“The most important environmental issue is one that is rarely mentioned, a lack of a conservation ethic in our culture.” (Senator Gaylord Nelson, Founder of “Earth Day”)
“Conservation is now a dead word……you can’t conserve what you haven’t got.” Marjorie Stoneman Douglas (1969 founder of Friends of the Everglades”)
” We’re one of the most highly regulated industries and we have to pay attention to what government is doing.” (Paul Ehrlich, American Biologist and environmentalist at Stanford University.)
Recently, I asked a seasoned freelance-writer and friend to be a quest blogger and to share his thoughts about the pollution of the Indian River Lagoon. He wants to be known as “Shawvinist”. These are his thoughts entirely.
Runoffs from storm water, wastewater, industrial waste, fertilizer and septic tanks have thrown the Indian River Lagoon into turmoil. Acres of valuable sea grass, vital to sea life, have been lost. The pollution affecting the lagoon has resulted in a dramatic rise in manatee and dolphin deaths from mysterious and unexplained illnesses.
Interference with the natural order of the waterways has led to vast algae blooms that block light to necessary sea grass, which normally brings life to the diverse ecosystem. Experts and researchers have discovered that some 60 percent of sea grasses have vanished from the once prosperous lagoon in recent years. The disappearance has not only caused unprecedented loss of plant life, but may also be responsible for the marine life deaths that baffle scientists. Manatees die from eating toxic macro algae, leaving local residents, tourists and researchers shocked when they come across another dying sea animal. More than 60 dolphins and 120 manatees have died in just one year because of the toxic and polluted waterways. The beautiful creatures of the Treasure Coast have been forced to eat poisonous plant food.
It could cost billions of dollars to repair and restore the precious waters of the lagoon. Although environmentally conscious people are more than willing to utilize taxation to put an end to the lagoon’s miseries, industries and mismanaged government agencies also need to be reined in to stop the ecological damage. It could take years to return the lagoon to its paradise of fishing, shellfish harvesting, and water activities enjoyed by residents and tourists, who still embrace the 156 miles of water between Volusia and Palm Beach counties.
Those who have depended on the lagoon for their livelihood over the decades have suddenly seen the lagoon system cheapened and destroyed by carelessness. It has had a harrowing effect on the $3.7 billion commercial and recreational fishing industries. Water releases from Lake Okeechobee continue to carry pollutants, brown water and devastation to the lagoon, wiping out fish, shellfish, sea grass beds and thousands of species of plants and wildlife. The negative effects on pH, salinity and oxygen levels even threaten the health of people.
Rapid changes in currents and sediments produce the murky waters from the high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, pollutants that significantly impact the lagoon because of the water releases from Lake Okeechobee. The Army Corps of Engineers claims the releasing of polluted water from the lake is necessary to avoid breakage of the lake’s levees. However, the unnatural drainage of Lake Okeechobee into the Indian River Lagoon has disrupted the natural flow to the Everglades, taking plant and marine life from the lagoon with it. The lagoon is also plagued by hundreds of thousands of septic tanks while the careless actions of industries have poured unnatural components into our waterways.
The task of improving the Indian River Lagoon to its once great status may seem impossible, but thoughtful people from around Florida are now standing up, demanding that businesses, organizations and elected officials do everything they can to take responsibility for the care of this natural wonder. All parties need to meet specific requirements and take accountability for their actions. The people of Florida are making sure polluters face the consequences for the pollution and unnecessary deaths that haunt marine and plant life in the lagoon.
“Be a nuisance where it counts, but don’t be a bore at anytime….Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join in your action….be depressed, discouraged and disappointed at the failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics-but never give up.” Marjorie Stoneman Douglas ( Breton, Mary Joe, Women Pioneers for the Enviroment, Northwestern University Press: Boston, 1998.