The water in the Indian River Lagoon is in terrible shape, although better than it was in March when there was the big fish kill and oxygen levels were near zero. There are frequent advisories to avoid contact with water in the St. Lucie River due to high levels of bacteria, but people have been adversely affected by water in other areas of the lagoon as well. Last July, David Trudell was pricked by the dorsal fin of a mangrove snapper he caught in the lagoon near the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce. He was infected by Vibrio vulnificus, a deadly bacteria sometimes present in the water and died within two days. His family made the cause of his death public this week. Most people used to worry about the water near the locks from Lake Okeechobee and along the St. Lucie River. Now people are leery of going in many areas of the lagoon if they have open cuts or scratches, so what happened to David Trudell does not happen to them.
When I saw this manatee in the water from the Boardwalk on Round Island in Vero Beach, I was saddened to the point of tears. The many manatees I have seen in Sarasota Bay or near Blue Springs off the St. Johns and other less impaired bodies of water have always been gray. Brownish algae covered much of the skin of the lagoon's manatees and two of the three I saw were barely moving except to breathe every now and again. I felt terrible for the plight of these unhealthy looking creatures, that are no doubt affected by the lowered oxygen levels and also the bacteria created by the fish that died last month and decomposed.
The manatee above had more energy and was feeding on the mangrove leaves. With the loss of sea grasses in the lagoon, mangroves become even more important as a food source.
No wonder this young lady, the youngest volunteer at the Manatee Observation Center in Fort was out protesting at the May Day! May Day! March for Clean Water. I suspect it breaks her heart to see them suffer too.
Manatees weren't the only creatures that looked unhealthy to me in the Indian River Lagoon. After I left the May Day! May Day! rally, Marty Baum, the Indian Riverkeeper, suggested that I go look at where Taylor Creek empties into the Indian River Lagoon, as black water often flows through this creek. The water was clearly much darker in the creek, although there wasn't much to see. I walked out on one of the docks in the marina to where the end of the creek meets the lagoon. There are saw several pelicans and a cormorant. The pelicans looked rather gaunt and sickly to me. I would be surprised if they looked very healthy having to fish in such polluted water on fish that is not doubt affected as well. I briefly saw a sea turtle surface. Someone later told me that it is estimated that 60-80 percent of the sea turtles in the lagoon have tumors.
This is probably the sickest looking cormorant I have ever laid eyes on. It appeared to me that its feathers were cloaked with a slick substance and it seemed to be trying to clean itself the entire time my friend Gunnar and I were watching it. These creatures are innocent bystanders of the problem the hand of man, and specifically discharges from Lake Okeechobee, has created here. They do not deserve to suffer like this in what was once an area with possibly the most biodiversity in all of North America.
The pelican on the left looked a little healthier, but they still seemed strangely thin compared to brown pelicans I have seen in healthy estuaries. Between 2011 and 2013 when the Indian River Lagoon was referred to as a killing zone in them media, manatees, dolphins and pelicans were dying every day. This spring the discharges from Lake Okeechobee were so voluminous that once again fish were dying and that has an effect on creatures all up the food chain including humans. These creatures and we all depend on clean water to live. When water becomes this polluted the health of all beings in the ecosystem is affected. That is why so many groups are banding together to fight for clean water.
Marty Baum, the Indian Riverkeeper, is a tireless advocate for the lagoon. As a fifth generation Floridian, he both cares deeply and is often saddened to the point of tears. After seeing the water and the health of the creatures around the lagoon with my own eyes afterwards, I knew exactly why he cries. This once pristine and beautiful estuary is no longer thriving. People's livelihoods are being affected. One commercial fisherman I spoke with experienced eruptions of staff infections on different parts of his skin from being on the water in the lagoon so much. He won't eat or sell fish from the lagoon anymore and has to spend lots more money on gas for his boat to go off shore to fish. When I went out to dinner that night, I ordered lobster because I knew it didn't come from the lagoon. When the fish die, it smells terrible and tourists don't want to come. The list goes on and on. Here are a few more photographs from the protest with signs that show what the citizens there are worried about.