I woke up this morning to the percussion of hard, fast rains hitting our tin roof… In my foggy state of slumber, I bumped Ed’s shoulder, “How are you going to take out the dogs?”
Rolling over, I started thinking about what I’d heard on Tuesday’s Army Corp of Engineer Periodic Scientist Call: “…How are we going to prepare if NOAA’s El Nino rain predictions are right? What if there is up to seven feet of water that fills the lake?….”
Seven feet? That would mean releases from Lake Okeechobee this Florida winter.
Remember 2008 and Tropical Storm Fay? For reference, that storm raised Lake Okeechobee by more than three feet in no more than few weeks. The lake fills up six times faster than it can be “drained”….and as we all know, we are the drainage pipe.
It’s an odd thing how the flow of water going south to the Everglades is blocked by the EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) so now the over-flow is directed to the St Lucie River and Caloosahatchee. But it’s a reality. A reality that one day must be changed.
Remember–too much fresh water, as during releases from Lake Okeechobee, is a pollutant to our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon— altering salinity, destroying spawning/fisheries, wiping out seagrasses and food throughout the food chain, lowering property values and the right of residents and their children to have “peaceful enjoyment” of their property…Yes, I can clearly state that toxic algae blooms and fish lesions do not precipitate peace for the Town of Sewall’s Point, nor for Martin and St Lucie Counties.
So how do we prepare? We must educate ourselves ahead of time; we shouldn’t over fertilize; we should get our septic tanks checked; and we should contact our legislators now saying we want to see a plan. We want to know ahead of time what may happen if indeed seven feet of water fills the lake between December and this coming May. How will we adapt to knowns and unknowns? We can’t just wait. Not when it’s this clear…we must be proactive on every level.
Legislative delegation Senate President Negron, Representative Harrell and Magar, what are we doing now to deal with all this water and what are we going to do in the future? The C-44 Reservoir/STA is great but it does not address Lake Okeechobee…. Why are we wasting the valuable water? What about Amendment 1 and the purchase of lands?
Usually, my husband, Ed, does not like it when I ask him to “do things”…like take out the trash or blow leaves off the driveway. But he always likes it if I ask him to go up in the plane. He did so yesterday, and was able to visually document the polluted discharges pouring into our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Yes, once again.
The Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE), and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) agreed to have the Army Corp start releases this year on January 16, 2015 at 200 cubic feet per second (cfs) through S-308 into the C-44 canal which is attached to the South Fork of the St Lucie River, and then in turn is connected to the Indian River Lagoon “my town,” Sewall’s Point.
Exhausting isn’t it?
The ACOE is now discharging at a rate of “950 cfs.” This rate goes up and down. It is going up because Lake Okeechobee is not going down…
Today I will share Ed’s photos and show how to “see” how much the ACOE is releasing at S-308. (Structure 308) which is located at Port Mayaca, in Indiantown, Martin County.
Ofcouse, there are discharges from area canals C-44, C-23, C-24 and C-25 as well, but today for simplicity’s sake, I will focus on the lake discharges today, which in my opinion, are the worst of all anyway—because they are not at all “ours.”
You can search “Jacksonville, ACOE” or just go to this link: (http://w3.saj.usace.army.mil/h2o/reports.htm). You can then very quickly check two things: Lake Okeechobee’s level and how much the ACOE is dumping at S-308 from the lake.
To do so, after accessing the site, go to “Current Lake Okeechobee Water Level” at the top left: Always one day behind or so, the latest date reported is 3-7-15– Lake O is at 14.71 feet. Then go back to the main page to the last link: “Port Mayaca Lock, S-308 Spillway.” View by date; the last date shows 873 cubic feet per second (cfs) being discharged.
Here are some more photos Ed took yesterday, 3-8-15, of the SLR/IRL.
When Ed got home, he said I was lucky I did not go up with him as it was windy which means bumpy…He also said the plume looked different from what we have seen before. It looked “chalky” as is seen in these two photographs below and extended about two miles off shore and further south of the St Lucie Inlet.
I am no scientist, but I would imagine this is silt/suspended solids in the water as everything is “stirred up” from the wind. Suspended solids falling on and smothering our reefs….
In closing, I must thank my husband for the photos, and I must point something out.
This area around Sewall’s Point and Sailfish Point, this “confluence” of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, in the not too distant past, has been documented as the most bio-diverse estuary in North America (Dr. R. Grant Gilmore, senior scientist with Estuarine, Coastal and Ocean Science, Inc., (ECOS)(http://www.floridaoceanscouncil.org/members/bios/gilmore.htm).)
The map below allows us to see where these precious seagrass beds are/were located. The map above shows where our “protected” near shore reefs are located just outside the St Lucie Inlet where the discharges go out to sea. These reefs are the northern most “tropical reefs” on the east coast of Florida…
I think it is a truly a sin that the ACOE and SFWMD year after year discharge onto these productive sea grass beds and near shore reef habitats that are the breeding grounds for thousands of fish and sea creatures. Its loss is felt all the way up the food chain, including “us.”
Where is the Department of Environmental Protection? Where is the Florida Wildlife Commission? Where is NOAA?
Not to mention, last year a designation of “Critical Wildlife Area,” —the first in 20 years for Florida—for 30 plus species of nesting and resting protected birds, was established on “Bird Island,” located just 400 feet off south Sewall’s Point….”Now” is right before nesting season’s height. Where will the birds find food when the seagrass beds are covered in silt and the water is so dark they can’t really see? Chances are these releases will continue.
Don’t our state agencies have a duty to protect? Don’t they have a voice or has it been muffled? Not a word? Not a peep. Where is our governor? Isn’t this money? Isn’t the productivity our of waterways linked to our businesses? Our real estate values? Where is our local delegation? Have we all become numb to this destruction? Beaten down and manipulated so long we that have no reaction?
It breaks my heart.
Our state and federal government entities responsible for “protection” especially should hang their heads in shame.
If nothing else “speak out” about how bad it is. Recognize the loss. Address the “constraints,” killing this ecosystem and local economy. Take leadership!
Be true to our heritage. We are the United States of America. Be brave. Speak out!
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….
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…
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…
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…
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.
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….
Last Sunday, I had wanted to go to church, but there was a different lesson in store for me that day…
At 8:01, Steve Burton, the head of FAU’s Harbor Branch Marine Mammal Rescue Team, sent out a call to its trained volunteers: “A kogia (pygmy sperm whale) had beached itself at Stuart Beach, less than five minutes from where I live in Sewall’s Point. I texted that I would be there, and the morning took on that surreal experience that goes along with meeting on land, our deep water friends from the sea.
“Ed, let’s go!” I called to my husband down the stairwell. We put on warm clothes, grabbed every bucket in the house, and in silence, drove the jeep over the bridge on the other side of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
In 2012, a call like the one this morning came in. Not one, but twenty-two pilot whales had beached themselves along Avalon Beach in north Ft Pierce. Like a war scene, their bodies flailing in the breaking waves, Harbor Branch, NOAA, St Lucie County Fire Rescue and police, the Florida Wildlife Commission, and concerned members of the public, did all they could to save these protected marine mammals. Five calves were saved; the rest did not make it off the beach being humanly euthanized, moved, and studied for disease giving clues to their stranding.
Apparently these creatures have such strong social bonds, they will follow their sick family leader to shore, even to their deaths. A bond that serves them in nature most of the time…..
The whale this day was a pygmy sperm whale, not a pilot whale, but both are deep divers and rare to see.
Within minutes Ed and I arrived: it was very windy, and the surf was kicked up. Florida Wildlife Commission officers, and Martin County fire rescue and lifeguards were at the scene waiting for Harbor Branch, NOAA and a veterinarian to arrive. (People come as far as Vero and Boca to assist in such rescues.)
On the beach, I nodded at the officers—–they saw my Harbor Branch shirt.
I immediately filled a bucket with ocean water and slowly poured it over the whale to keep its skin moist in the hot sun. The whale was about 10 or 12 feet long; female: a thousand or so pounds; with a pink belly, and grey-black “smooth as plastic” skin; her head was blunt and beautifully shaped—I remembered how I’d read that the US Government studied deep-sea whales to derive the shapes of World War II submarines….Her blow-hole was off centered on the top of her head, an adapted nostril; her eyes were low on her body and small; barely open…Originally, she was on her side, breathing heavily. These whales can dive more than 1000 feet.
I leaned down, slowly…
Looking in the eye of a whale is something that is a lesson in and of itself. They are intelligent, and look back at you, like a dog, or a person. They know you are there. I sensed no fear in this whale, only total exhaustion.
She had scrapes and abrasions all over her body from coming in the harsh surf. Usually these whales are seen alone or in groups of five or six in the deep ocean. Scientists don’t know for certain, but it is believed they dive over a thousand feet to catch squid and they even sequester the ink in their own bodies using it too as a way to escape and confuse predators…sometimes they just float like logs in the ocean, and as a boat approaches, they submerge. A lot is not known about them.
Over the next few minutes, Ed and I met some of the others already there. The press arrived. Throngs of people gathered.
The couple that had found the whale at 7AM, while walking the beach, the Sopkos, were visiting from Cleveland. He, a steelworker; she a caretaker. They were so interested and wanted to do all they could to help. Making a 911 call to save a whale was not what they had expected that morning…They stayed the entire time, helping in any way they could.
Once all of the authorities and the veterinarian had arrived, it was decided to take the whale into the Harbor Branch ambulance, but she was too uncomfortable, and would not be carried, so the work up was done right there on the beach. It took hours. The veterinarian was excellent– Dr Kilpatrick, from Vero. His compassion showed as he determined the whales’ vital signs. She was not well and her breathing had become stalled and labored. The vet explained that heart problems are commonly seen in these whales. This is being studied…
He also explained that, pygmy sperm whales do not have a good record of survival once beached. In a majority of instances when they have been put back out to sea, they beach again, and again, and again, sometimes with sharks waiting in the waves.
Their bodies, usually “weightless” in sea water, feel the full force of gravity once on land. Their internal organs are under tremendous pressure. The animals are literally collapsing under their own weight.
Another hour passed……..
During the scene, Chase Franco, 14, was next to me, a student at Jensen Beach High School. Chase is affiliated with the fire rescue team. They allowed him to take part.
Over time, all had been done that could be done for the ailing whale. The call was made to euthanize her to put her out of her agony.
On my knees, there next to Chase, whom I know from him being a bag boy at Publix… The tension was thick. Having been through this before in Ft Pierce that awful day, I braced myself.
Others took the position to hold the whale; long time marine mammal volunteer, Jim Moir, held her tail; he encouraged us to softly speak to the whale and warned us they sometimes fight.
I looked at Chase. Although he is an avid fisherman, this was different. To see him now faced with the whale’s impeding death was unsettling. We held tight.
“Help me.” I said, to myself….”Help me find something to say to this young person….”
Chase looked at me, his big blue eyes questioning…
I started speaking….
“Chase, as you know the whale is going to be euthanized. It is sick. This is always difficult. This is what I try to do and maybe you can do? Concentrate, give the whale part of your energy, and know you are receiving some of hers…think about all of those wonderful years under the sea, blue light, and friends… Happiness, hunting, and survival. She had a good life; now it’s time to let go….but she will be with you, always….”
Chase closed his eyes. He concentrated….
No one spoke….
The whale had not taken a breath for minutes; her eyes were closed in peaceful repose; she did not fight.
Chase finally looked at me, glassy blue eyes reflecting blue ocean and blue sky…He understood.
We carried the whale to the Harbor Branch ambulance. Some people fought back tears. It was another whale of a lesson…a lesson that only our friends from the sea can give…
There have been many times over thousands of years that the ocean has broken through Hutchinson Island and flowed into the Indian River Lagoon off of Sewall’s Point. Most recently, in 2004, after hurricanes Jeanne and Francis. Also in the early 1960s, at Peck’s Lake*, on Jupiter Island. But of course we “repair” the areas and “put them back”…for a little while anyway….
I have been fortunate the past few years in my river photography to see the island by air in my husband’s airplane; it never ceases to amaze me that Hutchinson Island, as all barrier islands, is really just a ribbon of sand….
So, of course Mother Nature comes through….
Bathtub Beach is an area that Nature seems determined to reclaim soon. Yesterday, as many, I drove to see the “State of Emergency” claimed by Martin County at Bathtub Beach.
There was a young couple that had scaled the piled protective sand and I struck up a conversation with them.
“Hi, I’m Jacqui. This is amazing isn’t it?”
The young man replied: “Yeah we came yesterday, and the waves were 10 to 12 feet!” The water was all the way up to this fake dune. Look, you can see the sand is still wet.”
“Wow,” I exclaimed. “Yes, I have seen this before. It’s incredible. You just have to wonder if one day the ocean will come through so hard she takes it all. This would be terrible for the people who live here…”
The response from the young man?
“Well, at least the river will be cleaner….”
I was amazed to see how far the river culture has expanded, and perhaps the values of a younger generation…
Rather than get into a political conversation with a nice young couple just here to explore, I said how nice it was to meet them, and ran down the sand pile in my high heels to get to my car before I got a ticket.
At 50 years now, I have known our beaches since I was a kid walking around on the worm reef catching fish with a homemade net, before we knew that was “bad” for it. During my youth, the older generation began to really build on Hutchinson Island, which was not such a good idea either….The same goes for the low areas of the Town of Sewall’s Point, across the Indian River, where I live and sit on the town commission. These areas are very vulnerable. It’s a problem.
So how do we deal with this “realization,” that we have built on Mother Natures’ front line? Do we retreat, as in war, knowing we will never win, or do we harden our areas reinforcing the shoreline and our homes as long as we can? Do we spend millions of dollars putting concrete seawalls and dredged sand on our shorelines that will surely eventually wash away and each time, not to mention it covers and destroys our “protected” off shore reefs and sea grasses?
These are the difficult questions, and if we follow the model of South Florida that has been dealing with these issues of sea level rise, and just the “normality” of living on a shifting sandbar that God wants to roll over on itself like a conveyor belt, every few hundred to a thousand years, we have some big problems ahead of us. We can reinforce our shorelines and raise our houses, but in the end, Nature will win. In our short lifetimes, we may not see the “grand change,” but our children and grandchildren will.
For instance, the photo at the beginning of this blog is an ancient black mangrove with a hole in it looking towards the ocean. These mangroves are exposed during high erosion because Hutchinson Island is rolling over on itself. This is called “transgression.”
To repeat, much of the construction on barrier islands happened before people fully understood that these places are particularly volatile. ￼ ￼The clues have been accumulating for decades: beachfronts are thinning, storms regularly swallow dunes and send sand flowing to the far side of the island… Slowly, geologists and government entities have realized that the very nature of barrier islands truly is to “roll over,” typically toward the mainland, as waves and weather erode one side and build up the other. Barrier island ecology is not fully understood; there are many theories. It is complex, but some things we understand now…
Thus when the erosion is greatest, the remnants of an ancient mangrove swamp on the ocean side of the island can be seen….Kind of bizarre isn’t it?
What do they say? “The only constant is change.”
Yes, times are changing, the climate and the oceans are warming; no matter the reason, this has happened before. Our job, as it always has been, is to adapt. But in the world of money, real estate, and ad-valorum tax values to governments—along the Indian River Lagoon, this may never occur, until the ocean is truly upon us…
*Originally, I wrote” 1948: as well as “1960” in this blog post as the years that Peck’s Lake opened. Due to communication with my mother, historian, Sandra H. Thurlow, I have changed my blog to say only “1960s.” She believes there was an error in a photograph used in her book, “Sewall’s Point,” in that the photo she used in her book said 1948 but she now, after seeing old shared photos from John Whiticar, thinks this date is incorrect. Please read below:
Peck’s Lake Inlet
The photograph of a wash over at Peck’s Lake in Sewall Point on page 19 is identified as “1948” because it an 8 x 10 print in the Ruhnke/Conant Collection we purchase had that date written on the back.
Year later I began to suspect this was in error.
The clincher was a group of photos that John Whiticar came across that were obviously from Ruhnke which included the washout I had labeled 1948 with others that were obviously from the 1960s because of a flower farm in the background. There were also photos of the drowned trees and Ruhnke family photos of a visit to Peck’s Lake.
A Nov. 11. 1963 article in the Stuart News about Inlet worked said, “Also in April of this year the Martin County Commission passed a resolution asking the Corps of Engineers to take action to insure the boating public would always have as safe an inlet from the ocean as was available at that time through the storm-opened Peck’s Lake Inlet, closed by the Corps this past summer.
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.
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.
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.
My husband came home from the airport yesterday, I was on the couch in the living room reading. “Have you had a good afternoon?” He asked.
“Awesome,” I replied. “I have been reading the most wonderful document that contains all of the important information about the entire Indian River Lagoon.” I energetically held up my gigantic copy of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and NOAA- Indian River Lagoon, Draft Report for 2014. (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/indianriver/plan.htm)
Ed smiled and looked at me like he usually looks at me in such instances. “That’s great,” he ironically replied, “government publications are my favorite too, how exciting…”
I am not always enamored with government publications, but I am with this one, especially as it is not finalized yet and the agencies are taking comment from the public.
What I like best about the document is that is deals with the entire lagoon, not just one section, including the lagoon’s four aquatic preserves: 1. Banana River; 2. Malabar to Vero Beach; 3. Vero Beach to Ft Pierce; and 4. Jensen Beach (really just south of the City of Ft Pierce) to Jupiter Inlet.
According to the document, “each of the four aquatic preserves comprising the IRL System was classified by the state of Florida as OFWs or “Outstanding Florida Waters, “in 1979 (Rule 62-3-2.700 (9) F.A.C.
I was 15 years old at that time. I remember those waters and how they shaped and enriched my life growing up here in Stuart. To think that these “Outstanding Florida Waters,” are now “impaired” makes me sad and makes me angry.
It has been coming for years, but in 2011 through 2013 the lagoon system really “crashed” with the “super-bloom” and brown tides in the central and northern lagoon, killing more than 60% of the area’s seagrass and leading to two federally designated “Unusual Mortality Events” of the endangered manatee, and the protected bottle nosed dolphin.
And also in 2013 the months long toxic algae outbreak in the southern lagoon… This occurred due to blue-green “microcysis aeruginoas” algae water released by the ACOE from Lake Okeechobee, into the St Lucie River/IRL system. The SLR/IRL system was already over stressed from discharges coming from local canals C-44; C-23; C-24 and C-25…the lake Okeechobee water was the nail in the coffin so to speak.
I think there is a disconnect here. Aren’t these waters protected?
According to the publication, the mission statement of the Florida Coastal Office/Department of Environmental Protection is the following:
1. protect and enhance the ecological integrity of the aquatic preserves;
2. restore areas to the natural condition;
3. encourage sustainable use and foster active stewardship by engaging local communities in the protection of aquatic preserves; and
4. improve management effectiveness through a process based on sound science, consistent evaluation, and continual reassessment.
I will refrain from bashing of the Department of Environmental Protection as I do not think our fair state’s leadership over the past hundred and fifty plus years has helped them attain their mission. How do you “direct” an agency to protect something and then simultaneously promote over drainage of natural systems, channelizing, overdevelopment along the lands of these once “outstanding waters,” and allow water districts to over-grant permits for aquifer withdrawal for more agriculture and development?
Another irony I have to add here is that these once “outstanding waters” are what helped bring people to our locations and supported their high real estate values. That is changing as some people are now leaving. Last year, in the Town of Sewall’s Point, although the real estate market improved overall in the county, our property values only increased 0.13%. As a “desirable” water front community with some of the highest property values in the county, this came as a surprise and is certainly directly linked to the “lost summer” and toxic waters of 2013.
The state of Florida needs to “wake up.” The Town of Sewall’s Point is a microcosm for the rest of the state. So what can we do to help? Speak up!
Please if you have time and interest, check out Indian River Lagoon System Management Plan, Draft Report 2014 below. Even if you don’t read it all, which is almost impossible, keep it as an electronic resource, and MAKE A COMMENT to the DEP. Even if it is just one that you appreciate that they are reevaluating their management plan and how much the IRL means to you.
It is only through the continued pressure of a caring public that the Indian River Lagoon will be resurrected and its “living waters” will run through our cities again.
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.
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.
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.
Right now there are two “Unusual Mortality Events/UMEs” occurring in the Indian River Lagoon and another along the Atlantic Coast. Hundreds of marine mammals and pelicans have died but fortunately the IRL UMEs have slowed down.
The UME for Indian River Lagoon manatees “and pelicans” started in 2012; another for Indian River Lagoon bottle-nosed dolphins that do not usually leave the lagoon began in 2013; and the third for larger Atlantic coast dwelling/migrating bottle-nosed dolphins stated around 2012/13. According to state and federal agencies, the Indian River Lagoon UMEs are “mysterious,” but thankfully “they” can say they know the Atlantic dolphin UME is “morbillavirus,” or dolphin measles.
Interesting how in the Indian River Lagoon, the UMEs coincide with the also “mysterious” loss of 60% of its seagrasses since 2009/10; this situation really “crashed” and became public in 2013, simultaneous with the dumping from Lake Okeechobee and the peoples’ River Movement in Martin and St Lucie Counties in the southern lagoon.
For every day folk, unlike our federal and state agencies, there is no “mystery,” there simply is not enough left for the animals to eat. While being so critical, I should note a commonly spread falsehood, “that the releases from Lake Okeechobee are causing the die off in the northern/central lagoon,” is untrue. Certainly they negativelyaffect and help cause disease in the souther lagoon, but Brevard and Volusia counties, over a hundred miles north, are too distant for the releases to be killing these animals directly. Particularly northern lagoon dolphins who are very territorial and generally stay in either the north.
Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the southern lagoon right now, especially the Ft Pierce area, is one of the few half-way healthy areas remaining, so dumping that is pushed up to Ft Pierce Inlet, from Stuart, is part of an overall death for the IRL: north and central horrid algae blooms and UMEs, and then the southern lagoon’s problems with Lake Okeechobee releases and its other canals causing seagrass loss, up to 85% according to Florida Oceanographic’s Mark Perry.
So UMEs in the IRL and seagrass loss are related and the agencies recognize this connection but still consider the UMEs a “mystery.”
To close, one of the concerns of Stephen McCulloch, former director of the marine mammal department at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, is that southwardly migrating dolphins along the Atlantic coast could enter the Indian River Lagoon, or a rare lagoon dolphin may exit an inlet and interact with oceanic dolphins then spreading morbillavirus among the already “mysteriously sick” Indian River Lagoon dolphins.
McCulloch is concerned if the virus entered the lagoon, it could “kill them all.”
There were fewer than one thousand in the lagoon loosely documented before the 2013 IRL dolphin UME and now it is accepted that over 10 percent of those have died. This, as all marine mammal health, is a very serious matter.
This photo showed up on the Rivers Coalition facebook page yesterday. The fisherman reported catching the sheepshead near the mouth of Bessey Creek, close to the hugely polluting C-23 canal. Within minutes, the photo had been shared 30 times and numerous comments ensued.
Unfortunately, tumors and lesions are not new or unique to our time. In fact, the Rivers Coalition formed in 1998 when the locks were opened from Lake Okeechobee to a level rarely experienced. So many fish had lesions that the cover of the Rivers Coalition handout included the photos below.
As usual the government did a “study” to determine the “possible” causes: SLR/IRL fish lesion studies and the study did state “water quality” was the cause—polluted water from Lake Okeechobee; C-23; C-24 and others local runoff. Years of destruction to fish habitat.
Today,we seem to be making progress as people, as voters, but policy makers and politicians continue to ask for more studies, more science. I completely respect science, and yes, science changes over time, however; you don’t have to be a scientist to “know/see” there is a problem and have the common sense just to fix it.