Watch the video above. Manatees drift lazily through shallow, jewel-toned waters, not far from paddle boarders out on a clear, sunny morning typical of the Florida winters that draw so many new faces (and license plates).
Stuart’s Sailfish Flats generally encompass are a beloved area where the Indian River Lagoon meets the St. Lucie River. For years, this confluence of waterways has been recognized as both a recreational playground and an angler’s paradise — its aquamarine water and sandbars as famous as the once-lush seagrass meadows that historically served as a foundational ecosystem for a spectacular and renowned fishery.
The water in this video is beautiful, but even as we appreciate these moments of zen, we are reminded of threats to the ecosystem. The water clarity makes painfully clear the lack of seagrass. Without it, the local fishery has declined and Florida’s manatee population, which depends on the seagrass as a main food source, has suffered.
Ten days after this footage was captured by our Multimedia Producer on January 12, 2023, discharges from Lake Okeechobee started in an effort to lower the lake. These releases, conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers and supported by the South Florida Water Management District, deliver nutrient pollution and harm salinity levels. Manmade marshes south of Lake O are prioritized for Big Sugar’s runoff, and without another option, water managers say discharges to the St. Lucie could last until June.
Once considered the most biodiverse estuary in North America, the southern Indian River Lagoon’s waters will suffer with every unnecessary drop that comes from Lake O. Without more land south of the lake for additional storage and cleaning capacity (stormwater treatment areas), we cannot ensure the survival of ecosystems like this one, and days like these could be numbered.