Tag Archives: vibrio

Florida’s Population Growth and the Difficulty of Achieving Clean Water, SLR/IRL

Pipe from home along Indian River Drive directly disposing of sewage into IRL. Photo historian Sandra Thurlow. ca 1950s.
A pipe into the Indian River Lagoon from a cottage along the Indian River Drive goes directly into the river disposing of sewage. In our Treasure Coast’s regions’ early days there were no laws prohibiting this. Photo archives of historian Sandra Thurlow. ca late 1950/60s.

It’s been a tough week for river lovers.

It was reported by the Stuart News and others that a gentleman died suddenly after being “stuck by a fish.” He had put in his line in the Indian River Lagoon, near Harbor Branch, in St Lucie County. Just a few days later, the headlines noted the experience of Mr Bruce Osborn whose “knee and leg turned black, swelled up, and became hot to the touch after he dove into the confluence of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Mr Osborn was boating near the Sandbar which is located within sight of the St Lucie Inlet…

Mr Osborn had an open sore….he recovered with prompt, emergency-room, antibiotic-treatment and a good wife.

Today in Stuart New’s “Letters to the Editor” a retired New York sheriff is of the opinion that the news of the fisherman had been “sensationalized” noting that “no autopsy had been performed on the man– who died…..”

Who is right? Who is wrong? Or does “truth” lie somewhere in between?

Who knows…But it is all certainly worth thinking about.

Interestingly enough, in this river or near-ocean story, the culprit would not be a shark or anything scary like that, but rather a microscopic bacteria or virus that cannot even be seen….

Bacteria is everywhere. In soil and in water. On our skin and in our bodies. For humans there is “good” and “bad” bacteria.

How do we know where there “bad” bacteria is in the river?

Canal and basin map SLR/IRL. (Public)
Canal and basin map SLR/IRL. (Public) The basin has been expanded at least 5x its natural size since 1920.

I don’t know, but I do know numbers of bacteria everywhere in water communities are highest in the sediment.  Sediment is the sand, clay and other soil types that build up on the bottom of the river  in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and all estuaries of the world.

(http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/14/new-tool-to-monitor-harmful-bacteria-at-beaches/)

Muck from the bottom of the Indian River Lagoon.
Muck from the bottom of the Indian River Lagoon. (Public photo)

In our area, the most recent hundred years of sediment, this “muck,” has been heavily affected by human alteration of the environment, especially by drainage canals, like C-44, the drainage of Lake Okeechobee, C-23, C-24, and C-25,  as well as shoreline development’s tear down of native vegetation along the shoreline. (That can no longer filter runoff.)

Giant, mile-long canals drain mostly agricultural lands from out west. Many if not most of these lands never even drained into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon in the first place. Not by God. Not by Nature. Just by “us” since around 1920.

So now literally thousands of pounds of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, metals, oils from cars and roads, septic effluent…..the list goes on and on….so these pollutants run into our waterways building up in the sediments of the river, —-to be re-suspended with every storm, with every boat that races by……as the sediment builds and flocculates, bacteria grows–especially if it is warm..many fish live on the bottom of the river….

Estuary depiction public photo.
Estuary depiction public photo.

On the positive side, as far as water, many things have changed for the better since my childhood.

During  my lifetime, in the early 60s, sewage was directly dumped into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon from homes and boats….I swam and skied  in this water every weekend….Not many people lived here. As kids, we did not know or notice although we used to make jokes about “logs passing by…”

🙂

And yes, since the 1960s and 70s tremendous improvements in sewage treatment plants, packaging plants, septic systems, “Best Management Practices” for Agriculture to lower runoff, etc…have been made. This is fantastic.

Ag runoff DEP photo.
Ag runoff DEP photo.

But we can never catch up….We are always chasing our tail….Because we keep putting more pollution into the system than we can clean up. Like putting too many fish in a fish tank, and not cleaning your gravel often enough…our relatively closed lagoon system has met its limit…

The chart below just goes to  the year 2000. Florida is now the third most populated state in the nation with over 19 million people. 19 million people’s’ waste….19 million people’s yards, and not just small time farmers anymore, but agribusiness– hundred of thousands of acres of fields and chemicals….a huge portion seeping into our water. Best Management Practices. That’s just not enough…Oh. Let’s not forget what runs down from Orlando….

What’s the truth? The truth is there are too many fish in our fish tank. And we whether we know the cause or not, until we stop draining  so much of our personal and agricultural waste into our waterways, we will continue to “drown in our own filth.”

Population of Florida....chart from Census
Population of Florida….chart from Census

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New Tool to Monitor Harmful Bacteria on Beaches: (http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/14/new-tool-to-monitor-harmful-bacteria-at-beaches/)

Estuaries/Closed systems: (http://microbewiki.kenyon.edu/index.php/Estuaries)

This blog post goes into Vibrio V. the bacteria that can kill that has been documented in the IRL by Harbor Branch: (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2014/11/12/vibrio-vulnificus-flesh-eating-or-not-st-lucie-riverindian-river-lagoon/)

Bacteria: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacteria)

Vibrio Vulnificus, Flesh-Eating or Not? St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

The Indian River Lagoon (Photo by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, 2013.)
The Central Indian River Lagoon. (Photo by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and Ed Lippisch, 2013.)

Although the Martin County Health Department reports that Vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria found in the waters of the Indian River Lagoon, is not truly a “flesh-eating bacteria,” in rare circumstances it  can cause horrific blisters, limb amputations, and even death.

The naturally occurring  bacteria is not well understood, but a study published in The Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology in 2004 regarding a study in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey states:

“V. vulnificus population dynamics are strongly correlated to water temperature and although the general trend is for V. vulnificus abundance to be inversely correlated with salinity, this relationship depends on salinity levels. Irrespective of temperature, high abundances of V. vulnificus are observed at 5 to 10 ppt, which thus appears to be the optimal salinity regime for their survival…”

This “ideal salinity level” is particularly noteworthy as during the rainy summer months salinities in the Indian River Lagoon lessen, due to polluted freshwater run-off and canal discharges. This situation is exacerbated in the southern lagoon if there are releases from Lake Okeechobee, as there were during the “Lost Summer” of 2013.

People are exposed to the bacteria through an open wound or through ingesting raw seafood, especially infected oysters. Cases occur though out the US, but according to the Center for Disease Control, Florida, Texas, and Maryland report the highest number of cases annually.

Contracting an infection from “vibrio” is extremely rare, and in fact, most people exposed to the bacteria may show no signs of infection at all. Others might experience mild effects such as diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. However, for those who have weak immune systems, chronic liver disease, or other serious health problems, the vibrio can strike very quickly and be fatal.

In 2013, Florida Today reported that Florida averages 50 cases, 45 hospitalizations and 16 deaths annually, most from the Gulf Coast region, according to the Florida Department of Health. They also report  that Brevard County, along the IRL, where Melbourne is located, has had 32 cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections since 1993.

Within the past year, two very serious, but non-fatal cases were reported in Melbourne, in Brevard County; and one fatal incident was reported in Ormand Beach, Volusia County, along the Halifax River, which is connected to the northern Indian River Lagoon, north of Ponce Inlet. Ironically, these central and northern IRL areas are the same locations where there have been high dolphin and manatee mortalities as expressed in NOAA’s 2013 “Unusual Mortality Events,” (UME).

As far as the southern lagoon, it was recently reported in Scripps Newspapers that two FAU/Harbor Branch scientists had found Vibrio vulnificus here as well.

This is unsettling, but to be expected, as this bacteria was probably here when I was 5 years old growing up in Stuart, every summer, full of scrapes and cuts swimming around in the warm waters of the lagoon. We must keep our perspective. Thousands of people have contact with Florida’s waters and the Indian River Lagoon and yet few become sick.

Martin County Health Department Director,  Klaretta Peck, stated in a press release to Martin County elected officials this year:”

“I am writing today to share some information with you regarding Vibrio vulnificus. As you may have heard, some news media outlets have taken a sensationalistic approach to this issue, going as far as reporting unconfirmed cases, which can cause unnecessary alarm to the public. There are no recent cases of Vibrio Vulnificus in Martin County and though vibrio can cause blisters and lesions, is it not a “flesh eating bacteria” and should not be referred to as such.”

This is reassuring, nonetheless, at the height of summer,  a Sewall’s Point mother called me, as I am a town commissioner.  She was worried by what she had read in the papers  and asked me if I thought it was alright to take her three-year old twins swimming at the Sandbar.

“Of course, ” I replied, then  I hesitated:

“Do they have any open scratches?…”

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Vibrio vulnificus information: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: (http://www.cdc.gov/vibrio/vibriov.html)

American Society for Microbiology: AEM Journal: “Effects of Temperature and Salinity on Vibrio vulnificus Population Dynamics as Assessed by Quantitative PCR”
Mark A. Randa, Martin F. Polz, and Eelin Limhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC520858/#!po=85.4167)