Monday, February 26, 2018

Florida Bay: Dead? ... by gimleteye

Reports filtering in, from fishermen using Florida Bay, say that the water is choking in a toxic algae bloom.

A week and a half ago, flying into Miami from the southwest, the passenger jet carried me straight up Florida Bay and, looking, down, the water looked clouded with algae.

Recent photo of Florida Bay taken from a passenger jet, looking east toward the Florida Keys. The spit of land in the center is Cape Sable. The dusty colored water in Florida Bay is a vast algae bloom.
Over the weekend, a friend reported fishing in this same area we flew over; nearly eighteen miles west of Islamorada in the Gulf. The captain wheeled the boat into twenty foot depth where he stopped, surrounded by thousands of dead fish. He didn't take photos, unfortunately, or we would post them. What my friend did say was that the three began to cough; slowly then harder. The toxic algae that killed the fish was choking them, too. The captain spun the boat up on a plane and scooted away.

Since the first massive algae bloom in Florida Bay in the late 1980's, serial and repetitive outbreaks have vastly disrupted the food chain; thinning out the natural habitats where fish and crustaceans thrive. (Just one example, since the 1970's the price of colossal stone crab claws has climbed nearly fifty fold. The bonefish and permit and tarpon that once habituated the channels, bays and sea grass meadows have largely disappeared -- returning only when the water is algae-free -- , putting a billion dollar fishing and tourism economy at real risk.)

I don't use the term "dead", lightly. There are some alive things in the bay, like catfish, that NEVER were there before, when the water was right. Catfish feed on dead stuff at the bottom. Lots of that. Also, we know that ecosystems can revive -- the Kissimmee River project is just one example, where returning a semblance of natural flows brought conditions back to a semblance of what they had been before the river was straightened by the US Army Corps.

Florida Bay is a much different and larger-scale task. It is the drainage basin for 2 million acres of drastically altered upstream wetlands including about 600,000 acres of monoculture, industrial sugarcane that drains phosphorus, nitrogen, and sulfur additives used to maximize crop yield. We are not even close to "getting the water right" in Florida Bay, and the further away we grow from the first insult, the harder it is to conceive a way through. It is not for lack of effort.

Everglades Restoration was supposed to address the water quality problems in Florida Bay. Lawsuits against the state of Florida and Big Sugar in the 1980's, levied by the federal government, the Miccosukee Tribe and environmental groups, yielded the federal state partnership to fix the Everglades in 2000. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was a horrendous compromise because Big Sugar insisted that the issue of water storage and cleansing be booted to the indefinite future.

Subsequent plans to rehydrate the upstream Everglades with clean, fresh water at the right time of year turned into engineering fiascos because they routinely under-size land buy-outs needed for sufficient storage and treatment marshes. Bad faith is thick as cattails in once-pristine Everglades.

Last year's promise by Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Joe Negron to fix the problems "once and for all" are another tranche in the category of "shamefully inadequate". The multi-billion dollar plan -- approved by the state legislature but not yet the federal cost-sharing partners -- will only deliver certainty to one constituency; billionaire Big Sugar campaign contributors.

Florida Bay? Scarcely at all. Florida Bay is not the only slow motion tragedy in Florida's waterways and natural habitats. It is a highly visible one. Curious that voters seem incapable of barring from elected office so many politicians who claim to care but are as cowed by Big Sugar as Congress is, by the NRA.


Anonymous said...

Trump just announced he is in fact the Swamp Thing.

Anonymous said...

There is a weekly newsletter from the FWC that tracks all algae blooms in the gulf. It's free.

Anonymous said...

Biscayne Bay may not be far behind. Wake up folks!

Anonymous said...