better. As the destruction of salt marshlands and the negative effects on the IRL became more apparent, in the 1980s and 90s some mosquito managers started altering their practices by managing chosen sites with the RIM or “Rotational Impoundment Management Plan.” The RIM program is a seasonal rather than yearly control method, promotes flushing of impounded areas, uses fewer pesticides, focuses on water quality improvements and the promotes restoration of native vegetation.
These improved management strategies have helped lessen the isolation of fish species from their habitat; have allotted benefits to animals, trees, and vegetation; and improved water quality for tiny and important marsh critters, the base of the food chain. Nonetheless, the “tidal exchanges” of the impoundments are limited and not what nature intended.
While fighting for the IRL, we must remember to fight on all fronts and continued improvements of mosquito impoundments should not be forgotten!
So in conclusion, I loved visiting California. There were too many people but great beautiful, protected National Parks.
I am really enjoying being home, especially in my own bed. And right away, on the first night back, I had a wildlife visitor welcoming me home, the familiar sound in the darkness of a mosquito buzzing around my ear!