Everglades Illustrated: Seeing Green (and not the good kind)

Dense blue-green algal mats clump up at the gates of Port Mayaca on May 4, 2023, in Martin County. Photo by Leah Voss It shouldn’t be normal that Floridians fear the threat of toxic algae in the summer months, just as we nervously watch for the approach of hurricanes — but recent, repeated history has given us good reason to be wary. Water managers raised the alarm earlier this year, predicting an intense summer algae bloom on Lake Okeechobee due to heavy rainfall from Hurricane Ian that caused the lake to rise, delivering pollution-loaded runoff from the surrounding areas and killing submerged aquatic vegetation.  Last week we saw signs that this unfortunate prediction may come to pass, [...]

Everglades Illustrated: This is how many sugarcane burning permits are issued in a single day

Last week, Friends of the Everglades Executive Director Eve Samples took to the air with a volunteer LightHawk pilot to survey sugarcane burning in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee. It didn’t take long to find what they were looking for. Within five minutes of takeoff, they spotted several large burns, with smoke and ash blowing westward toward the Glades communities of Belle Glade, South Bay, Pahokee and Clewiston. Elsewhere in South Florida, it was a blue-sky day. But above the Glades, it looked like twilight due to the smoke, known to locals in the Glades as “black snow.” The burns produced so much smoke that the plumes showed up as rain on the LightHawk pilot’s radar. Keep [...]

Everglades Illustrated: Can you guess Florida’s biggest polluter?

Florida’s BMAPs (Basin Management Action Plans) are supposed to provide a framework for cleaning up the state’s most beleaguered waterways. They detail local and state commitments to reduce pollutant loading. Broken down by watersheds around the state, they contain proposed solutions, including permit limits on wastewater facilities, urban and agricultural “best management practices” and conservation programs designed to achieve pollutant reductions established by a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). But a 2022 investigation by TCPalm deduced the program wasn’t working. Why not? The chart above, featured in the latest Deep Dive from our friends at VoteWater, helps to explain it.  Total phosphorus and total nitrogen loading into nine separate sub-watersheds making up the Lake Okeechobee BMAP is broken down [...]

2023-03-15T13:17:53-04:00March 15th, 2023|Everglades Illustrated|

Everglades Illustrated: This is how quickly discharges impact water quality.

Take a look at the photo above. This aerial image, taken by Ed Lippisch of Sewall’s Point, is part of a series he captured while flying over the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon in the early afternoon on February 8 — 17 days after Lake Okeechobee discharges conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers and supported by the South Florida Water Management District started in an effort to lower the lake.  The impact is striking. Dark plumes of polluted Lake O water invade the local waters traversed and lived along by residents of Martin County, drastically impacting water quality. Blue water seen here clearly illuminates the barren moonscapes of Stuart’s shallow-water sandbars, which were once lush with [...]

2023-02-13T16:50:37-05:00February 14th, 2023|Everglades Illustrated, St. Lucie Estuary|

Everglades Illustrated: Persistent Red Tide

Along the coast of Southwest Florida, red tide is lingering. Through January 6, 2023, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission detected low to high concentrations in 59 samples collected from Pinellas to Charlotte County, as detailed in the image above.  Conditions have varied since October when the blooms first appeared, due to ever-changing wind and currents that move blooms inshore and offshore, as well as up and down the coast. Marine animals and residents alike are feeling the repercussions, as fish kills and respiratory irritation reported by beachgoers are linked to the persistent blooms.  In Sarasota Bay, researchers have discovered that bottlenose dolphins tracked by marine scientists will “cough” and “sneeze” when they swim through strong red tide blooms, [...]

Everglades Illustrated: Sanibel Red Tide Report

Take a look at these photos from Friends of the Everglades Multimedia Producer Leah Voss. The images from a recent visit to Sanibel Island offer a sobering look at a community still very much in distress after Hurricane Ian made direct landfall along Florida’s west coast on September 28. Much of the island remains off limits to visitors as the local population continues the hard work of recovery. The latest threat exacerbating the post-storm situation hangs heavy in the air and the surrounding water — red tide. Along the shoreline, Leah described a nauseating smell and an unmistakable tickle at the back of her throat. A dead seabird laid in the [...]

2022-12-14T09:56:29-05:00December 13th, 2022|Caloosahatchee Estuary, Everglades Illustrated, Red Tide|

Everglades Illustrated: Wrong project, wrong place

Last week, Miami-Dade County Commissioners voted 8-4 to approve the South Dade Logistics and Technology District, effectively gutting the Urban Development Boundary in favor of sprawling, industrial development at the expense of our natural environment. The original footprint of the project, identified in the map above, has since been reduced in size from 800 acres to a 311-acre mix of warehouses, call centers and other commercial uses south of Florida’s Turnpike. Regardless, it remains the wrong project in the wrong place, with construction slated for “Coastal High Hazard Area'' in dangerous proximity to Everglades National Park, Biscayne Bay and ongoing Everglades restoration projects. As another tropical storm approaches Florida's coast, it's more clear than ever: It's reckless to bend [...]

Everglades Illustrated: A system overwhelmed

Hurricane Ian barreled into the west coast of Florida on September 28 as a powerful Category 4 hurricane. As relief efforts remain rightly focused on the heartbreaking human toll of the storm, the environmental fallout has yet to come front and center. Satellite images are helping to piece together the beginnings of a story that has only just begun to play out. In the NASA satellite image above, swirls of sediment stirred up in Florida’s coastal water, “lifted from the seafloor as Ian neared the coast,” starkly contrast with dark plumes of stormwater runoff exiting the land. Though this tannin-colored runoff is not altogether unusual, the sheer volume of water coming off the landscape is out of the ordinary, [...]

2022-10-11T12:58:37-04:00October 11th, 2022|Caloosahatchee Estuary, Everglades Illustrated|

Everglades Illustrated: Lake O levels and the “water shortage management band”

    It’s been a relatively dry summer. As of September 11, Lake Okeechobee stood at 12.55 feet. That’s about 2 feet lower than this time last year. Last week, the lake officially entered what’s known as the “water shortage management band” — a point where water managers can implement water restrictions if necessary and South Florida Water Management District steps in to determine release volumes from Lake O. But let’s not sound the drought alarm bells just yet. Typically the biggest concern during rainy season is that Lake O will rise too fast, threatening the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike and triggering damaging discharges to the northern estuaries — but that has not been the case this summer. [...]

2022-09-14T16:43:47-04:00September 13th, 2022|All Posts, Everglades Illustrated, Lake Okeechobee, LOSOM|

Everglades Illustrated: Breaking down LOSOM

How will water move in and out of Lake Okeechobee over the next decade? The image above offers a glimpse of the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, better known as LOSOM. Allow us to explain. The arrows pointing to the left of the chart indicate lake flows going west to the Caloosahatchee Estuary. The arrows pointing to the right of the chart are going east to the St. Lucie. Zone A (above the red line) represents the highest lake stages. Under LOSOM, when the lake level jumps over 17 feet, all bets are off for the northern estuaries. Maximum releases can be sent east and west to protect the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike. These high-level discharges are [...]

2022-08-09T08:09:05-04:00August 9th, 2022|Everglades Illustrated, LOSOM|