Tag Archives: Plants

The Once Beach-Jungle of Hutchinson Island

Looking south in the direction of today’s St Lucie Inlet. Former home of Hiram and Hattie Olds, 1907, Hutchinson Island, in what became Martin County, Fl. Courtesy Agnes Tietig Parlin, achieves Sandra Henderson Thurlow and Deanna Wintercorn “Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, Home of History.” 

Olds Homestead Hutchinson Island, 1862

The more I learn about water, the more I want to know about the land. Inexorably connected – as the lands change, so do the surrounding waters. 

Don’t you love this above photograph?

The lone high-house rising through thick vegetation reminds us of what the beach-scape of today’s Hutchinson Island, Martin County, Florida, used to look like. Cradled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon, the home belonged to Hiram E. and Hattie Olds who made application for homestead with the United States Government in the early Florida year of 1862. The photo above spotlights the natural beauty and native vegetation; it was taken in 1907 – forty-five years after the original homestead. With almost a half century passed, like a protective cape over the sandy dunes, the Indian River Lagoon/Hutchinson Island vegetation remained in tact. What an incredible and rare photograph! It almost feels like Africa or some far-off exotic place. 

There must have been so many hiding places for birds and other wildlife. Rain percolating through sandy soils to ocean and estuary. Only a shadow of this vegetation remains today, although Hutchinson Island remains a beautiful place. 

This second photograph reveals the same house in the distance, the Olds’ homestead, granted in 1862-but structure built ca. 1894 -that later became the Yacht Club. From this perspective we are now looking south from the House of Refuge -built in 1876.  It is clear from this Thurlow Archives photograph that  the Georges Valentine shipwreck had recently occurred thus this photograph must have been taken around October 16, 1904 – the fateful night of the ship’s destruction. Again, look at the thick high curve of vegetation along the western edge of the Indian River Lagoon. Fabulous! 

With these 1904 and 1907 photographs we can, for a moment, go back and imagine what Hutchinson Island looked like. It was not just an Anastasia rocked shoreline, but a Beach-Jungle! A jungle that protected wildlife and waters of our precious Indian River Lagoon. 

In our next blog post, we shall learn how the Olds homestead and the House of Refuge were “connected,” not just via fantastic vegetation, rocks, and dune lines, but also through claims of property rights  to the United States Government. 


If you are interested in restoring native beach vegetation please see this link. It is a great way to help our wildlife and our waters. 



Learning About Storm Water Treatment Areas, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Map of the 6 Storm Water Treatment Areas south of Lake Okeechobee. (Image courtesy of SFWMD, 2014)
Map of the 6 Storm Water Treatment Areas south of Lake Okeechobee. (Image courtesy of SFWMD, 2014)

This week, focusing on learning our Everglades-St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon history, we turn our attention to the Storm Water Treatment Areas, better known as “STAs.” These STAs are controversial in two areas that you may have heard about: “Can they hold more Lake Okeechobee water;” and “why does the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) get to put their water through them with priority over straight Lake Okeechobee water?” This short write-up will not explore these questions in depth, but rather give an overview of what the STAs are and why they are there.

The Florida’s Everglades Forever Act of 1994 (http://www.floridadep.com/everglades/efa.htmis the reason the STAs were constructed; the act mandated and funded construction of treatment areas for cleaning phosphorus from stormwater through “recreated wetlands.” The building of the STAs was basically due to a law suit from “downstream” as phosphorus, mostly coming from the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), but also from other developed areas, was causing tremendous problem with flora and fauna and wildlife habitat as it flowed into lands south of the lake like the Miccosukee Indian Reservation, as well as Everglades National Park.

Presently, there are six STAs: “STA 1 West and East; STA 2; STA 3/4; and STA 5/6. They are read on a map “backwards” so to speak. You read them right to left, or east to west, like Hebrew. Maybe they built them that way…? This threw me off for a while, but now I’m getting it.

Anyway, let’s learn a little more.

STAs or Storm Water Treatment Areas take up phosphorus through aquatic plants. The dirty storm water from agriculture and development must be cleaned before it reaches the Everglades. (Image SFWMD, 2014)
STAs or Storm Water Treatment Areas take up phosphorus through aquatic plants. The dirty storm water from agriculture and development must be cleaned before it reaches the Everglades. (Image SFWMD, 2014)

The building of the STAs has been a huge success story and our own Martin County resident, Dr Gary Goforth, (http://garygoforth.net) worked intimately them when he worked at the SFWMD.

At present, 57,000 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee, most once in the EAA, have been converted to STAs. In 2014 more water was put through the STAs than in years before as the SFWMD has been apparently afraid putting too much water through them would “hurt” them or they would exceed the phosphorus level allowed to go into the Everglades by a “consent decree.”  Dr Goforth had encouraged using the STAs to their full capacity, and so far, from what I hear, the STAs are doing well, maybe even better being fully utilized.

According to the ACOE Periodic Scientist Calls I attend, the only STA that does not seem to get used as much is STA 5/6 in Hendry County. Supposedly this has something to do with how hard it is to get water into the STA.


Well that’s enough for today! Lots more to talk about though! 🙂

The SFWMD website below allows you to see “how full” the STAs are and if any more water can be stored in them: (http://sfwmd.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapTour/index.html?appid=a9072c94b5c144d8a8af14996ce23bca&webmap=d8e767997b0d494494243ffbc7f6f861)

Please see this SFWMDlink for an excellent and more comprehensive explanation of STAs:(http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xrepository/sfwmd_repository_pdf/bts_sta.pdf)