I love Florida. It's my second home. I'm a Gator. I have spent a good portion of my life in this beautiful state. And it really pains me to write this.
Goodness knows the local media is looking the other way because they just don't want to talk about it. It's uncomfortable. Florida is in trouble and it's coming from a number of different directions, and it's coming fast. And all of this this really needs to see the light of day so it can all be dealt with. This is not a story about another parade or a car show. It's about an ecosystem saying, "Ok, enough is enough. I'm out."
I grew up in Delray Beach and the ocean there was my playground. I learned to navigate the waters there in a variety of ways. Surfing, paddle boarding, sailing, boating, snorkeling, spear fishing and just plain getting lost on the miles and miles of beautiful Florida beaches. As I travelled the state I stayed connected to the water any way I could. I know the state like the back of my hand.
If there is such a thing as too much, Florida has hit a breaking point. Consider these latest headlines:
- The biggest coral reef in the continental US off of Florida is dissolving.
And then there are the dire long term predictions that the entire state is going to be under water in 10 or 20 years due to the massive ice melts taking place on both poles. But let's table that discussion for now and focus on the here and now.
Let's start with the coral reefs. What is losing coral reefs telling us? It's telling us our offshore water pollution is increasing and things are way out of balance. So far out of balance that huge tracks of life under water are dying or dead. The limestone that composes the reefs just dissolve due to acidity. Let's be honest, the over-populated coastlines combined with the pollution and other human activities put stress on the ecosystem. Losing reefs means losing fish and marine life habitats. Coral that has died is gone for good, which affects other creatures that rely on it for food and shelter. Can we reverse this slide? Probably not, without swift strong leadership. As the climate continues to warm, acid seas will grow as we pour more greenhouse gases into the air. Same old song we have been hearing and ignoring for years. It's now getting to a point where Florida will pay a hefty price.
Moving to my beloved Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is still trying to recover from the BP oil spill and all the indignities that seismic event heaped on this once beautiful body of water. Now Shell Oil has leaked another 88,000 gallons of sludge into the Gulf. It is really a sad state of affairs there. The Gulf is a tar pit. Others go so far as to call it a toilet. What concerns me most is what we don't hear about. From Marco Island to Brownsville we treat the Gulf like a dump. And there is no leadership to reverse the course we are on there. The Gulf of Mexico's once diverse and productive ecosystems, which provide a variety of valuable resources and services to the entire region, are becoming imperiled by pollution. The pristine waters of the Gulf are no longer. The adverse impact of the environmental degradation on the birds, marine mammals, fish, crustaceans and other organisms dependent upon the Gulf cannot be over-emphasized. Tankers and other large cargo ships travelling through the Gulf are thought to contribute significantly to the problem by adding debris and chemical pollutants to the water. All I can say is going, going, almost gone.
The Everglades. It's amazing the Glades have held out this long. Forward thinking leadership back in the day saved the Everglades from being overrun by development and all that goes with it. No longer. Everglades experts fear they are witnessing an environmental breakdown of grave proportions. Construction of roads, homes and cities has choked off the flow of fresh water. Without rapid action to make the Everglades more resilient to climate change and salty seas we are looking at the demise of a treasured national ecosystem. There go the majestic sea turtles, Dolphins and manatees along with the $1.2 billion sport fishing business. The Everglades ecosystem "being out of balance at a time of climate change is really going to have a huge impact on South Florida, if we don't do something about it," said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who surveyed the current seagrass die-off recently during an Everglades Trip.
Finally, majestic Lake Okeechobee. We are discharging billions and billions of gallons of harmful runoff into places in Florida and our surrounding waters where it was never intended. Blue-green algae blooms are at epic proportions and adjoining estuary ecosystems in southeast and southwest Florida will feel the impact. Local industry has long been using Okeechobee's waters as a dumping ground for an assortment of chemicals, fertilizers, and cattle manure. While the pollution was once confined to the lake, it now flows toward Florida's coastal communities via local rivers. The water, which is flowing out of the lake at 70,000 gallons per second, is polluting the ocean waters in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
This pollution has immediate consequences for southern Florida's environment and economy. The untreated water contains toxic chemicals and fertilizers that are harmful to local flora and fauna, and the fertilizers and chemicals found in the water are known to cause these algae blooms, which are known to poison shellfish and make life difficult for the marine food chain which will mean more and more massive fish kills.
The local economy, much of which is driven by tourism, will also be negatively affected by the polluted lake water. In 2013, the last time a significant water discharge occurred in southern Florida, locals dubbed the season the "lost summer," due to the downturn in tourism and beach-going as a result of the polluted coastal water. In 2015, FloridaRealtors, a trade organization representing the Florida real estate industry, commissioned a study assessing the impact of water pollution on home values in Martin County, Florida. The results were alarming. During the "lost summer," aggregate real estate value fell half a billion dollars, as potential buyers were reluctant to buy or invest in property that was near water that was both toxic and objectively disgusting. With heavier rainy seasons in the forecast due to the warming climate you kinda see where this is all going.
So where is the leadership? The environmental stewardship of the sitting governor has been atrocious. And his tone deaf approach to what is shaping up to be a very rough ride for Florida means a lot of unpleasant things (tourism, home values, etc.) that we can talk about in future columns. Short sighted, no plan to say the least. Someone, anyone, please get the governor some bifocals and give this man some vision.
Thanks to Chris Mooney at the Washington Post and Gulfbase.org for their continuing great work on the subjects.