An environmental hurricane
It’s a storm that blew no winds.
No torrential rains poured down.
But the death and devastation that has rolled up upon our beaches, bays and waterways and drifted its way up the coast to Tampa Bay makes the Environmental Hurricane of 2018 one for the record books.
Due to the worst bloom of red tide in more than a decade, Fort Myers Beach continues to clean up dead fish by the thousands along with trails of sea grasses that provide the habitat “beds” for hatchlings and the stuff on which they feed.
Sanibel has multiple crews working daily to clean up even greater numbers of sea life carcases that have included tarpon, a 26-foot whale shark, and endangered species like goliath grouper and sea turtles by the score.
Florida Fish & Wildlife is retrieving numerous dead manatees from Lee County waters with nearly half – an incredible number – having died from red tide poisoning. There were 57 such confirmed red-tide caused deaths here as of Aug. 4, compared to 19 in all of 2017.
And if the on-shore outbreak of toxin-producing Karenia brevis, the organism that makes up red tide, isn’t bad enough, an unrelated bloom of a different algae, cyanobacteria, is wreaking similar havoc in the Caloosahatchee and canals in Cape Coral, Pine Island and North Fort Myers.
Nutrient-heavy, algae-laden discharges from Lake Okeechobee have resulted in shore-to-shore pea-green “blooms” of toxic fish-killing cyanobacteria both here and on the east coast of Florida along and around the St. Lucie River. The west coast is experiencing the devastation that the east coast experienced from this blue-green algae in 2016.
It’s a disaster of unprecedented scope and duration with an environmental impact that will be felt along the Gulf Coast for years, though hopefully not as many as it has been in the making.
For the perfect storm that has swept south Florida coast to coast is the result – the direct result – of man’s inept attempt to whore out Mother Nature to the highest bidder.
Decades of special-interest donations and political pandering have come home to float on waters fed to literal death with pollutants from not only agricultural lands as is being touted, but developed areas rich with fertilizers and other wastes that leach into our watershed.
Now we are in a declared state of emergency at the local, county, state and still-to-come federal level to pay for a cleanup that would not have been needed had our elected representatives actually implemented – i.e. funded – the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan approved nearly two decades ago.
Instead, the feds protected sugar subsidies and the staties gutted environmental regulations and postponed, postponed and postponed again opportunities to buy land offered – contractually offered – by sugar growers for wetlands restoration to mitigate water discharges from polluted Lake Okeechobee east through the Caloosahatchee into the Gulf and west into the St. Lucie River.
But blame, and responsibility, for the mess we are in does not end there.
We, the voters of Florida, are part of the process – and a large part of any solution.
We overwhelmingly have voted for, or supported, clean water efforts ever since the Everglades Forever Act was passed in 1994 to establish quality standards.
Voters approved the “polluters pay” constitutional amendment in 2003 and a water and land conservation initiative in 2014 that required a specific portion of existing fees be used to “acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands.”
The state legislature ignored both voter mandates.
Which is what our elected officials on all levels will continue to do as long as it won’t affect their election, or re-election, funded, of course, with PAC contributions.
May the Environmental Hurricane of 2018 be more than the storm we tearfully tell our grandchildren about.
May it be the winds of change blowing in the direction of protection.
Finally and forever.