Sportsmen To Congress: Protect America’s Everglades

Toxic green slime – coming soon to a beach near you…

The scene in South Florida this summer sounds like one out of a horror movie, but it’s all too real for Florida’s residents, sportsmen, and wildlife. Thick, smelly layers of toxic blue-green algae are coating Florida’s coasts, causing fish kills and closing beaches; seagrasses are dying in Florida Bay, a herald of the bay’s potential collapse.

Algal blooms are a recurring problem in Florida. Here, algae coats a marina in 2012. Wikimedia photo.

Algal blooms are a recurring problem in Florida. Here, algae coats the waters of a marina in 2012. Wikimedia photo by John Moran (click to enlarge).

America’s Everglades – and the wildlife and sportfish that depend on its restoration for survival – are suffering.

How did all this toxic slime come to mar paradise?

In order to maintain safe water levels in Lake Okeechobee throughout the year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must release billions of gallons of polluted freshwater to the east and west through the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers. While toxic algal blooms erupt on the east and west coasts from these polluted freshwater discharges, the Everglades National Park and Florida Bay to the south are starved of critically needed water. This unbalanced system wreaks havoc on delicate estuaries that provide critical habitat for sportfish and other wildlife.

Polluted freshwater from Lake Okeechobee is flushed to the east through the St. Lucie River and to the west through the Caloosahatchee River. This damages the delicate estuaries where the rivers meet saltwater. Meanwhile to the south, Everglades National Park & Florida Bay are not receiving enough clean freshwater. Everglades Foundation map.

Polluted freshwater discharge damages the delicate estuaries where the rivers meet saltwater, and the Everglades National Park & Florida Bay are not receiving enough clean water. Map via Everglades Foundation (click to enlarge)

The solution is simple – send clean water south, as it would naturally flow, to the Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. The State of Florida needs to work with the Army Corps starting this year to plan for water storage, treatment, and flow south of Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades Agricultural Area. We can’t afford a delay.

Florida’s algal blooms are so big this year they’re visible from space! NASA satellites captured this image of the blue-green algal bloom in Lake Okeechobee near the St. Lucie River. Photo by NASA.

Florida’s algal blooms are so big this year they’re visible from space! NASA satellites captured this image of the blue-green algal bloom in Lake Okeechobee near the St. Lucie River on July 2, 2016. Photo by NASA.

America’s sportsmen and women are witnessing this crisis firsthand and are a critical voice in calling for a solution. In July, NWF’s Vanishing Paradise team was joined by more than 150 hunting and fishing businesses and organizations across the country asking Congress to prioritize funding for Everglades restoration and to accelerate science-based restoration efforts like the Central Everglades Planning Project and water storage projects.

A heron wades in shallow Florida waters on the hunt for some fish! Photo by Sandy Scott.

A heron wades in shallow Florida waters on the hunt for some fish! Photo by Sandy Scott.

Additionally, more than 400 sportsmen called on the state of Florida to work with the Army Corps of Engineers starting this year to plan for water storage, treatment, and conveyance south of Lake Okeechobee.

Hunters and anglers want to save the “Fishing Capital of the World” for generations to come. They want Congress to recognize the importance of restoring the flow of clean water south from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. It’s the only way to protect the renowned fishing grounds that draw so many to South Florida year after year. It’s the only way we can protect this paradise and prevent another summer of toxic slime.

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