Poisoning the Waters

Savvy inshore fishermen, and certainly savvy applies to Florida Sportsman fans, look for seagrasses.
The anglers know that rich fields of underwater plant and marine life are crucial to the life histories of sportfish.

Hundreds of species of varied life forms flourish in a healthy bed of seagrass.

Right now, however, that savvy angler finds nothing but barren bottom on hundreds of square miles of what is normally seagrass in many areas. For a veteran visitor of the grassflats, the killing scene is downright scary.

Some of the causes of certain die-offs aren’t fully understood, and we’re covering the investigative research that’s under way, BUT, there isn’t much doubt about what is causing extreme problems along the historically gorgeous St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

Poison.

That’s a strong word, but might not it apply to a substance that causes so many mortalities?

The killer stew is dished out through man-dug drainage canals connected to Lake Okeechobee. Coastal waters are thus besieged with ugly brown water from inland that has almost zero visibility. Seagrasses like lots of light and can’t thrive without it.

The muddiness is just one ingredient in the poison.

Others include toxic levels of phosphorous and nitrogen and a showing of deadly methylmercury.
And there is the irony of too much of what seems like a welcome guest—fresh water.

The fresh water discharges from agricultural excesses overwhelm estuaries like the St. Lucie at Stuart which must have a measure of salt to continue their ecosystems.

For a fresh look at the seagrass slaughter, just a few days back, Art Director Drew Wickstrom motored us over to the shallows just north of long-popular Boy Scout Island. The bottom was muddy and lifeless, as viewed by the somewhat goofy looking angler in the lower photo.

A couple hours earlier, we had putted down the Intracoastal Waterway to below Hobe Sound, an area that does not suffer the St. Lucie discharge assaults. There the water was clear (despite some recent rains)
and sure enough there were large areas of thick, lush seagrass below us.

Thinking of the contrast between the two areas, we realized again that we endure the same disgusting story as overdrainage and an ill-conceived plumbing scheme ruin the estuary.

We’d like to tell you that reforms and restoration are on the way. That’d be a big fib.

Karl Wicktstrom