Tag Archives: Toxic Algae

John Moran’s “Florida’s Summer of Slime: Stuart and Lake Okeechobee”

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.

My hosts in Stuart were water blogger Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and her husband, Ed Lippisch.

Ed took me up for a photo flight in his Piper Cub so I could get the big picture.

Seen from a small plane at 500 feet, Florida is a beautiful place.

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.

Lake Okeechobee historically drained south to Florida Bay, not east and west to the Atlantic and Gulf. The C-44 canal was built in 1916 to divert floodwaters to the coast.

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.

All of this is compounded by denial and neglect by elected officials and agencies to whom we entrust the important work of environmental protection and public health.

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.

It’s not just the algae from Lake Okeechobee causing headaches along Florida’s east coast; the sheer volume of freshwater discharges is an environmental pollutant that overwhelms the estuary.

The Lake O gunk visible in the satellite view, above, is shown in the detail photo below.

Fishermen are still drawn to Port Mayaca. On the day we visited, I counted nine.

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.

A Martin County Health Department sign at Port Mayaca warns against contact with the water but I saw no messaging about whether fish caught in these waters is safe to eat.

Enroute home to Stuart, Jacqui and I stopped at deserted Timer Powers Park on the St. Lucie Canal in Indiantown.

At the St. Lucie Lock, a surreal scene of impaired water, above, and a vortex of slime, below, waiting to be flushed downstream.

A pair of jet-skiers signaled for the lock to be opened, and another pulse of algae-laden water is released towards Stuart and the coast.

Wouldn’t want to anyway, thanks.

Further downstream, the algae spreads…

Nearing the coast, Rio Nature Park and the neighboring Central Marine in Stuart are slimed again. This was the epicenter of the infamous Treasure Coast algae outbreak of 2016.

Reporter Tyler Treadway of TCPalm gathered a sample of the polluted water from a canal behind the offices of Florida Sportsman magazine in Stuart.

Staff complaints of headaches, nausea and dizziness prompted Florida Sportsman publisher Blair Wickstrom to temporarily close the office in late July. “It smells like death,” he said.

The Shepard Park boat ramp parking lot in Stuart was nearly empty on the day we visited.

A man on a mission, Mike Knepper, above and below, posts videos on his Youtube channel documenting the degradation of natural Florida.

“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.’”

Dead-end canals along the St. Lucie River with their limited water exchange have been hardest hit by the toxic blue-green algae, which scientists refer to as cyanobacteria.

A growing body of medical research links exposure to cyanobacteria with neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s, ALS and Alzheimer’s. Google it.

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.

An open question remains: What will become of the value of the Florida brand when the world fully sees what we have done to our waters?

Even in disaster, strange beauty emerges.

Greg Fedele has lived in his water-front home since 1991. He grieves for his loss. “I have three kids who can’t enjoy the waterways of Martin County like I did growing up.”

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
August 2018

web: http://johnmoranphoto.com
email: JohnMoranPhoto@gmail.com
cell: 352.514.7670

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?

Breaking Through Water and Sky, Believe

If you feel anything like me, you’re not just tired, but sick of heart from looking at dead animals. The atrocities of our estuaries this year, especially for the Caloosahatchee, are Armageddon like in nature.

It is natural to be saddened, but we must stay strong and find inspiration. When we look around, even on the bloody environmental battlefield, it is there.

Today, I share the beautiful photos of local St Lucie River photographer Stephen Duffy, his Anhinga series shows this symbolic bird in all its glory. These special, yet common birds have no oil on their feathers, so they can both swim underwater and fly above the Earth. Thus the Native People held them sacred.  ~The bird that can fly and swim. The bird that can do “anything.” The bird that breaks the wall of water and sky.

When you see the anhinga remember: fly, swim, break through walls, and most important, believe.

Links:

https://www.nps.gov/ever/learn/nature/anhinga.htm

https://childrenofthesunnativeculture.com/cosnc/?q=node/187

ACOE Halts Lake O Discharges to St Lucie for 9 Days, SLR/IRL

At Port Mayaca 6-24-18 JTL/EL

Video link LTC Reynold’s intro comments/presentation: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVMsIG5qEYE)

Video link LTC Reynolds’ announcement, Rivers Coalition: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4Wb0CyS6GI)

6-28-18

Today, at a Rivers Coalition meeting, Army Corp of Engineers, Lieutenant Colonel Jennifer A. Reynolds, announced unexpected news: the ACOE will stop discharging to the St Lucie River for 9 days and then resume. They have been releasing from S-308 for four days since a past weekend pause…

This halting, considering it appears to be at least partially a response to an almost completely cyanobacteria filled Lake Okeechobee, and though temporary, is a significant federal decision in the documentation of toxic/algae/St Lucie issues.

NOAA Copernicus Sentinel-3 EUMETSAT[/capti
ACOE NEWS RELEASE 6-28-18: http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Media/News-Releases/Article/1562727/corps-to-temporarily-reduce-flows-from-lake-okeechobee/

Video link Rob Lord, Martin Health Systems: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzfmOWWDU4k)

The meeting began with Martin Health CEO, Rob Lord discussing health concerns of contact with blue-green algae, and ended with LTC Jennifer Reynolds showing herself to be among other things, a gifted communicator. Please watch the videos for details of this day.

The Jacksonville District of the ACOE will be announcing its next three-year positions for Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel in the coming weeks or months. This cycle of short-lived leadership makes developing lasting relationships  and, thus change, indeed almost impossible. But days like today, give one hope.

Thank you LTC Reynolds for your time here, it would be so helpful if you could stay on longer. http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/About/Leadership/Bio-Article-View/Article/600382/lieutenant-colonel-jennifer-a-reynolds/

Links:

TCPalm reporter, Ed Killer, https://www.tcpalm.com/story/news/local/indian-river-lagoon/health/2018/06/28/lake-okeechobee-discharges-stop-nine-days-then-resume/741958002/

Rivers Coalition: http://riverscoalition.org

Mark Perry, Florida Oceanographic, & RC Leadership Team leads meeting
The River Kidz give a report on their trip this week to Washington DC participating in “Lagoon Day,” sponsored by Congressman Brain Mast. Nine young people traveled and met with multiple leaders including: Congressmen Mast, Graves, Shuster, ACOE Col. Kirk, & Senators Nelson and Rubio.
Todd Weissing speaks
Allie Preston ask a question
LTC Reynolds

Masses of Algae Pressing the Gates; Will ACOE Discharge Tomorrow? SLR/IRL

6-24-18, (Sunday)

I am posting this, not because I want to but because I have to. I much rather be enjoying the day instead of once again sitting at my computer. But time is of the essence.

This morning I read a comment by TcPalm reporter, Ed Killer, on Facebook stating the ACOE’s pulse release schedule for the St Lucie River.

Ed KillerThe Corps gave me this today

Sat- 0
Sun- 0
Mon- 1270 cfs
Tues- 2000
Wed- 2100
Thu- 1650

If this is true, and with Ed Killer posting, I believe it is, the ACOE will start releasing again Monday, 6-25-18. I did not know this until I read his post.

Today, my husband Ed and I were flying other people over Florida as usual, and during our flight I took this video expecting maybe some algae in C-44 but instead also found the gigantic bloom against the gates of S-308 in Lake Okeechobee leading into C-44/SLR.

So I wrote on Facebook:

I am so over this, but cannot fail to report. According to Ed Killer ACOE will start discharging from Lake O tomorrow in spite of Governor’s Emergency Order. Look at this algae mess waiting at gates of Port Mayaca. Write ACOE’s LTC Jennifer Reynolds and politely ask for ACOE to wait and to have DEP test again: jennifer.a.reynolds@usace.army.mil (JTL-S-308 video taken 6-24-15 at 12pm) #toxic2018

As Monday is tomorrow, and I fly to DC with the River Kidz tomorrow, I am posting this now. I truly believe considering the circumstances, that the ACOE should refrain from discharging at S-308 or S-80. And the state’s FDEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) should have this water tested, again, as bloom has changed.

To just dump this on the people of Martin County along the St Lucie River is a crime.

Respectfully,

Jacqui

PLEASE WATCH THE VIDEO

The recognizable shape of S-308 the entrance to C-44 and the SLR. Lake O’s connection to the river—obvious massive algae bloom at gates.
Bloom as satellites show is throughout and scattered in lake. This shot is looking more towards middle of lake in southern area.

Entrance to Caloosahatchee on west side of lake and near Clewiston Bloom is all through lake.

102 Sq. Mile Algae Bloom in Lake Okeechobee, 6-16-18

AlgaeBloom06-15-2018SWIR, Todd Thurlow

I could never do what I do without the people who help me. My husband, his pilot friends, the everyday people sending me “toxic-algae” imagery, the River Warriors community, and when it comes to striking the bull’s-eye, my science-studied-lawyer, little brother, Todd.

Just hours ago, Todd forwarded these images from satellites, Landsat 7, and Sentinel 2, clearly showing a large algae bloom photographed yesterday in Lake Okeechobee. 102 square-miles of it!

So Florida state agencies, and others…

…Do not tell me the algae comes from our river. It does not. We have been through this before….

The algae, that can become toxic, and maybe already is, starts in, and comes from the crock-pot of Lake Okeechobee. The Army Corp of Engineers should stop discharging right now.  Right when the Colonel sees these images. And these images have been seen, because NASA makes these images available to the Corp.

When a satellite image like this is made public, it cannot be ignored.

The ACOE should close the gates of S-308 until DEP has tested all edges of this large bloom. And work for never discharging when there is an algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee.

Stop the discharges from Lake Okeechobee!

LE07_L1TP_015041_20180614_20180614_01_RT-crop
Sentinel-2 L1C from 2018-06-15
Sentinel-2 L1C SWIR from 2018-06-15
Sentinel-2 L1C NDVI from 2018-06-15
Sentinel-2 L1C SWIR crop from 2018-
Sentinel-2 L1C NDVI crop from 2018-06-15

See this link of Todd’s for site with more satellite imagery: http://www.thurlowpa.com/LakeOImagery/

#toxic2018

The Algae Comes From the Lake, Documenting the Discharges, 2018, SLR/IRL

Since my husband, Ed, accidentally spotted an algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee, while running new engines on the Baron, I have posted many photos on Facebook and the word is out.

Nonetheless, for purposes of documentation, I am going to post some of the photos again on my blog for historical purposes and for those who do not use Facebook.

~Ed noticed the “lines of algae” in the lake on June 2, two miles or so northwest of Port Mayaca, the day after the ACOE started discharging from Lake O into the St Lucie River. Absolute chance, fate, or a tip from above, however you decide to look at it.

Since this time others have documented on the ground and DEP should be testing for toxicity.

So, after seeing the bloom on Friday, Ed went back the following day on Saturday in windy conditions so I stayed home–in the yellow plane, the Cub, getting more pictures of bloom, looking about the same but more dispersed from rain perhaps. These photos at lower altitude also include drainage structures around the lake, as well as the destruction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon at Sewall’s Point and the St Lucie Inlet.

Photos will continue to be taken as we once again, document the discharges, and once again have seen first-hand, like we did in 2016, without the warning of our government, that the algae that contaminates the St Lucie River starts in Lake Okeechobee.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Our Common Enemy, Toxic Algae, SLR/IRL

Rocks and algae, Lake O 7-26-17

Definition: caught between a rock and a hard place

“to be in a very difficult situation and to have to make a hard decision”

“State Says Blue-Green Algae in Lake Okeechobee is Not Toxic,”
WPTV, link 7-26-17: http://www.wptv.com/news/region-okeechobee-county/state-says-blue-green-algae-in-lake-okeechobee-is-not-toxic

The fact that Lake Okeechobee, the St Lucie River, and other water bodies of our state are in such poor condition puts the state of Florida “between a rock and a hard place.” After all, for centuries just saying the word “Florida” conjured up visions paradise…
Early rendition of the Everglades area including the rivers of the SLR/IRL. (Thurlow Collection.)
Cyanobacteria, that often becomes “toxic algae,” is bad for business. In fact, perhaps nothing is worse for business. It is also bad for people’s health. Hmm? How does the state report toxic algae and fulfill their responsibility for safety without scaring people away? And without hurting business?

The answer is of course that “you really can’t…” But you can be honest and take leadership. You can turn a bad situation into a good one, because after all, a very powerful force of human nature is a common enemy.

Cyanobacteria, toxic algae, is our common enemy.  For ALL of us.

The state has known that Lake Okeechobee has been eutrophic (prone to algae blooms) since at least the 1960s–the time of my birth. Early documentation from the state Geological Societies and Water Management Districts clearly documented the over nutrification of the lake, due to agriculture and development’s run-off exacerbated by channelization of rivers, lakes, the draining of lands, later the spreading of bio-solids (treated human waste) on fields, and a population explosion.

It is time to start diligently approaching the reporting of algae blooms and tracking their sources. There is a lot of area to cover; we can’t just test from the side of the road. Algae is living and changing and morphing every second. It is worth the investment to monitor it for what it is, an enemy.  24 hours a day…

Area of Lake O algae bloom, 7-21-17.

Dept. of Environmental Protection, algae sites reported and tested: http://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=60d6ebf175f44ac1b7e51c00185883b4&extent=-88.8794,23.6596,-75.3882,32.9764

DEP’s warning to the public regarding algae blooms in water bodies: http://www.floridahealth.gov/newsroom/2017/07/072117-dep-and-doh-algal-blooms.html

Visit Florida’s words on algae blooms, toxic algae and cyanobacteria: http://www.visitflorida.org/resources/crisis-preparation/blue-green-algae-information/

 

Lake O shoreline, 7-26-17
VIDEO: