Florida’s Fertilizer Addiction Is Feeding an Environmental Nightmare–
| July 21, 2021
Nancy Long is accurate in her assessment of our fertilizer and chemical abuses. Many counties have now initiated summer bans on lawn fertilizer in order to help our aquifer. Relatively little agriculture is practiced in Volusia compared to other counties so the sources of most nitrates are urban fertilizer and septic wastes.
Other sources are human wastewater disposal systems such as sprayfields, animal wastes, and urban and agricultural fertilizers. In Florida fertilizer is out of control. Statewide, about 70 percent of nitrates going into our waters come from agriculture, 12 percent from urban fertilizer, 12 from septics and 5 from wastewater treatment.
Our current BMAPs fall so far short of fixing this that they are a joke.
But nobody is laughing as we watch our springs and rivers die.
Florida’s Fertilizer Addiction Is Feeding an Environmental Nightmare
The Daytona Beach News-Journal
Fertilizing a nightmare
Florida faces a catastrophe of polluted waterways and algae blooms. Many Florida counties have implemented fertilizer bans, which prohibit the application of any fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorus between June 1 and September 30, or when the National Weather Service predicts heavy rain to occur within 24 hours. Many of our residents do not realize the insecticides and fertilizers applied to keep their lawn beautiful wreak havoc on the waterways.
This past week, despite the fact that it was pouring rain and that more heavy downpours were predicted, I drove past a “lawn care” truck and saw a worker spraying chemicals on the neighbor’s grass. Our street is directly on the canal which means that those chemicals wash off from canal to river.
I ask that elected officials closely monitor these companies who have the contracts to treat lawns, to make sure that they honor the fertilizer and insecticide bans. Train their staff with other skills during the summer months, but stop the ridiculous spraying of fertilizer and insecticides during the rainy season, especially for properties built along our waterways. And Residents, please realize the weed killers, insecticides, and fertilisers you use to create your lovely grass lawn are killing our environment!!
Nancy Long, South Daytona
Desantis as ‘Green Governor’? More Like ‘Blue-Green Algae Governor’–
| July 21, 2021
Mr. Webber has told the truth. We could add that it is not just Mr. DeSantis who is blue-green, his policies are hurled downward and made those of the Department of Environmental Protection and the five water management districts. This is, of course, is coupled with our legislators who are owned by the polluters and users of industry/agriculture. These industry-owned legislators are the reason good water bills cannot make it into law.
Our state is in even worse hands than Mr. Webber writes. Our agencies have no workable plan to keep our springs and rivers from drying up. Their policies are allowing our waters to slowly but surely die. The plans they currently support are mere licenses for polluters to pump and pollute with the blessings of our water districts and the DEP.
Read the complete article here in the Tampa Bay Times, July 15, 2021.
Desantis as ‘Green Governor’? More Like ‘Blue-Green Algae Governor’
After the year we’ve had, many of us wish we could go back in time. But no one in Florida wants to go back to the devastating blue-green algae and Red Tide summer of 2018. Unfortunately, with recent reports of massive fish kills, water that looks like guacamole, record manatee die-offs and human health warnings, we are already experiencing another slimy, smelly summer.
Water and tourism are the backbone of our economy but, despite lofty campaign promises and hundreds of pages of water-related legislation aimed at cleaning up our water, we’re not much better off than we were a few years ago. How do we find ourselves, once again, in this situation with hundreds of tons of dead marine life from Red Tide — this time in Tampa Bay — and residents sick from drinking tainted tap water in West Palm Beach?
The blame lies squarely in Tallahassee, where leadership has failed to enact meaningful changes that will protect the health and beauty of our state.
Blue-green algae and Red Tide are harmful algal blooms that are dangerous to human health, wildlife and pets, and our economy. The severity of these outbreaks is the byproduct of too many pollutants entering Florida’s oceans and waterways from sources like fertilizer, sewage and agriculture. While both blue-green algae and Red Tide are naturally occurring, they rapidly intensify and persist with the influx of pollutants. In addition, rising water temperatures and irregular weather patterns caused by human-induced climate change fuel these water quality problems.
In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ much-lauded Blue-Green Algae Task Force developed a 10-page report of sensible solutions for addressing our water problems. The recommendations included more robust testing and monitoring of our waters and requiring agricultural operations to meet pollution reduction goals (currently voluntary). The task force experts asked the state to prioritize pollution prevention rather than pouring taxpayer money into expensive and untested cleanup methods. And they sought defensible human health criteria for the cyanotoxin that has killed pets and made people ill.
In 2020, the massive and dubiously named “Clean Waterways Act” had ample opportunity in its 111 pages to fit in the task force recommendations. It didn’t. That’s why reputable science-based organizations like the Waterkeepers and Florida Springs Council opposed it.
During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers brought forward a bill to force the governor and his agencies to implement the task force’s science-based solutions. That bill died without even a single hearing in the Florida House. Water advocates also supported other bills that would strengthen pollution reduction goals, add fees to bottled water companies that suck our springs dry, set drinking water standards to safeguard human health, and protect the wetlands that clean our drinking water. But without leadership from Gov. DeSantis or the Legislature, those bills also died.
Fast forward to our algae-ridden summer of 2021. At the most recent Blue-Green Algae Task Force meeting in June — their first meeting in eight months — scientists were vocally dismayed that our leaders had not followed the necessary prevention-first recommendations outlined nearly two years ago. The task force’s science-based recommendations to protect our water are indisputable. The only remaining question is whether or not our leaders have the political courage to get the job done. The answer thus far is: no, not even close….
Tallahassee politicians, led by the self-proclaimed “green governor,” want you to think they care. But Florida’s increasingly polluted waters tell the real story. The proof is in the pudding, or in our case, the guacamole. And if we can’t keep our waters clean, it may be time to start calling DeSantis the “blue-green” governor.
Jonathan Scott Webber is the deputy director of Florida Conservation Voters, a statewide environmental advocacy group based in Tallahassee
Time to Act on Causes of Toxic Algae
| July 21, 2021
Until Florida officials find the political will to tackle these big problems, massive algae blooms are probably going to be a fact of life. And spot solutions will never make up for the damage Floridians are doing to their own water bodies.
Spot on, indeed. The term “political will” is one I hope we hear more and more often, as that is the key, with all the implications of knowing the solution but fearing to take on the polluters.
Unsaid here is the fact that Florida’s waters face even more problems than algae, these being the constant decline caused by extreme over-pumping. Reducing the nitrates from fertilizer and septics is critical but we also must stop excessive pumping.
Editorial Daytona Beach News Journal Time to Act on Causes of Toxic Algae
Monday, July 12, 2021
Florida’s environmental leaders pick their battles when it comes to the micro-organisms that threaten the state’s water bodies. Ann Shortelle, executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District, says she’s justifiably happy with an experimental project that targets an aggressive, toxic form of freshwater algae that is, once again, showing up in Florida rivers and lakes.
Things are going so well, Shortelle says, that the treatment will be made available to managers of afflicted water bodies across the state. And that’s good news. Florida needs effective weapons against biological threats to its water bodies — especially ones such as blue-green algae which can cause nausea, vomiting, flu-like symptoms, skin problems and even neurological problems in humans and can be fatal to pets.
The system being tested in Lake County’s Lake Minneola uses a form of hydrogen peroxide that breaks down as it kills off the harmful algae. It doesn’t disrupt the natural defenses of a lake or river — in fact, scientists expect it to boost healthier forms of algae that can help fight off a resurgence of the toxic strain. It sounds great. It is great.
But it’s not enough. Blue-green algae isn’t the only microorganism that threatens Florida waters. It’s not even the worst: Red tides and brown tides — also triggered by noxious microorganisms — can kill thousands of tons of marine life including dolphins and manatees in a single season, and smother scenic waterways with thick mats of stinking, guacamole-like goop. Scientists believe algae, when dried out, can aerosolize into particles that can travel miles inland and could be linked to a wide range of health problems in people who never go near the water.
And while the technology being deployed in Lake Minneola holds promise, it’s a treatment, not a cure. While noxious algae strains are part of Florida’s ecosystem, they’re not meant to overwhelm water bodies the way they have been doing several times in recent decades. The toxic tides are a clear sign of distress, and there’s little doubt that human activity is to blame.
Florida leaders get it. They’re just not willing to take the toughest steps needed to clean things up.
They are willing to throw some money at it but it’s not nearly enough to tackle the big problems that face Florida’s algae-plagued water bodies — most of which track back to an excess of nitrogen and phosphorus leaching into water bodies. These come from two main sources: fertilizer that washes off agricultural fields and lawns, and wastewater leaching from failing septic tanks and malfunctioning sewer systems….
Until Florida officials find the political will to tackle these big problems, massive algae blooms are probably going to be a fact of life. And spot solutions will never make up for the damage Floridians are doing to their own water bodies.
Although agriculture is responsible for most of the pollution in the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers, we must support farms and ranches. What is necessary for sustainability is that much less fertilizer and water be used. This must happen whatever it takes – different crops, smaller yields, assistance from the state- whatever it takes.
A good first step is for our agencies and decision-makers to face the fact that continuing the present course is impossible. That is a big first step for some who are not accustomed to thinking ahead.
Thanks to OSFR board member David Vaina for submitting this article.
The just-released “2021-2022 Springs Funding Report” published by the Florida Springs Council draws attention once again on the devastating impact that nitrogen loading continues to have on our springs’ water quality.
That impact is transferred to the Santa Fe River, As the Florida Springs Institute notes, “nitrate nitrogen concentrations in individual Santa Fe River springs have increased between 1,000 and 80,000 percent, and by an average of 2,600 percent in the Lower Santa Fe River” over the last seventy years. As much as 85% of that nitrogen pollution in Florida’s Springs is a result of agricultural practices and the nitrogen overloads in the spring flows overwhelmingly account for the nitrogen problems in the Santa Fe River.
Of course, there are many variables at play when we analyze the Florida springs’ and Santa Fe River’s quality issues but agriculture–and its intensive use of nitrogen fertilizer-is a critical one. There are, correspondingly, many solutions to excessive nitrogen loads including regulating nonpoint sources of pollution as well as point sources. This week, one very modest solution was announced by Alachua County’s Office of Resilience, Climate Change, and Sustainability. A small amount of grant monies will be made available to small farmers and ranchers in the County to support their operations. Here in Alachua County, there are a number of small certified organic and sustainable farms who may be using less nitrogen fertilizer, and we should encourage any ways to support them. Small farms are also critical to our local economy and most are very transparent about their agricultural practices and are willing to discuss them at one of the many wonderful farmers’ markets in Alachua County.
Coastal ‘Dead Zones’ Are Multiplying. Seaweed May Be a Solution
| July 21, 2021
Once again we are treating symptoms and not cure. The only solution is to stop these nutrients from entering the Mississippi River. The polluters must pay and the consumer must share the cost. High taxes on fertilizer to drastically reduce use and production would have benefits also where the environment is destroyed in order to mine phosphate. Billions are being spent to treat symptoms and this does not include economic losses caused by the dead zones.
Humankind does not need chemical fertilizers to survive. Leaders pushing business and increased population over everything else are taking our civilization down an unsustainable path which must meet its own end some day. Dead zones are but one indicator that our method is not working and is leading to the destruction of our planet.
Pre-planning and beginning action will ease the transition.
In May 2019, the Mississippi River dumped a daily average of more than 5,000 metric tons of nitrate and 800 metric tons of phosphorous into the Gulf of Mexico, the highest levels in the last 40 years. These excess nutrients from Midwest farm fertilizer and animal waste rob the waters off Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas of oxygen, fueling toxic algal blooms and causing what’s come to be known as a dead zone.
The size varies each year, but this particular patch’s five-year average hovers at about 5,000 square miles. To date, a U.S. government task force has made little if any progress toward the goal of reducing it to 2,000 square miles.
For environmental experts, the problem seems intractable. Known as eutrophication, dead zones are proliferating all over the globe. There are currently over 700 coastal areas worldwide that are either dead zones or negatively impacted by runoff. While the U.S. suffers mostly from agricultural waste, urban wastewater is the main culprit in South America, Asia and Africa.
Every year, they inflict $3.4 billion in economic damage in Europe and the U.S. alone due to lost tourism and fishing, declining property values, water treatment and adverse health impacts. In the last 10 years, 85 U.S. communities have spent more than $1 billion combined to prevent or treat algal blooms. Among the hardest hit are at the mouth of the Mississippi, where the constant ejection of waterborne waste from America’s heartland decimates local seafood and tourism industries.
But there may be a solution on the horizon. A new study makes the case that the Gulf of Mexico could trade in its slimy algae for silky green seaweed, which if planted in sufficient numbers could soak up much of that damaging waste. The concept is early days and implementation further afield, but given the lack of progress on other fronts, said study co-author Phoebe Racine, “there’s no other option but to consider alternative practices.”
Cultivating multiple species of seaweed in less than 1% of Gulf of Mexico waters could potentially help the U.S. achieve pollution reduction goals that have been out of reach, said Racine, a researcher at the University of California in Santa Barbara. She and her colleagues have already mapped suitable areas for seaweed farms in the Gulf and found more than 24,000 square miles of potentially available sites.
Seaweed aquaculture dates back 1,700 years to China. These days, nations such as Indonesia and the Philippines, along with China and South Korea, lead the world in this arena. In South Korea, where aquaculture has grown 300% over the last 30 years, an intensive effort has demonstrated its usefulness as a waste reduction tool. As one of the biggest producers of seaweed in Asia (where 99% of all seaweed is cultivated), the country has at least 2,144 seaweed farms covering a total of 350 square miles, according to Jang Kim, a marine scientist based at Incheon National University. That’s an area roughly the size of Dallas.
Farms of three major seaweed species and two shellfish species (all filter feeders that require no additional food) took up the equivalent of 5.7% of the carbon dioxide and 8.6% of the nitrogen discharges from all wastewater treatment plants in Korea, according to a study conducted by Kim.
Key to the success of seaweed farming is its increasing commercial potential, and that these aquatic plants can soak up excess nitrogen and phosphorous and turn it into not only human food, but an expanding array of additional commercial uses. The most cultivated seaweeds include red or brown algal species or kelps. Some are used to make culinary thickening agents or agar to culture bacteria in laboratory settings. Others are dried into sheets called nori used to make sushi rolls. While sugar kelp can be used as a sweetener, kelps are also used in toothpastes, shampoos, frozen foods and even pharmaceuticals.
Making seaweed farms profitable will be a critical consideration to promoting them as a solution to agricultural and urban waste. Asia has strong existing demand for seaweed. Human consumption, including everything from sushi rolls to broth to salad, is the biggest market for harvested seaweed, said Kim. But growing demand can also be seen among the cosmetics and fertilizer industries, as well as feed for farmed seafood. “We have more than 50% of kelp production going to abalone feed,” said Kim.
Mass aquaculture faces some significant obstacles, not least of which is its labor-intensive nature. Seaweed cultivation relies on either lab-based nurseries to grow and attach juvenile seaweed to netting or line, or transferring cuttings from mature plants to a submerged line. Harvesting usually involves multiple people on boats cutting seaweed out of the water.
Globally, demand for seaweed is projected to double to $30 billion by 2025. In the U.S., however, the seaweed market is relatively small. Gretchen Grebe, an aquaculture scientist based at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, said seaweed farming in American “is still very much in its R&D phase.” She’s been studying coastal seaweed aquaculture in Maine, where in 2020 kelp farmers harvested 482,000 wet pounds worth just shy of $300,000. (Also in Maine, a company received $11 million in seed funding to grow kelp and then sink it into the deep ocean for carbon credits.) Racine contends that carbon credit markets used to slow pollution “could be used more fully” to encourage seaweed extraction of pollutants—including nitrogen, carbon, and even heavy metals—from coastal areas.
What on Earth?
In the U.S., the states have wildly divergent regulations when it comes to aquaculture permitting. While it’s comparatively easy to get a seaweed farm permit in Maine and Alaska, in California it requires negotiating a maze of overlapping regulations.
“Offshore operations are where the promise lies,” said Bailey Moritz, program director for World Wildlife Fund. “Our goal is to see seaweed grow in a way that will have meaningful impacts [on nutrient depletion], and scale is necessary for that.” WWF invested in Ocean Rainforest in Faroe Islands, an operation that designed rigs to withstand offshore weather conditions….
Premier showing of “The Fellowship of the Springs”
| July 21, 2021
Rum 138 snagged the premier showing of the new blockbuster movie which documents the killing of Florida’s springs by the very people charged to protect them. Award-winning film maker Oscar Corral was present at the showing and spoke about the making of the film. The film will appear this summer on PBS. Oscar Corral titled his movie “The Fellowship of the Springs” but a more appropriate title might be “Slow Death of the Springs.”
This two-hour film is the most thorough documentary to date on the plight of Florida’s springs and goes to the heart of the issue, revealing the sources of the problems and the inaction of those whose job it is to carry out the state’s laws to protect them. Although springs in all parts of the state are referenced, the main thrust of the study is on Central and North Central Florida where most of the springs are found.
Since it is fact that our state agencies are failing in their missions, it is not surprising that many of those responsible who recognize their failure refused to be interviewed by Corral. Among those are former Gov. Rick Scott, Gov. Ron DeSantis, DEP head Noah Valenstein, Suwannee River Water Management Board Chairwoman Virginia Johns, and Southwest Florida Water Management District scientist Ron Basso. In two cases underlings were sent out to face the questions; Tom Frick for the DEP and Katelyn Potter for the Suwannee River Water Management District. They were unable to answer Corral’s questions truthfully without looking bad, so they gave pathetic statements which did not condemn their bosses but did not come even close to answering the questions.
Other water management employees gave false impressions that the water districts uses the best science when this is not always true according to independent water scientists whose jobs are not invested in the state. This is probably the first film that exposes not only the failings but what is worse, the coverups of our state agencies whose scientists and spokespersons cheat and lie in their findings in order to draw more water from our springs and rivers to serve industry.
That, of course, is the reason the springs are dying. Our DEP and water management districts see themselves as dispensers of water withdrawal permits in order to help businesses make more money. To this end they allow over-pumping of the aquifer and over-fertilization of crops and lawns. They know the pollution and water deficits are killing the springs, but their attitude is to make money now and let the next generations worry when they have no more water.
Dr. Knight standing left, and Ron Basso, center. Photo by Jim Tatum.
In the image above, Dr. Robert Knight of the Florida Springs Institute, calls out Ron Basso, scientist employed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District for intellectual dishonesty during the public meeting to discuss the Minimum Flows and Levels for the Rainbow River.
As Corral points out in the film, these taxpayer-supported water districts fail to do their jobs and the public must sue them to do their work, and the taxpayer then pays the salaries of the lawyers they hire. Even though Dr. Knight clearly pointed out Basso’s failings, the legal challenge for his incorrect conclusions went in favor of the water district. It seems the judge favored Basso’s word over Knight’s, even though the latter’s credentials as a scientist shows he has the terminal degree in his field while Basso does not.
Corral does a great but not perfect job in selecting his spokespeople for the springs. His lead representatives, Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson and Dr. Robert Knight are undoubtedly the two most informed, active and honest people regarding Florida’s spring protection policies and the associated political problems. Jim Stevenson is an icon in Florida’s environment, as is photographer John Moran with his photo essays, which often read like poetry.
In the same exclusive club is Karen Chadwick whose main mission is uncovering the flooded springs of the flooded Ocklawaha River, as was also the mission of the late, irreplaceable Whitey Markle. Classic was the politician representing that area — shifty-eyed, fence-sitting, waffling, trying hard to answer Corral’s questions but so very careful not to offend any future voter. At least he had the courage to face Corral and his questions, unlike the state employees mentioned above.
Although a recent entry into springs advocacy, Michelle Colson, like those advocates in the paragraphs above, has made an impact by not just talking but by attending meetings of county commissioners and water management districts, speaking out, demonstrating and rallying to advocate spring protection.
I left the viewing of this film feeling very sad, frustrated and angry.
But mostly angry.
There is no excusable reason for intentionally and deliberately allowing our springs to die, and no excuse for the lying, cheating and cover-ups done by the DEP and the water management districts.
I was surprised that the film had such an emotional effect on me, because I already knew what Corral exposed. I have attended innumerable meetings over the past years, and I have heard lawmakers in Tallahassee speak bald-faced lies to legislative committees. I have seen members of water management boards show their total ignorance of basic water and pollution issues while making uninformed judgements about them. I see these same board members take the word of the staff attorney as gospel and unquestionable truth without considering right or wrong or any other issue.
I have seen board members who believe they are great stewards of the environment just because they like the sight of green fields, trees and cows. I have seen board members express their belief that the springs are in prime, healthy condition because they went out and looked at them and they were “pretty”. My name was on a BMAPs legal challenge where the judge ruled in favor of the DEP simply because they filled out the paper work to write the documents, disregarding the fact that the DEP admitted that the BMAPs would fail to reach the goal.
Many people of Florida have no inkling that our state agencies are letting our springs die, especially when these same springs-killers tell us in op-eds and speeches that they are doing a wonderful job taking care of our water. This film does a great job of exposing the problem and some of the people causing it. Everyone should see this movie.
Both DeSantis & Frazer a waste of time and taxpayer money
| July 21, 2021
What we see here is another disappointment in our struggle to conserve Florida’s fast-depleting water resources. We also see further evidence of what we already know, that DeSantis is nothing but hot air and smoke when it comes to fixing those water problems.
Frazer actually had some good advice from some of his task force members, who saw the sources of pollution and wanted to fix them instead of putting on more Band-Aids and window dressing.
But for whatever their reasons, Frazer did not support and DeSantis blocked those fixes. And both wasted taxpayer money big time.
This is a sad story and so typical of politics and Florida and is Florida politics incarnate.
Accountability we do not have in our state leaders.
Last week, I had coffee with a scientist named Tom Frazer. I was trying to nudge him to say some things about his former boss, but he was choosing his words verrrrry carefully.
We sat at a sidewalk table in downtown St. Petersburg, both of us fully vaccinated but still maintaining our social distance, because that’s what science says is safe. Frazer is all about following what science says.
Frazer is a tall, sandy-haired white man with a dark mustache and goatee. He looks more like the San Diego surfer dude he used to be than the academic he is now. He’s dean of the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida but, before that job, he served as Florida’s very first chief science officer.
We met to discuss his tenure working for Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had created the position Frazer held for — well, we’ll get to that complicated question in a minute.
This was Frazer’s first long interview after leaving the job, but don’t get your hopes up. He spilled neither his coffee nor any secrets from inside the DeSantis administration. If you were hoping for juicy anecdotes about the governor rattling a pair of steel ball bearings in his hand while ranting about strawberries, I’m sorry.
Instead, we talked about what Frazer did and how people reacted to that. While Frazer consulted with several state agencies on everything from climate change to saving endangered corals, his primary job was chairing a task force charged with figuring out how to stop the repeated blooms of blue-green toxic algae in Lake Okeechobee.
The five-member panel was packed with people who knew as much or more about Florida’s water quality woes as Frazer himself.
“There’s a ton of expertise in the state of Florida and we drew upon that expertise,” he told me.
Their focus was on identifying sources of the nutrient pollution that fuels the algae and suggesting ways to stop them. The task force put out a “consensus statement” with recommendations. That statement then became the basis for a piece of legislation last year that lawmakers dubbed the Clean Waterways Act.
They did not put quotes around “clean” but they probably should have. The version that passed — which was supported by agriculture and development interests — turned out to be so watered down (ha ha, puns are funny!) that environmental groups urged the governor to veto the bill and start over. Instead, he signed it.
While legislators were still considering it, Frazer told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that the watered-down bill was “one of the most environmentally progressive pieces of legislation that we’ve seen in over a decade. As a scientist, that’s pretty rewarding to me.”
The environmental groups that opposed the bill were aghast. Frazer’s endorsement seemed at best disingenuous and at worst a deliberate attempt to mislead.
“His principal legacy is greenwashing the governor and Legislature while they refused to take even the minimum steps of fixing the algae problem,” said Ryan Smart of the Florida Springs Council.
Frazer now says he expressed himself poorly.
“In hindsight, I should have said ‘most comprehensive,’ instead of ‘most progressive,” he told me. “Sometimes you make the wrong word choice.”
Nevertheless, he does not apologize for backing such a badly flawed bill.
“The alternative was no action,” he insisted. In that there was a bill at all “there was progress, and there will continue to be progress.”
But will there? When a legislator filed a bill this year that would have actually implemented some of the task force recommendations, Frazer did not endorse it, despite pleas from environmental groups.
“That’s not my job,” he told me. He wasn’t hired to lobby for bills but to talk about science, he said, despite his advocacy for a bill the previous year.
Frazer wasn’t alone. No other scientists from the task force endorsed the bill that would have implemented their recommendations. And the governor didn’t exactly run to the top of the 22-story Capitol with a bullhorn to proclaim his support. As a result, the bill never went anywhere — and, once again, we’re facing blooms of toxic blue-green algae in Lake Okeechobee.
I asked Frazer if he felt frustrated about the compromises required to get the Legislature to pass any bill regarding water pollution when that might be seen as restricting agriculture and other industries.
“I try not to comment that,” he told me.
I feel like that non-answer was kind of an answer, don’t you?
Shhh, don’t talk about it
Because Frazer was so reticent, let me tell you a story involving him that I think encapsulates a lot of what’s been going since DeSantis took office in January 2019.
As a candidate, DeSantis promised to create the posts of chief science officer and chief resilience officer. One would advise state agencies on the proper scientific approach to environmental problems. The other would oversee the state’s efforts to adapt to climate change — a subject that former Gov. Rick Scott always treated as if someone had just suggested setting fire to his Navy cap.
In April 2019, DeSantis announced he was appointing Frazer “to coordinate and prioritize scientific data, research, monitoring, and analysis needs to ensure alignment with current and emerging environmental concerns most pressing to Floridians.” Frazer would continue to hold his $176,775-a-year position at the University of Florida while also occupying the newly created $148,000-a-year science officer post.
Then, in August 2019, DeSantis named Julia Nesheiwat as the chief resilience officer. Unlike Frazer, who holds a Ph.D. in biological sciences, Nesheiwat had zero background in the subject she would oversee.
Nevertheless, Nesherwat traveled the state interviewing local officials and wrote a report about what she found. In February 2020 she quit, just six months after she started, to take a job in national security.
Despite requests from the press, the governor’s office refused to make her report public until April 2020. I don’t think the reason for the delay was because they were embarrassed at how complimentary she’d been.
On the contrary, Nesherwat wrote that Florida’s climate efforts were disjointed, local governments were feeling overwhelmed trying to deal with it on their own, and the state needed to take the lead.
Did DeSantis immediately leap to appoint a successor who would take the report and run with it? He did not. Instead, DEP secretary Noah Valenstein would fill in. More than a year later, Valenstein remains the fill-in resiliency officer, meaning no one is working on the issue full-time — if at all.
And what about the chief science officer? Frazer’s last Blue-Green Algae Task Force meeting adjourned in November, with no further meetings scheduled. What was he doing to earn that big salary?
Rumors began flying even before that, in August 2020, that Frazer had followed Nesherwat out the door. He had just landed the USF job and was also chairing the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, so the idea that he was still working that third job seemed improbable. I tried to track down what was going on, but nobody would confirm anything.
Months passed. Then, on March 12, DeSantis’ office announced that Frazer had accepted an appointment to the state’s Environmental Regulatory Commission, noting that he had “previously … served as the state of Florida’s first chief science officer.” The past tense strongly indicated that he’d quit as science officer — but still there was no announcement.
Cris Costello, a longtime organizer with the Sierra Club in Florida, says she called half a dozen state officials trying to find out if Frazer was still the science officer but couldn’t get a straight answer.
“I couldn’t even get them to tell me if he was still an employee of the state,” she said.
At last, on March 30, “at a press conference … praising an Everglades restoration project, Gov. Ron DeSantis made an unrelated surprise announcement: Florida’s first-ever chief science officer, Thomas K. ‘Tom’ Frazer, had left the post,” the Florida Phoenix reported.
“How long the post had been vacant was unclear. DeSantis said only that Frazer had gone to work as a professor and dean at the University of South Florida, and that the new chief science officer is Mark Rains, which also was a surprise at the news conference. Rains, too, is a professor at USF.”
During our coffee confab, I asked Frazer exactly when he left the job of chief science officer, which was under the DEP. He replied, “I’d rather let the agency answer that.”
But the agency never would. After I badgered him about it, Frazer told me his official last day as chief science officer was March 12. When he took the USF post, he said, he’d worked with DEP officials “to transition out of that job,” staying on until he’d been replaced.
So why wouldn’t the DeSantis administration just tell the public that? Why treat Frazer’s departure the way the members of Fight Club treated talking about Fight Club?
For the same reason, I think, that the DeSantis administration sat on Nesheiwat’s report for months. There’s a general arrogance toward the people they’re supposed to serve, a sense that the voters don’t deserve to know how their money is being spent and a hostility toward reporters who dare to ask about such things.
This, after all, is the governor who boasted about opening bars, restaurants, and schools despite the pandemic while keeping the Governor’s Mansion closed to the public — even though it’s owned by the taxpayers.
I checked my impression with Steve Bousquet, a South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist who’s been covering Tallahassee for three decades. He told me that DeSantis is the most secretive of the six governors he’s covered.
“He conceals his daily schedule and he’s openly hostile to the media … because it plays well with the base,” Bousquet said. He added that DeSantis is the only governor he’s ever seen refuse to take questions at a press conference.
Perhaps one reason for the secrecy: DeSantis seems to sing a different tune in private from what he says in public. The governor who touted science and climate resilience for Florida apparently doesn’t really think those things are important.
Last December, Politico got hold of a tape of a speech he made behind closed doors to a pro-development business group, Associated Industries of Florida. In the speech, he scoffed at science and predicted the Biden administration would squander its political capital pursuing “crazy stuff” — including climate change, which he said was not a major issue.
It sure is a major issue here in Florida, though — a state that’s flatter than Kansas and surrounded on three sides by rising seas.
Growing state, growing pollution problems
Frazer’s departure has left environmental activists disappointed about what he was able to accomplish.
Good ideas came out of the task force he led, “but many of us were frustrated about the lack of follow-through,” said Eve Samples, executive director of the Friends of the Everglades.
She plans to watch his successor carefully: “If he’s hamstrung, then we’ll know that this position was designed to be hamstrung.”.
Frazer, as we drank our coffee, said he never felt constrained — but he also recognized that scientific solutions may not be acceptable to politicians.
“I always felt free to share the science,” he said. “I realize that all decisions, all policies, are not developed entirely based on science.”
As we talked, he said something that struck me as the one of the best explanations I’d heard about why Florida’s water pollution and toxic algae problems have become so dire lately: Uncontrolled development that overwhelms sewer and wastewater systems built decades before.
“Florida continues to increase its population size,” Frazer said. “With that come changes. We have to be able to plan accordingly for that growth. Otherwise, we’ll never get ahead of the problem.”
Gee, if only some scientist could convince the governor to do something about that.
Vultures circle a tropical paradise in Florida as Brevard County’s graveyard of manatees grows–
| July 21, 2021
The sewage, detritus and fertilizers we have been dumping into our coastal waters for decades have created blooms of bad plant life while choking to death the seagrass on which the manatees and other marine life depend.
BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – A sun-bleached skull, scattered ribs and the decaying husks of dozens of manatees sully the smooth tan sand on a handful of mangrove islands north of Manatee Cove Park in Brevard County.
The emaciated remains, reported by waterfront residents or spotted by boaters, have been collected and dumped on the sandy outcroppings by state wildlife officers, turning these idyllic tropical settings into sea cow mass graveyards.
The smell of death hangs in the air. Vultures own the sky above as they circle what is quickly becoming an environmental catastrophe.
Up and down the Sunshine State, manatees, the gentle giants of the inland waterways, are dying en masse. They are starving to death. The mangrove coves and canals that once were havens for the creatures are increasingly empty of them. Decades of conservation success have given way to jumbles of bones and rotting carcasses all around Florida.
“I think it will be the highest (number of manatee deaths) we’ve ever documented,” said Martine de Wit, who runs the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s marine mammal pathology lab in St. Petersburg.
Who or what is responsible?
We humans, the residents of and visitors to Florida,own the reasons all this is happening, biologists say. Evidence from the massive die-off suggests this is a completely human-made famine. The sewage, detritus and fertilizers we have been dumping into our coastal waters for decades have created blooms of bad plant life while choking to death the seagrass on which the manatees and other marine life depend.
The damage we have wrought appears to be finally taking its toll. And we, those responsible for the mess, can only watch, helpless as the food web collapses around a fellow mammal.
This problem — the loss of habitat and food — is not so easily or quickly remedied.
“Very, very sad,” Jacquie Scoggin of Orlando said from her paddleboard on an otherwise beautiful April day. She came for the serenity and wildlife but found death and sadness instead.
While manatees throughout Florida are being impacted by famine, Brevard County hosts the largest population in the state and has become “ground zero” for the tragedy.
Already 696 manatees have died in 2021, triple the average number of deaths for this time of year. That’s more than one in 10 of the known manatees counted by biologists. The most deaths by far — 292, or 42% — were in Brevard County and the waters of the Indian River Lagoon.
The lagoon right now looks clear enough for seagrass to grow, but these waters ran out of ecological luck long ago. Decades of runoff from septic tanks and fertilized front lawns, as well as sewage leaks, eventually changed the balance of life in the closed system of the lagoon in such a way that the grasses and microorganisms that supported them died out and didn’t come back.
The bottom — like increasingly more places statewide — is grassless, leaving a desert where once a garden for manatees thrived. And not just for manatees: As the seagrass that anchors the food web of Florida’s coastal waters disappears, it impacts the lives of sea turtles, shrimp, fish and crabs, too.
The massive dying has not been terrible for all creatures. It’s been good for vultures and marine scavengers.Horseshoe crabs now reign supreme in the waters south of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
But the negative fallout is huge and can be measured in dollars as well as lost animal life. Tens of billions in yearly tourism revenue is at stake. Lush seagrass spawns a lucrative saltwater fishing industry and ecological tourism, including people who come from near and far to see manatees and catch glimpses of mothers and calves grazing or leisurely moving through the waterways.
The fallout of famine
Before the coronavirus pandemic, dead manatees would end up with de Wit at the marine mammal pathology lab in St. Petersburg. There the veterinary pathologist would dissect and test to figure out why the creatures were dying. But this year, two-thirds of the dead never made it to her.
Coronavirus rules preclude too many examiners in the lab at once. So FWC biologists examined sea cow carcasses in the field when they could get to them, which wasn’t all the time.As of April 23, state wildlife officials hadn’t examined 463 (66%) of this year’s 696 dead manatees.
But de Wit and most biologists studying the problem see one harsh and inescapable fact underlying the phenomenon: the loss of many tens of thousands of acres of seagrass across the state.
In the Indian River Lagoon alone, two phytoplankton blooms devastated seagrass in 2011, followed by two years of brown algae blooms, ultimately killing 47,000 acres of seagrass, or about 60% overall in the estuary. Not much has grown back since.
As seagrass withers statewide, manatees have little to eat, leaving them vulnerable to disease, cold and starvation. An adult manatee eats 100 to 200 pounds of seagrass per day to survive.
“Of all the events I’ve gone through myself, this one makes me wonder what are the long-term health effects on manatees with prolonged starvation,” de Wit said. “I’m not as optimistic as I was before.”
Ironically, the manatees’ dramatic comeback after boating rules changed may have made things worse in the face of the looming environmental disaster.
As the state’s manatee counts doubled over the past two decades, boating advocates like Bob Atkins of Merritt Island warned wildlife officials that seagrass growth wasn’t keeping pace and manatees faced imminent famine. Boaters for years shouldered too much of the blame for the manatee’s plight, Atkins and fellow boating advocates said.
This year’s FWC stats show boaters being responsible for 4.8% of the manatee death toll. They typically cause 20% to 25% of the deaths on any given year. Boats have killed 34 manatees in 2021, just one fewer death than the state’s five-year average.
Boaters point to power plants, too.
Manatees migrate to natural warm water refuges like freshwater springs but also to artificial ones, such as the warm-water discharge zones at power plants. That puts them in areas with scant seagrass during colder months. Before power plants, manatees seldom migrated farther north than Sebastian Inlet on the east coast and Charlotte Harbor on the west coast, fossil records show.
But in Brevard County, hundreds of manatees huddle flipper to flipper each winter at Florida Power & Light’s plant in Port St. John, keeping them farther north than they’d otherwise be.
“We’ve been warning the agencies for years that either we eliminate the artificial warm-water outflows (at power plants) and risk some manatees not returning to natural migration and at risk of cold stress mortality, or do nothing and keep stressing the system until the loss of seagrass threatens the life of the IRL (Indian River Lagoon) itself and everything dies including many more manatees,” Atkins said.
Manatees die when water temperature dips below 68 degrees Fahrenheit for too long.
A special state and federal task force looked at the issue of warm water discharges at 10 power plants luring manatees too far north in the winter but little concrete action has come thus far from the initial draft plan they put out in 2004.
In October, the task force issued another action plan that includes restoring flow to springs and developing other warm-water habitats not dependent on industry, gradually decreasing manatee dependence and use of power-plant discharges. That way sea cows will have time to adapt to new warm-water networks.
But the proposals are too late to stop what’s happening now.This year’s mass starvation is something all levels of government, science and advocacy failed to prevent, despite many millions of dollars spent. But is it something that could have been prevented? And can it be reversed in the future?
The death toll was so bad that last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared Florida’s manatee die-off an “unusual mortality event,” potentially freeing up federal money to look deeper into the matter.
More manatees live, die here
Florida’s Space Coast is best known for rockets and sea cows.
Typically, a third of Florida’s estimated 6,000 or more manatees reside here, within the 156-mile-long Indian River Lagoon. The most recent statewide sea-cow count, in early 2019, spotted 5,733 manatees.
The protection paid off. And manatees had been doing better in the years leading up to March 2017, when the federal government reclassified them from “endangered” to the less serious status of “threatened.” The same year, Florida biologists had counted a record 6,620 manatees from land and air.
The nonprofit Save the Manatee Club battled the reclassification, warning it was too soon to ease boating and other protections.
Most of this year’s death toll happened near Kennedy Space Center, but de Wit says the cause is far from rocket science. They’re simply starving in a barren, grassless underwater wasteland that resulted from pollutants.
“We’ve never seen tissue atrophy like this before,” de Wit said of the manatees she sees in her lab.
She points to the lush seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon 10 years ago. “That seagrass didn’t disappear because there were too many manatees,” de Wit said.
Disaster decades in the making
Seagrass and sea cows led a balanced coexistence in the Indian River Lagoon but in 2011 algae blooms began to ramp up yearly, blocking light, choking out oxygen and eventually killing off more than half the waterway’s seagrass.
“We are witnessing the impacts of a destabilized Indian River Lagoon food web,” said Duane DeFreese, executive director of the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program. “There are no quick fixes to this problem. If food resources decline, animal population size will adjust to carrying capacity.”
Most biologists predict this year’s death toll will far surpass that record.
DeFreese is optimistic the situation can be reversed — and manatees can be saved — if municipalities and residents can manage to improve water quality in the long term. For that to happen, local governments need to get more aggressive in keeping sewage and runoff from Florida’s coastal waters, he said.
But for Pat Rose, the executive director of Save the Manatee Club, that’s not the first order of business.
“First priority must continue to be given to the rescue and rehabilitation of sick or injured manatees,” said Rose.
Rose long has criticized Florida for lack of action on preventing winter manatee deaths near power plants and for removing federal protection from the animals.
“I fear that the FWS is preoccupied with rashly removing the manatee from the endangered species list altogether rather than ensuring that imperiled manatees are truly and fully recovered,” Rose said.
Long road to recovery
During a recent kayaking trip on the lagoon, there were no live manatees visible along the vast shallows south of the space center. There was only the dead. The carcasses look alien. Shriveled hulks of parched-brown skin and bones resemble sticks wrapped tightly in plastic garbage bags.
Donna Kirk of Winter Park had no idea just how bad it was until she explored these islands by paddle board with friends.
“I had heard they were starving but I didn’t know it was to this degree,” Kirk said, standing beside a manatee skull propped up on a stump in this islands shallows. Someone made a makeshift, pagan-like shrine with the manatee skull.
Their remains should be left alone. Anyone caught taking manatee bones could face a 2nd degree misdemeanor for possessing parts of a federally protected species. Penalties can be severe.
And despite the ongoing famine, biologists warn against feeding manatees. Doing so keeps them lingering in grassless areas, when they could otherwise be expending their scant energy to find greener underwater pastures.
Green shoots of hope reign eternal for both seagrass and sea cow, among those who study and love them most.
Butde Wit said their road to recovery will be long.
“When you go through prolonged starvation, it is sometimes impossible to turn the body around, even when you start eating again,” she said.
Neither the pope nor Rubio will save Florida’s waters
| July 21, 2021
We can “support those measures that aid both our neighbors and the environment” but Munoz himself admits that these measures will fail when he writes: “Laws like the Clean Waterways Act of 2020 are well intentioned but become distorted by special interests and human greed.”
What we have in Florida are well-intentioned laws that are meaningless and useless because our state is run by lobbyists for industry. Until this changes we can support all the measures we want but nothing will change, and to think otherwise is naive. The other measures Munoz references will meet the same fate.
Munoz gives a good example of this by citing Rubio’s “study.” Politicians try to make themselves look good by pushing studies instead of remedies, knowing all the while that industry/polluters will continue unscathed.
We know how to stop toxic blooms but fear of the polluters/money stops Florida from fixing them.
Neither the pope nor Rubio is going to save Florida’s environment.
Alejandro Andres Munoz Guest columnist, Sunday April 11, 2021
Springtime in the United States typically evokes images of new life and vibrant blooms … but not for Florida. Springtime marks the start of a far deadlier and toxic bloom, that of bluegreen algae.
The warming waters and growing phosphorus imbalance create just the right environment for massive-scale algal blooms. These can destroy both local ecosystems and economies. That is why, unless action is promptly taken, Florida risks declaring another state of emergency like that of 2018.
Algal blooms have many contributing factors but two primary ingredients in algal growth are phosphorous and warm weather. Phosphorous, a critical element in plant growth, enters the watershed as runoff from domestic and agricultural fertilizers. Agricultural lands are naturally the largest proportion of this contribution, making up 78% of the total phosphorous entering the watershed….
In pursuing a solution for this crisis, I believe that the intention behind legislation needs to be evaluated. Our legislation should seek to serve ecological interests and mankind alike.
To seek a remedy for an issue with only humanity in mind promulgates what Pope Francis labels as “modern anthropocentrism.” In his ecological encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis defines anthropocentrism as “the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”
While legislators might combat ecological issues because of their impact on their constituents, the inherent good of creation must not be overlooked.
Instead, politics should serve an integral ecology. Pope Francis reminds us that “strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” By this same notion, we as voters and constituents should support legislation that serves integration and reject those that promote anthropocentrism. Laws like the Clean Waterways Act of 2020 are well intentioned but become distorted by special interests and human greed. This law allowed phosphorous monitoring to be voluntary, as a result of agricultural lobbying, which prolonged this potent problem.
The pervasiveness of toxic algae in Florida prompted U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to introduce the South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act of 2021. This act seeks to establish a task force to conduct an integrated assessment, drawing on federal, academic and indigenous knowledge to combat harmful algal blooms. This bill draws on preceding legislation which seeks to protect environmental interests in addition to human health and well-being.
With all governmental intervention, a significant portion of the change rests on us. We, as voters, should use our influence to support those measures that aid both our neighbors and the environment. Only then can we achieve the “sense of responsible stewardship” that Pope Francis argues is the remedy to modern anthropocentrism.
Alejandro Andres Munoz is a student in the University of Florida School of Forest Resources and Conservation.
The warming waters and growing phosphorus imbalance create just the right environment for massive-scale algal blooms.
Stephanie Murphy Calls on FWS to Investigate Rising Number of Manatee Deaths —
| July 21, 2021
If what the experts say is true, that the manatees are starving to death because our water districts have given our water away to business and industry instead of taking care of it as the law requires, then…..
Then words do not suffice. Then it is way past time to make some fundamental adjustments.
Then when will it stop? When will the people throw out those who allow this?
U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) requesting the federal agency investigate the sharp increase in Florida manatee deaths in the Indian River Lagoon and other Florida waterways.
Between January 1 and February 26 of this year, the state recorded 403 manatee deaths, about triple the normal level. According to recent reports, manatees may be starving due to a decline in seagrass, their primary food source.
“The spike in manatee deaths is of great concern to many Floridians,” said Murphy last week. “I’ve asked federal government experts to swiftly examine what is occurring, if human actions are contributing, and to take any and all appropriate actions to help address the problem.”
In her letter to FWS, Murphy asked the agency to determine whether these manatee deaths constitute a Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Event (UME). Under federal law, a UME is defined as “a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response.”
The Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events developed seven criteria, any one of which can constitute a UME. If a UME is designated, it authorizes a federal investigation designed to minimize deaths, to determine the cause of the event, to determine the effect of the event on the population, and to identify the role of environmental parameters in the event.
In her letter to FWS, Murphy asked the agency to respond to a series of questions, including whether a UME was designated or was under consideration; what steps FWS or other federal agencies could take to mitigate the severity of this event; what role non-profit conservation groups could play to mitigate the severity of this event; what actions FWS or other federal agencies could take to address water quality problems in the Indian River Lagoon, which may cause a decline in manatees’ food source; and what resources were being dedicated to monitor and manage manatee populations in the southeast United States.
The West Indian Manatee is one of Florida’s environmental keystone species. The population in the southeastern United States was as small as 1,300 in the early 1990s and has grown to 6,500 due to conservation efforts. For information on Florida manatee mortality rates, click here.
The full text of Murphy’s letter to FWS is below.
Dear Principal Deputy Director Williams:
In light of recent reports suggesting a sharp spike in deaths among West Indian Manatees in Florida’s waterways, including in the Indian River Lagoon, I write to respectfully request that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) investigate this matter to determine if this event qualifies as a Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Event (UME).
As you know, pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a UME is defined as “a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response.” The Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events has developed seven criteria, any one of which can constitute a UME. They include a temporal change in morbidity or mortality, especially among species that are threatened or endangered. If a UME is designated, it authorizes a federal investigation designed to minimize deaths, determine the cause of the event, determine the effect of the event on the population, and to identify the role of environmental parameters in the event.
The West Indian Manatee is one of Florida’s environmental keystone species. The population in the southeastern United States was as small as 1,300 in the early 1990s and has grown to 6,500 due to conservation efforts. According to data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), there were 403 manatee deaths in Florida between January 1, 2021 and February 26, 2021, over 30 percent of which occurred in the Indian River Lagoon. This is in stark contrast to the 637 manatee deaths that occurred in all of 2020 and the five-year average of 578 annual deaths that occurred between 2016 and 2020. Reports indicate that many manatees may be starving due to a decline in seagrass, their primary food source.
In light of the foregoing, I request that you please provide answers to the following questions:
Has the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events recently declared an UME or is a declaration under consideration in connection with this event?
Whether or not a UME is declared, what steps can be taken by FWS or other federal agencies to mitigate the severity of this event?
What role can non-profit conservation groups play to mitigate the severity of this event?
What actions can FWS or other federal agencies take to address water quality problems in the Indian River Lagoon, which scientists believe may be causing the decline of the West Indian Manatee food source?
What resources are being dedicated and what initiatives are being conducted, if any, to monitor and manage manatee populations in the southeast United States?
When will FWS conduct the next West Indian Manatee 5-year review?
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Florida manatees are dying in droves this year. Experts blame poor water quality, starvation
| July 21, 2021
The manatees are starving to death say the experts, their food killed off by continual algal blooms. If this is true we must blame the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for not having the political will to stop the algae. It can be stopped and they know how.
Scientists know that the blooms are caused by excess nitrates in the water, and these come principally from agriculture and urban fertilizer and also septic tanks. Over-pumping our aquifer also reduces spring and river flow, which helps the algae to grow.
Curtailing Big AG is a formidable task that the State of Florida is not ready to do. Even controlling septics has been a slow and difficult task opposed by the strong building industry.
Meanwhile, Florida continues to suffer decline in the tourism and fishing industries but the manatees are paying the ultimate price.
More sea cows deaths have been documented through the first two months of the year than were recorded during those same two months in 2019 and 2020 combined, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission records.
Through Feb. 12, the state recorded 317 manatee deaths, though former FWC commissioner Ron Bergeron said he thought the number was closer to 350 sea cows.
Manatee advocates said the die-off is another example of poor water quality.
“It’s something we’ve never really seen before,” said Pat Rose, director of the Save the Manatee Club. “It looks like we have a substantial number of manatees that are starving….”
‘We’ve had an entire ecological loss’
Boat kills and cold stress deaths are tallied, as usual, according to FWC records. The Indian River Lagoon on the Atlantic side of the state accounts for the majority of losses.
The theory is that sea grass losses there the past few decades have left manatees with too little food to survive.
“It’s disgusting,” said Indian Riverkeeper Mike Conner. “I thought about it and talked to the guides, and they fully believe it’s a case of starvation.”
The state is increasingly dealing with water quality issues, from blue-green algae to red tide and brown algae, Conner said.
“The raw truth of the matter is due to negligence of our stormwater, we’ve had continual algal blooms over the past 10 years, which blocks out sea grass and kills it,” said Indian River Lagoon guide Billy Rotne. “So the manatees are starving to death.”
FWC had no comment as of Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s uncomfortable for agencies to talk about,” Rotne said. “There’s no food up here. We’ve had an entire ecological loss. Look on Google Earth. It’s gone. All the meaningful acreage of sea grass they depend upon is gone.”
FWC commissioners were expected to meet Thursday and Friday, when the catch-and-release restrictions on snook, trout and redfish and the addition of the black rail to the state’s endangered and threatened species list will be considered.
The catch-and-release regulations started in the wake of a devastating red tide bloom, which ravaged the Southwest Florida coast – particularly Lee County – during a 16-month period from the fall of 2017 until the spring of 2019.
Fla. failing to save springs from decline — a deliberate and premeditated policy
| July 21, 2021
This editorial is truth and fact: our state is deliberately and consistently allowing the death of our springs and rivers, and they are doing it to promote business and industry.
We have strong and adequate laws to protect our waters, but the state cheats by juggling figures, leaving out data which does not help their case, or they simply ignore the written statue. This is done in the DEP and in the water districts.
Good water scientists in the water districts have been fired when they objected to the bad science they were expected to use.
Two main causes of the death are over-pumping and excess fertilizer. The state is not ready to curtail either because our leaders are controlled by lobbyists.
Reliable, accountable sources lately have also questioned whether some of our administrative law judges may be politically influenced to follow state policy, since some of their rulings defy logic.
Since it is legal to bribe our lawmakers in Tallahassee, the problem seems insurmountable. We have a few ethical leaders in the Legislature, but way too few.
The Gainesville Sun Editorial Board USA TODAY NETWORK
The decline of Florida’s natural springs is obvious to see, through both the eye test and scientific data showing that many springs have experienced decreasing flows and increasing pollution.
Yet the deck is stacked against those seeking to stop, or even slow down, the groundwater withdrawals and nutrient pollution causing the problem.
In two recent cases, the efforts of groups advocating for springs were rejected by administrative law judges. The decisions give state regulators another excuse to do the bare minimum under laws intended to protect springs and the groundwater providing their flow as well as the state’s drinking water supply.
The first case involved a permit allowing nearly 1 million gallons of groundwater per day to be withdrawn for Nestle’s water-bottling plant near High Springs. The Suwannee River Water Management District initially recommended denying the permit to Seven Springs Water Co., which pays just a $115 one-time permit fee to the state and gets paid an undisclosed amount by Nestle for the water.
After an appeal, however, an administrative law judge ruled in January that Seven Springs met legal requirements to withdraw groundwater that would otherwise flow through the springs system at Ginnie Springs into the Santa Fe River. On Tuesday, the Suwannee district’s governing board approved the permit as board members suggested they were worried about losing another costly legal challenge.
A second case provided more evidence of the uphill battle faced by those defending Florida’s environment. A coalition of springs advocates filed a legal challenge over state Basin Management Action Plans that are supposed to reduce pollution in springs, but are so weak that they just allow more nutrient-fueled algae growth and loss of biodiversity.
The springs systems in the challenge included Ichetucknee Springs and others flowing to the Sante [sic] Fe; Manatee, Fanning and other springs flowing into the Suwannee River; and Silver and Rainbow springs in Marion County. Springs advocates found that plans for the springs failed to meet the state’s own requirements, used questionable science and wouldn’t restore them, but an administrative judge rejected their arguments.
The judge ruled that the state’s ‘only requirement was to fill in the blanks, regardless of whether or not what they wrote was credible or backed by science,’ Florida Springs Council Executive Director Ryan Smart told the Orlando Sentinel.
The decline of springs has been well-documented. A recent report on the Santa Fe River from the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, for example, found its flow has been significantly decreasing while pollution it in has been significantly increasing due to these problems in the springs that largely feed it.
Other springs are similarly suffering due to groundwater pollution from agricultural operations, septic tanks and other sources at the same time excessive groundwater withdrawals are choking their flow. State agencies such as the water management districts and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are allowing it to happen, with taxpayers footing the bill for the restoration projects needed as a result….