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Indian Riverkeepers comments on the 32,000 missing acres of Seagrass Meadow

Indian Riverkeepers comments on the 32,000 missing acres of Seagrass Meadow

After conversations with Dr. Grant Gilmore at HBOI, and Warren Falls at ORCA, I came away stunned at the scope of the losses, and the lack of public awareness about it, including my own. We have lost 45% of the seagrass meadows in the central and upper IRL, Banana River, and Mosquito lagoon since the summer of 2010. That’s some 32,000 acres. There are we think, two separate issues; the brown algae blooms that have been ongoing in the upper lagoons, and then the 12,000 or so acres from Vero to Sebastian that has disappeared for unknown reasons.

The brown algae bloom is the same kind that has been assaulting the Texas and Louisiana coasts for nearly a decade. The water being introduced into the lagoon is and has been too rich in nitrogen and phosphates thus providing the food/fuel for the blooms. We are about to see that here on the St. Lucie, although ours has been mostly blue/green algae blooms. The rhizomes that allow the seagrasses to rejuvenate are nearly depleted in the northern lagoons as the seagrasses have been denied the sunlight needed to recharge the rhizomes. What that means is that with about one more year of occluding sunlight, there won’t be enough energy left to regenerate and these seagrass meadows will be dead forever. The only way for it to return will be “new” seagrasses.

In the central lagoon, from Vero to Sebastian, we have lost about 12,000 acres to an unknown calamity. They experienced algae blooms, some that lasted 9 months, but that is not a long enough occlusion to outright kill them. The problem here is the seagrass meadows have died at the rhizome level, and we don’t know why. No roots, no rhizomes, no grass. It “seems” to have stopped growing, but we simply don’t know. The algae is missing too. These 12,000 acres will not readily regenerate; we are looking at many years of slow colonization, or replanting ourselves.

The seagrass meadows we have in the Indian River lagoon.. 156 miles from Jupiter to Ponce inlets, are the lifeblood of our diversity. The IRL is, maybe was, the most diverse estuarine ecosystem in all of North America. This is due largely from the richness of our 7 different kinds of seagrasses. A tropical seagrass meadow is the third most diverse ecosystem on planet Earth, only tropical rainforests, and tropical coral reefs are richer.

Let me give you an example of the difference that it makes. If you examine one square inch of sandy or mucky bottom, you will find about five thousand organisms. Add a couple blades of seagrass to that inch, and it now contains several HUNDRED thousand organisms. Each square meter contributes about five pounds of detritus, organic litter (read “energy”) back into the meadow, that is twice the amount of a mangrove forest/swamp, another nursery that needs addressing. Dr. Gilmore tells me that 10,000 fish per acre is a reasonable estimate for healthy seagrass meadows here. That is in addition to the 400 specie of marine organisms that use meadows as a primary habitat. The 2008 study by Hayson/Sawyer determined that one acre of seagrass is worth 5-10 thousand dollars an acre to local economies. Some studies go as high as 20,000 per acre, but even lowball is significant. Lowball is a 150-300 million dollar impact on our local economies.

The Indian River gives to us all and this death and destruction being imposed on OUR Indian River lagoon is getting worse. The estimated annual economic value of the Indian River lagoon is $3,725,900,000. (That’s billions with a “b”) That is a staggering economic impact that affects both the communities and economies from New Smyrna all the way down to Jupiter. Everyone along Indian River lagoon is directly dependant upon the health and vigor of the ecosystem. We must demand clean water. Every single one of us via our, property values, wages, tax bases, services, recreation or our direct livelihoods, benefits from our association with the lagoon. Essentially, everything about our way of life here is enhanced and given greater value due to the influence of the Indian River lagoon. Every salesman, clerk, realtor, car or boat dealership, bank, grocery store, mom and pop enterprise, auto repair and sandwich shop is touched by, and lives better, because of that money. Every one should be demanding clean water. Much of our economy is driven by new home construction. Historically, we have been the last to suffer, and first to recover in times of recession, and it’s because of the Indian River lagoon.

Seagrass meadows are imperative to the diversity of the IRL, and clean water is what is needed for them to flourish. The “self” re-growth of seagrasses is slow. The other alternative is to replant by hand. This is an expensive ordeal, and comes with its own difficulties. Dr. Gilmore tells me that “farm raised” seagrasses do not readily, or successfully transplant. Currently, the most effective way is to plug healthy grass, and relocate it. Think that through.

Right now, the healthiest seagrass meadows in the entire lagoon are from Stuart to north of the Ft. Pierce inlet. If the rest of the IRL continues its collapse, AND we can keep “our” seagrasses healthy, we could be the only hope for a timely reintroduction of the seagrasses that are dying off. The assault on the St. Lucie estuary is obscene and it is affecting what were healthy seagrass meadows all the way to the Jensen Causeway. If we indeed do become the womb of seagrass reintroduction, every blade of grass will be precious. In my lifetime I doubt there has been a time when so little of the Indian River lagoon, could be so important to the health and vitality of its totality.

We need storm water storage and ACOE and SFWMD are dragging their feet. The storm water reservoirs for C-44, C-23, and C-24 have been approved and put on the Implementation Schedule for funding but when we were going to buy the land from sugar and it fell through OUR projects went on hold. C-44 phase 1 of 3 is 20% complete, but the next two are not funded. Our projects need to be returned to the Implementation schedule and get funded. Things would be better “right now” if the projects had gone forward without interruption. C-23 and C-24 projects were to be done 2012, 2014.

What we need is improved storm water treatment and data to make the correct decisions. At this time, there is little water quality testing being done at the major stormwater discharge and sediment drop points. We don’t really know WHAT they are dumping on the lagoon. There is a great need for more monitoring of the water. We can’t fix them all, but if we knew where the worst of it is coming from, perhaps we can get a good bang for the dollars spent and bring about meaningful improvements quickly. The SJWMD has been trying; they have diverted water into the St. Johns River, thus shielding our lagoon from some unneeded, and unwanted water. I applaud those efforts.

Millions can be spent on non functioning reservoirs, impoundments, and sweetheart land deals, but they haven’t come off the funds to properly monitor what they are dumping. Are you surprised? We should DEMAND that a solid system of data collection be placed everywhere there are discharge points. They don’t want you to know what they are doing because they certainly know what it is causing.

There are some fine systems available to us. The Ocean Research and Conservation Association in Ft. Pierce have developed the F.A.S.T. and Kilroy programs. Fast Assessment of Sediment Toxicity. The map a mile project in Vero is VERY telling. It paints a visual rendering of the pollution, and its strength. Dr. Widder and her staff have engaged the help of students to further this project and has expressed interest in bringing this program south into Martin County. Like all monitoring, this project is under funded. A collaboration of HBOI and ORCA might bring us a couple of Kilroy’s, one in the St. Lucie, and one at the inlet, but that too is lacking the proper funding. Kilroy provides “real time” information and was supported by the Stuart News editorial staff in October 4, 2011. Editorial: Ocean Research and Conservation Association soliciting donors to continue Kilroy monitoring of Indian River Lagoon http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2011/oct/04/editorial-ocean-research-and-conservation-donors/

At the launching of Kilroy in 2009, U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, said, "Recent economic valuations estimate that the Indian River Lagoon provides approximately $3.7 billion per year in benefits to Florida's residents and visitors — and recreation, including fishing, boating and swimming, is the largest component of the lagoon's economic value. I'm interested in ORCA's Kilroy technology because of its potential to ensure these waters will remain healthy and vibrant for generations to come."

Rep. Rooney’s Stuart office is surrounded on three sides by dead polluted estuary. Where has he been? Has anyone heard from him?

Where is his support for the monitoring programs, or was this just posturing for the press? It is HIS farm bills that assures that this destruction will continue. Who exactly is he representing?

Citizen action, loud and lots of it will be needed if any changes are to come about. It is our right and duty to demand clean water. The Indian River lagoon is near to collapse and all of us along its length will be hurt when we lose that 3.72 billion it injects into our economies. The destruction and pollution grows daily, and so does the price of its remedy. The sooner we take action collectively, all of us along the 156 miles, the less it will cost us to reverse the death and collapse.

We need your involvement please visit our website and consider becoming a member of Indian Riverkeeper

http://www.indianriverkeeper.org/

We will need thousands of Indian Riverkeeper voices if we are going to force our political representatives to actually represent us, and the minute you become involved, you too have become an Indian Riverkeeper. Volunteer, support and help fund any one of, or all of the dedicated organizations that are raising the alarm and desperately trying to save something worthwhile for our children’s children.

Demand Clean Water, demand that our representatives help rather than obstruct and enable those who worship the almighty dollar instead of healthy vibrant ecosystems, and the promise of those existing for our descendants.

All of us should use the litmus test of “where do you stand on sugar subsidies, or how will you vote on the issue” for how “we” vote, at all levels. If they are not condemning the sugar subsidies, and the resultant destruction they bring about, they are not representing YOU. Remember this as you cross the bridges and look down upon the brown death, or cruise in your boat and see naked, barren lagoon bottom where healthy seagrass meadows once thrived, the folks we are electing are taking our money and PAYING them to do this to us. We must FORCE them to represent “us” as they seem unwilling to do the right thing on their own. United and involved we stand, divided and uninvolved we fall. Contact your political leaders, and write letters to the Editor, we need your voice.

Marty Baum
Indian Riverkeeper.

Indian Riverkeeper
Rivers Coalition
Florida Oceanographic
ORCA
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute

Replies

  • testerman28testerman28 Posts: 1,329 Officer
    the crazy part of all this is where are the EPA? just like the building inspectors giving permits for mc mansions on properties that cover the whole "Raised Up' lot and rain drops cannot even find land due to concrete.. in our area off Griffin on the cut off canal it was a high tide all day long sometimes with the water they pump out so weston (another place overbuilt in the swamp..) will not flood.. so again where are we to put more people? one more question I have is when do we say "enough already!" to the sugar / cane farmers?.. ( I understand that they don't see any of this from their homes.. nor would they see past the dollar bills they have for blinders in the first place..)
  • Indian RiverkeeperIndian Riverkeeper Posts: 279 Officer
    I cannot speak for where do we put more people, I have no answer for that. On sugar;

    Politically, you would have to gather enough votes to modify the farm bill, and have the sugar subsidies removed, but the reality is that change will not happen, at least not this election cycle. They will spend whatever it takes to keep "their" guys in control. So, the political will is presently nonexistent, cross them and they support your opponent. It a serious uphill battle for the citizenall we have is what we can spare in out pockets, sugar has all the millions we give them in subsidies. They turn around and give some back to those who subsidize them. Bottom line, we PAY them to kill the Florida Everglades, the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. And when we try to stop them, the money politicians pay them allows them to fight us to a standstill. We are betrayed politically time after time.

    The Rivers Coalition sued them for violation of riparian rights. Essentially, the Judge agreed with us, said it was awful for sure, but statute of limitation applied. In other words, the action had to happen before 1935 or so in order to be valid. Even with five years between events sometimes, long enough for the estuary to heal and start becoming vibrant and diverse again, they do not consider any of them a "new event" We are still looking for solutions.
  • Indian RiverkeeperIndian Riverkeeper Posts: 279 Officer
    I will be giving my Riverkeepers report to the MC Commission this morning, and asking them to condemn the Okeechobee discharges, and craft a letter to our Representatives asking that C44-23-24 storm water retention areas are returned to the Implementation Schedule for funding. Wish me luck!
  • Pucker FactorPucker Factor Posts: 875 Officer
    There is a real problem, i agree with that and i have seen it first hand. On a seagrass project I am working on, we lost about 100 of 110 acres with the remaining 5 acres being in poor shape.

    It is interesting though that every time there is a water quality problem, just about everyone starts blaming sugar. Rediculous. That is what folks did to try and explain away the algae blooms in the Florida Bay back in 1990 and blame the FDOT in 2006 or so for the algae blooms in Card And Barnes Sound, but after investigation, neither accusations were correct.
  • Indian RiverkeeperIndian Riverkeeper Posts: 279 Officer
    There is a real problem, i agree with that and i have seen it first hand. On a seagrass project I am working on, we lost about 100 of 110 acres with the remaining 5 acres being in poor shape.

    It is interesting though that every time there is a water quality problem, just about everyone starts blaming sugar. Rediculous. That is what folks did to try and explain away the algae blooms in the Florida Bay back in 1990 and blame the FDOT in 2006 or so for the algae blooms in Card And Barnes Sound, but after investigation, neither accusations were correct.

    Sugar deserves a lot of blame, the obstruction of water quality standards, and a throughway to the south stand out. So does the obstruction of plan six. Their political influence on water management policy and water quality standards are a deadly, killing thing to the St. Lucie estuary, and part of the lower Indian River lagoon. This is a known thing so every time folks see brown water they assume it Okeechobee Lake discharges, and therefore blame sugar. This time, our own watershed was flooded by Isaac first, then after ten days or so of the Kissimmee River watershed surging Okeechobee, we got that too. The coup de gras to the estuary.

    There are two separate issues for the St. Lucie Estuary. Okeechobee Lake discharges, as in above, and our own watershed. Well, the watershed we are now responsible for which is several orders larger than before ditch, dike, and drain. This includes a city where once was wetlands and all of the wire grass prairies and sloughs to the west that were once seasonally flooded or drained into other watersheds. Much of this area is now being managed dry and is growing citrus and grazing cattle. This storm water now reaches the St. Lucie much to quickly to be buffered by vegetation to reduce phosphates and nitrogen, so, along with much greater volume, it is deadly to the estuary too.

    There is a series of CERP (Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project) projects, C44-23-24 STA's, approved, permitted and ready to go, but not funded, that would hugely mitigate our own watershed damages. They were on the implementation list, awaiting funding, which was close, when they were suspended to unload the funding request for a land deal. The deal fell through and our projects were not reinstated, nor funded. Had things moved forward on the C23-24 STA's as originally scheduled before the interruption, one would be done now, another next year. The C-44 STA is a three phase project, with only the first phase funded, this is about 20% complete. I am told that all three phases must be complete for it to work.

    The solutions to both problems are in political will to take the action and the Congressional funding to make them work. The folks we elect into office should be representing us, and as such, should be subsidizing the solution, not subsidizing the cause. Here are some projects and improvements that with funding could seriously help solve our problems in the St. Lucie.

    Modify the Farm Bill to remove sugar subsidies, sell sugar at world rate and save Americans somewhere around 4 billion dollars a year. This would generate a whole page of good things for Floridians.

    Fund the C44, C23, C24, C25 STA projects.

    Fund a comprehensive study of the St. Lucie and Indian River and implement a thorough system of monitoring of the estuaries, with all data posted in real time. As soon as samples tested result in data, that is also posted, with raw data available for examination. This would enable us to know exactly where the worse problems lie, taking us to the point of entry, and then to the source, and get good value out of our funding to correct them. The savings realized by having enough information to treat the cause and not the symptom could pay for the program.

    Create matching fund credits for storm water retrofits, and land acquisition for water retention. This would help encourage County Governments to take action and improve their stormwater treatment, and acquire land through a self imposed tax, like Martin and St. Lucie have done.

    Fund a throughway south to the Everglades that includes large areas dedicated to treating water along the way, something we will have to do for a long time to deal with all the legend pollutants in the mud and silt of Okeechobee Lake. (something like plan 6) This raised water table over the large area will also help recharge the Biscayne Aquifer, which is being drawn down allowing salt water intrusion.

    The lake water is too polluted to send directly into the Everglades, so this must be remedied. In fact, before the drought Okeechobee Lake was near death from the polluted overly rich soup it had become. Every wind event brings the legend pollution back into the water column, and algae blooms follow.

    The drought we just experienced was probably the best thing to happen to Okeechobee Lake in many years. The low levels exposed silt beds to oxidation and plants whose roots create a web of natural extractors finding and utilizing the legend phosphorus and nitrogen. A management program of dropping lake levels for a year to oxidize the silt and plants to consume pollutants, followed by say four years of higher levels to allow the water column to recharge the exposed littoral areas with legend pollutants. Repeat as necessary. This could accelerate the cleansing of Okeechobee Lake allowing less mandatory cleansing in-route.

    There is a need to hold more water longer in the Kissimmee River watershed before it gets to the lake, it is dirty. I don't know enough about that yet to offer up a specific solution as to what might be a way to bring that about, or discuss ideas others have developed. Soon.

    Fund raising enough of Alligator Alley, and Tamiami Trail to allow major water events to pass through them, instead of over them.

    All these things at the least, and likely some more, need to happen if the St. Lucie is to survive and thrive. With completed "C" STA's better water management options and cleaner water will exist and that can help repopulate and add stability to the St. Lucie estuary. Moving the fresh/salt water interface back up into the north and south prongs/forks will allow all those mangroves to be nurseries again. Maybe with the STA's on line all Dr. Encomio's efforts trying to reseed oysters won't be wiped out and they will get a chance to work their diversity and filtration magic.
  • Pucker FactorPucker Factor Posts: 875 Officer
    By our having this very conversation or rather, for me to rebut and point out the issues that I may have with your post and information above is the precise problem that we face here in south Florida and others face around the country, so I will steer away from that type of a response. Our ability as a society to seek solutions, in many instances, is exhaustive and remains overly complicated. The parties involved, state, local, federal and interested third parties only seek their own initiatives without being able work together. CERP is dead and has been replaced by some other lesser program called CEPP. It is dead because no one can work together. I can honestly say it is not sugar that is responsible for the issues, but rather the very government that is supposed to devise these plans to rectify the issues they created long ago.
  • TypicleseTypiclese Posts: 393 Deckhand
    riverkeeper. How long have we been growing cane in florida?

    Ok, answer that then I want you to re-think your comment. Then ask yourself, when did the building boom hit FL? then ask yourself when did our esteemed water management districts begin to decide on ways to drain wetlands so McMansions can be built on the borders of the swamps? how long have you lived here?

    if it's been anytime then you know that SFWMD started in 1949. primarily for "flood control". floods in florida are natural and good...so over the past 45+ years we've seen them drain swamp, straighten the kissimmee river downstream to lake Okeechobee, canal the hell out of the swamps and wetlands around the glades etc. SFWMD, the guys who's self-proclaimed banner is "restoration of American everglades" were the very ones who wrecked the entire south and central florida watershed.
  • FloridaODFloridaOD Posts: 4,261 Captain
    Almost a month later.........update,comments??

    Month and a half later.............
    Hunters are present yet relatively uncommon in Florida :wink
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