The compilation of images above shows satellite imagery of the Sailfish Flats in Stuart, Florida, during the summer months of 2018, 2019 and just recently in 2022.
They tell a story of slow but sure recovery.
Across Florida, the summer of 2018 was a nightmare for water. To the east and the west, a stew of toxic blue-green algae-laden water from Lake Okeechobee was discharged in both directions. People and pets got sick, marine animals died by the tons (literally), businesses suffered and the most destructive red tide in years persisted along the west coast with the help from the constant source of nutrients.
In Stuart, the flat seen above once flourished with lush seagrass meadows — a foundational ecosystem that hosted a spectacular and renowned fishery. Years of Lake Okeechobee discharges destroyed the grass, leaving a barren sandflat in its wake, as seen in 2018.
The 2019 image tells the beginning of a new story. Better water management tactics that resulted in lowering Lake Okeechobee as the rainy season approached allowed the estuary to avoid toxic discharges for a summer. In the years since then, the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon have been largely spared from the destructive releases, thanks in part to a cooperative Mother Nature. Seagrass beds, though still a far cry from their earlier splendor, are returning, seen here in the dark green splashes across the flat in the 2022 image.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to work on a new lake management plan called the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM). We are actively involved in the process, in an effort to ensure that a year like 2018 does not happen again. Once final, LOSOM will better balance the needs of stakeholders around the lake, reducing damaging discharge events to both coasts and delivering clean, freshwater to the Caloosahatchee and the southern Everglades when it’s needed.
We’ve still got a long way to go, but new seagrass on the Sailfish Flats is an optimistic reminder of how resilient the system really is, if only given the chance to flourish.