This past weekend, March 19, 2022, Ed and I had a chance to spend the night in the area of Boy Scout Island, “Adrfit.” We met up with our friends, the Radabaughs, of “Cinnamon Girl,” and ate lasagna and drank wine under a full moon -toasting the Indian River Lagoon’s beauty and importance. It was magical! We brought along our Belgium Shepard, Luna and our cat, Okee. The entire family was present. These are the days to be thankful for. But something was missing…
On Saturday, we tooled around on our blow-up canoe. Ed accidentally hit me over the head with a paddle and I still have the bump to prove it! I screamed out loud! We just about capsized in the strong winds, raging current, and choppy waves, but we held fast.
It was an incredibly stunning night and day. But there was one thing missing in the clear waters, our seagrass meadows. It may lush-out as we approach summer, but it certainly seems lean. Nonetheless, we saw manatees, giant leopard rays, starfish, schools of mullet, pelicans, and many kinds of wading birds. I just pray that the seagrass returns, because without, clear water or not, we are a desert or becoming one.
There have been no major discharges from Lake Okeechobee in three years, this is certainly giving the southern lagoon a fair chance for recovery. But again, clear water must have seagrasses to be of ecological value.
-Sunrise over St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon-Moonset over Sewall’s Point-Cinnamon Girl-Cloud formations-Morning visitors! -Okee watches Dutch and Holly -Ed and Luna go for a spin-A journey through the mangrove forests-Mullet
-Red mangoes and black mangroves roots. Black mangroves can get very large and have straw-like roots; red mangroves are known as the “walking tree” as they stride-out in arches -Ibis fly-A cathedral of red mangroves!
-Don’t fall in!-Mary, Lisa, Dutch and Colton taking a look at the water and s”seagrasses”-View of Boy Scout Island -so blue!-Area around Boy Scout Island where once seagrass was plentiful. Now small blades, rhizomes, and macroalgae.
-Looking west, brown pelicans float after diving for fish. At least they can see. No coffee colored Lake O or canal water today! This area near the St Lucie Inlet gets lots of flushing, most of the St Luice does not. -Colton found a nine-armed starfish, eastern area -Luna watches, her black coat juxtaposed to turquoise water. Luna does not run in the shallow waters. She would damage the roots remaining seagrass. She is happy anyway!
THIS 1977 AERIAL BY CHRIS PERRY SHOWS HOW LUSH THE SEAGRASS IN THIS AREA OF THE ST LUCIE INLET ONCE WAS. TODAY THIS AREA IS BARREN. I was 13 years old at the time this photo was taken; I am 58 today…
In spite of Florida’s significant development, the health of estuarine seagrass is something we expect and treasure. Being the home of baby fish and wildlife, estuaries are often called the “cradle of the ocean.”
According the the USDA, “estuaries are among the most productive natural systems on earth.” Their value? Perhaps priceless. And we are losing money fast.
Today I wanted to share information presented at a Rivers Coalition meeting now posted for the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon estuary; I will touch on four other sister estuaries as well: Caloosahathcee; Lake Worth Lagoon; Biscayne Bay; and Florida Bay. Being familiar with each, can help us advocate for the value of the greater whole.
I. St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon
Last week, my brother Todd Thurlow, shared satellite and GIS images that show a story of seagrass loss in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon estuary in an area known to locals as Sailfish Flats. I have taken screen shot images of Todd’s website below. The first image was taken in 2007 and the second on 2-24-2021. In spite of yearly variations due to season, temperature, and other natural changes, I think it is clear that seagrass has declined. The real killer is that the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon had once attained the greatest species diversity of any estuary in North America, (Lodge, The Everglades Handbook, 4th Edition, page 175).
Right now, it appears that seagrasses have disappeared in the Sailfish Flats region. The reason? Certainly there are many including the damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee, and canals C-44, C-23 and C-24. ~Hurricanes? Climate Change? Sea level rise? Fertilizers from local runoff? Destruction of native trees and vegetation? Earlier dredge and Fill? Septic Tanks? Dredging? Beach Renourishment? But some of these things have gone on for decades, so why now such a difference? Please share your ideas and experiences.
To see all images throughout many years visit Todd’s website eyeonlakeo.
-Seagrass loss a visual survey, Sailfish Flats, SLR/IRL, 2007 compared to 2021
I am no expert in the Caloosahatchee, but it is commonly known that if it gets too saline in the upper estuary, the underwater grasses there can die. I am sharing the most recent Sanibel Captive Conservation Foundation “Caloosahatchee Conditions Report” as it shows the organization recommending 2000 cfs from the ACOE (Lake Okeechobee) but will be recommending less or none in the future.
III. Lake Worth Lagoon
Lake Worth Lagoon, once a huge freshwater lake, is now open to the sea. LWL has many issues, but sediment covering seagrasses -especially from the C-51 canal- is a big one. You can learn more at the Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resource Management website.
IV. Biscayne Bay
The South Florida Water Management had an outstanding workshop on Biscayne Bay last December. Seagrass loss was a big topic and they had just had a fish kill. You can learn more here.
V. Florida Bay
Florida Bay has endured significant seagrass loss, especially, most recently in 2015. This year due to 2020 rains, the Bay is having a very good year as recently reported by the SFMWD. (See page 24). Audubon’s Everglades Science Center is a good website to learn about issues of seagrass loss and others facing Florida Bay.
“Seagrasses? What seagrasses?” It must be “Seagrasses! What Seagrasses!”
On August 3rd, I posted the above aerial noting the return of visible recovering seagrasses since the ACOE stopped discharging from Lake Okeechobee.
One of my readers wrote: “Most is not true seagrass, some algae’s, discolored sand. A little shoal grass here and there. It’s gonna take a few years of no discharges.”
And this is true. Seagrass is growing back, but right alongside, or even on the algae itself, is something else. A type of dark green, slimy-algae covering the grasses. I don’t remember it like this before…
We are living in a time of over-nitrification. Too much Phosphorus and Nitrogen drains off the land into the estuary feeding algae of all kinds as they compete for dominance.
And we decide who wins:
~A great video shared by my brother Todd covering the story of all types of algae and cyanobacteria.
I have seen the microalgae growing back on our seagrasses in the SLR/IRL, and it has been here for years; it is just getting more dominant. I have not photographed as doing so requires a protected camera. Thus I am sharing these photos that in some ways resemble our beds.
My husband, Ed, took these photos of the Indian River Lagoon at the St Lucie Inlet on 2-28-18, just a few days ago. They are certainly beautiful enough to sell real estate…The turquoise water is so pretty one could easily overlook the sand desert below the surface waters.
Enjoy the blue water, but know that especially since 2013, our seagrass beds have been decimated by black sediment filled waters and toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Seagrasses are the nursery for all sea life, especially the baby fish. These beds need time to reestablish if they ever will.
True beauty has something to offer, not just “surface water.” Keep your eye on the lake and fight against any coming releases this summer so we can get life back in our dear dead river.
This photo is on page 23 of my mother’s book Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River. The insert reads:
“This photograph of the Seymour Gideon property was made after 1948 when Arthur Ruhnke started taking photographs locally, and before the August 26th 1949 hurricane that destroyed the fish houses. A trail leads to the ridge called “Mt. Washington” (Killer Hill, Skyline Drive today) by the pioneers. The watery expanses of the Jensen Savannas are in the distance. Notice the clear water and the abundance of river grass.” (Thurlow/Ruhnke Collection)
It is a beautiful photograph….isn’t it? Certainly after the Hurricane of ’49 hit the seagrasses of Jensen in the Indian River Lagoon were impacted too!
~Wind gusts reached 160 mph (260 km/h) at Stuart.
~Stuart (Jensen) experienced the most severe damage from the storm in south Florida; hundreds of homes, apartment buildings, stores, and warehouse buildings lost roofs and windows. Interior furnishings were blown through broken glass into the streets.
When hurricanes Frances and Jeanne hit within three weeks apart in 2004, entering both times at my hometown of Sewall’s Point, there was reported loss not only of property, but also of seagrasses in the Indian River Lagoon. Seagrass is very slow to recover…
As some locations of the grasses were experiencing recovery, they died back again due to the extreme discharges and toxic algae blooms in 2013 and 2016 ~linked to Lake Okeechobee, and canals C-44, as well as C-23, C-24 and C-25.
The South Florida Water Management District reports periodically on not overall numbers but rather “patch dynamics” at certain locations of the lagoon. (For Martin County: Boy Scout Island and Willoughby Creek.) I feel this is limited. The best way to see seagrass bed coverage is from the air. I am hoping in the future there will be money in the budget or the District could coordinate with local pilot for aerial seagrass surveys. Another way to approach this is though Google Earth mapping/aerials, and my brother Todd Thurlow and Mark Perry of Florida Oceanographic are working on this now.
Hurricanes, discharges, fertilizer from our yards…Seagrasses are as important as property as they are the nurseries of the oceans and keep the lagoon “living.” Look at the aerials below to see the losses, so that we may be inspired to work for and better document a recovery.
Seagrass….it has had a rough few years in the Indian River Lagoon-south,central, and north. Seagrass is a flowering plant, and just like plants that grow on land, it “comes and grows” with the seasons. We are just going now into spring…maybe it hasn’t flowered yet? Maybe it really grows in summer? Anyway…
My husband, Ed, brought home these photos yesterday of the area between Sewall’s Point and Sailfish Point. The area looks pretty naked to me. Ed will fly over again and we will watch whether the seagrass comes back or not. At least these are good baseline photos for 2016.
We all know the seagrasses have been terribly compromised throughout the years of due to agriculture and developments’ rampage in Florida, and Mother Nature’s too. For instance, 2004 and 2005’s hurricanes, 1998 and this year’s El Nino…Tough times were especially visible in 2013 with the toxic Lake O “Lost Summer,” and again this year in 2016—-with the constant releases from Lake Okeechobee since January. But even with these tough conditions the seagrass usually comes back, although weaker than before.
At the end of the blog I linked a post from August 2015, where you can see the seagrasses here in 2015 that looked dark and full of algae but were visible.
Just in case you don’t know, the location between Sewall’s Point and Sailfish Point is considered the cradle of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. For years it has been labeled the “heart of the most biodiverse estuary in North America,” with more fish species that any other, over 800 (Grant Gilmore, formerly of Harbor Branch).
What a crime to allow this fishery to go into to such demise. A nursery that affects all of Florida’s east coast. An engine for our economy and quality of life for all species.
To conclude, the photos Ed took below are in two groups: taking off from Witham Airport in Stuart (1-11) and then from Jupiter Island over the waters of Sewall’s and Sailfish Point (12-26). Parts of these waters are known as the Sailfish Flats. You will notice the waters of Lake O slowly exiting the St Lucie Inlet.
As we all know, until last week, it has been raining a lot! Almost daily it seems the grey clouds gather and beat their chests threateningly; most often making good on their promise. This past week was the first time in a long time, my husband, Ed, could get up in the Cub and photograph the river. I will share these photos today.
Following are two sets of photos; the first Ed took on Thursday, August 20, 2015, and the second set were taken by Ed and friend Scott Kuhns, Sunday, August 23, 2015.
The point of the blog is to share the photos, and celebrate our 2015 “clearer waters” near the Indian River Lagoon’s southern inlets, but also to feature the weaker-looking “rain-event, fresh-water plumes.” You may recall the wretched, horrific looking plumes of the Lost Summer of 2013 during the discharges from Lake Okeechobee and area canals? Here is a photo to remind you taken in September 2013:
2015’s summer rain induced plumes do not include Lake Okeechobee releases, or the other conditions of 2013; this summer’s plumes are not as severe looking as 2013’s as you will see. Thus we have “clear water,” even when there is a lot of rain.
Last, I ask you to note the photos of the seagrasses around the Sailfish Flats area between Sewall’s Point and Sailfish Point. I am no scientist, but I think they look awful. Recently, I was told having some algae on the seagrasses is good in that when they are exposed during low tide they are protected from the burning sun. That is nice to know. Nevertheless, they look weird. Like there is too much algae; they do not look healthy. They appear grey and sickly. It is obvious they are not recovered yet from 2013 and before.
I do not have a “before aerial.” but this photo from the St Johns River Water Management District show up close what healthy seagrasses look like and I do not think ours look anything like this right now.
So here are the photos, enjoy the clearer water thus far this summer, and please stay on the Water Districts and politicians noting that clear water doesn’t mean healthy seagrasses. We have a long way to go!
THESE LAST PHOTOS ARE OF FT PIERCE INLET. FT PIERCE INLET GETS WATER FROM C-25 WHICH DOES NOT DISCHARGE INTO THE ST LUCIE BUT DIRECTLY INTO THE IRL JUST OUTSIDE OF THE FT PIERCE INLET AT TAYLOR CREEK. C-25 IS NOT SHOWN ON THE CHART AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS POST FOR THE ST LUCIE RIVER. C-25 CAN ALSO RELEASE WATER FROM THE C-23 AND C-24 CANALS IF THE SFWMD DIRECTS SUCH. SEE CANAL MAP BELOW.
Thank you to my husband Ed Lippisch, friend Scott Kuhns for these photos. Also thank you the ACOE and SFWMD for sharing their chart information.
Monday’s blog contrasting the beautiful, blue-waters of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon this summer in 2015, to the silty, dark-brown waters of the “Lost Summer” of 2013 was well received, so today will post some more photos of this “contrast.”
My husband, Ed, encouraged me to do more framed contrast photos; however, time does not permit so there is just one “framed” photo above and the rest will be separate photos. I will try to do more framed ones in the future.
Also, although Ed and I have taken thousands of photographs, they do not always “match up” in location so the visual perspectives are not “exact.” My goal while in the plane is simply to hold on to the camera, hoping it does not fall into the river. It is always very windy in the open Cub. Getting a good photo is just secondary! I mostly just use my iPhone.
Well, a picture speaks a thousand words….” so I’m not going to “say” anything else…All photos are contrasting June 20th 2015 with either August 11th or September 8th of 2013.
Thank God we having a beautiful summer!
The remainder below do not match at all, but provide contrast:
With all the fanfare of President Obama’s visit and the confrontation that seems likely at the April 2nd SFWMD, Water Resources Advisory Board meeting between “Stop the Land Grab” (http://goo.gl/2YVLXT) and the River Warriors, it is important to keep our “eye on the ball.” THE RIVER.
Since January 16th of 2015, the ACOE and SFWMD have been overseeing the releases from Lake Okeechobee into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. (The ACOE technically oversees this; however, collaboration includes the science of both agencies.)
January is very early to start releases, but the lake “is high” for this time of year. Due to releases and evaporation, it is slowly going down and now at 14.04 feet. The goal 13.5 (?) or so, but they won’t say that because one must “be sensitive to water supply” for agriculture and other users…(http://w3.saj.usace.army.mil/h2o/currentLL.shtml)
Today, I will share photos by my husband, Ed Lippisch, that were taken yesterday around 5pm during the onset of an incoming tide. Ed was piloted by friend Scott Kuhns. Thank you Scott and Ed! 🙂
As mentioned in an earlier blog, the ACOE is PULSE RELEASING and lowering releases into the SLR through S-80 right now in an attempt to help Martin County evaluate bacteria testing that cannot be done during heavy discharges. It is interesting to note that pulse releases mimic nature so that the estuary is not continually pounded, and can recover a bit. Just like during a rain event, the water flow is intense, salinity drops, and then salinity increases when the water lets up. You can see the schedule below.
One of the most interesting photos is of Sailfish Point’s marina where the runoff into the SLR/IRL is very apparent. There is always runoff from land into the rivers, yet we must remember the rain takes everything on the land with it: fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, loose sediment….Martin County’s strong fertilizer ordinance rules don’t begin until June 1st, so it is likely that this runoff is full of pollution that like releases from Lake Okeechobee or area canals is not good for seagrasses.
For me the aerials of the seagrasses are most depressing. The once healthy beds look horrible. One can see they have algae all over them . Maybe I’m hyperbolizing, but the seagrasses do not look good to me. Having grown up here and swam in these area waters as a kid when they were lush and full of life—-the present condition is not acceptable.
Anyway, let’s keep our eye on river and we move through all these politics, and here is a look from above at YOUR RIVER!
ACOE excerpt —Info that goes with the above pulse release schedule; it is from 3-26-14. Another will call will occur today and updates will be considered.
“Based on the current lake levels, tributary hydrologic conditions, and multi-seasonal forecast, 2008 Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (2008 LORS) Part D guidance is up to 3000 cfs at Franklin Lock and Dam (S-79) and up to 1170 cfs at St. Lucie Lock and Dam (S-80). We have considered stakeholders input and recommendation from the South Florida Water Management District.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District will be continuing discharges at S-79 at the same level as last week. However, the target discharges are reduced at S-80. The target flows over a 7-day period will be an average of 2500 cfs at S-79 and 500 cfs at S-80 cfs. These discharges will be made in a pulse-like manner (see attached).
These releases will start Friday, 27 March 2015 at 0700 hrs and end on Friday, 03 April 2015 at 0700 hrs.”
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!