If Lake Okeechobee is the Everglades’ liquid heart, Florida Bay is its glittering jewel.
Seen here from the air, through the eyes of our multimedia producer Leah Voss, light plays across the many vibrant hues of the Everglades’ southernmost watery reaches.
It is a final destination. Water that drains south slowly through the Everglades eventually empties into Florida Bay, nearly all of which lies within the footprint of Everglades National Park.
Florida Bay is an immensely important ecosystem, boasting up to 10% of the world’s seagrass and home to one of the greatest recreational fisheries in the world — an economic driver that equates to $439 million annually to the local economy according to leading fisheries scientist Dr. Jennifer Rehage of Florida International University, who serves on Friends of the Everglades’ Policy & Science Committee.
For all of its beauty, Florida Bay is not without problems. Man-made interruptions to water flow have drastically decreased the amount of lifegiving freshwater that helps to sustain fragile salinity levels. Estimates suggest that the amount of freshwater that reaches Florida Bay today is only about a quarter of what reached it historically. This lack of freshwater creates a much saltier ecosystem than once thrived — a gradual shift that has changed the classification of the bay over 100 years from an estuary to a marine lagoon.
Hypersalinity, coupled with high water temperatures, has instigated massive seagrass die-offs in the bay, in turn feuling harmful algal blooms as the decomposing seagrass leaches nutrients into the water. Seagrass loss has also led to a large sediment plume in the western area of the Bay that at times mixes with the blooms in the north central bay. This year the bloom has lingered all year, creating persistent conditions that can result in significant setbacks for the ecosystem as well as for local fishing guides in the area.
When we reached out to Capt. Benny Blanco to get a firsthand reaction, he confirmed that drought conditions beginning in February that persisted into July had made for a tough year in Florida Bay. But he was hopeful that things were starting to look better thanks to recent afternoon storms and midnight rains.
“We can expect large blooms like this annually if we continue to drag our feet with restoration efforts,” Benny told us. “Until we regularly deliver clean freshwater to the bay in the dry season, our fate is in the hands of Mother Nature. This year, she is just reminding us to keep pushing.”
Events like this one underscore the crucial need to maintain the flow of clean, freshwater south. This mission is central to our work at Friends of the Everglades.
We hope you enjoy more of Leah’s images above — featuring the best of Florida Bay — and stay tuned for a more in depth update on the current algae bloom conditions.