Water Quality Issues
The St. Lucie River Estuary is a complex living ecosystem, not a swimming pool that needs to be cleaned.

It is a natural soup of nutrients, minute organisms and thousands of interdependent species from microscopic algae and invisible crustaceans to very obvious manatees, sawfish and tarpon.

The mixture of nutrients and organisms makes this estuary function. Unfortunately, the majority of people living on this estuary cannot see the billions of organisms, large and small, that make it work to support all the life within it and along its banks.
Right now larval tarpon, tiny transparent eel-like fish, are migrating up the St. Lucie River to their nursery sites. You cannot see them, as even when you have them in a glass jar, they are nearly invisible. Yet larval tarpon morph in the St. Lucie River and grow into one of the largest game fish in Florida waters, esteemed by most anglers.

If the St. Lucie Estuary contained only water, no phosphates, no nitrates, no bacteria, no fungi and no myriad microscopic organisms, it would cease to support life. There would be no tarpon, snook, blue crabs, oysters, mullet, etc.

st lucie
Image from Outboards Only marina July 9 in Jensen Beach. A mobile water treatment system from Stuart-based Ecosphere Technologies treats 4,000 gallons of water per minute from the boat basin. (MOLLY BARTELS/TREASURE COAST NEWSPAPERS)

If the St. Lucie Estuary were pure water, it would not be a vital nursery for our regional fisheries. It would be as barren as a desert.

So, we do not want the estuary to be cleaned of all of its constituents. This would create catastrophic declines in all its organisms that depend on complex interactions among nutrients, bacteria, fungi, plants and animals.

It is easy to suck up this water, clean it and kill what's is in it — as companies such as Stuart-based Ecosphere Technologies have proposed in response to this summer's toxic algae crisis.

But, in doing so, you have also destroyed vital and integral parts of this ecosystem, its productive bacteria, fungal and plant sources of food. This water, devoid of nutrients and living organisms can no longer support life.

There is a similarity to our own bodies. We have helpful bacteria and fungi on us and within us that provide vital vitamins and allow us to live a healthy life. When we take antibiotics, we often upset this balance by killing beneficial bacteria in addition to pathogenic bacteria. We then take probiotics to bring back our natural beneficial bacteria.

Unfortunately, we know so little about the microbial, bacterial and fungal communities in the St. Lucie Estuary that we would not know where to begin to bring back a balanced community.

The toxic microcystis cyanobacteria bloom in the St. Lucie began in Lake Okeechobee. Why?

Why is it so much worse than previous blooms? What is happening in Lake Okeechobee?

Who is studying all the planktonic and microbial communities in Florida waters? Is anyone determining what pesticides, herbicides, PCBs or pharmaceutical products are in our waters? Is it too expensive to do so and, if so, why?

We better gain a bit of knowledge on this ecosystem and what humanity is doing to it before we jump on a popular, mindless bandwagon and pulverize this valuable living water into debris, killing the good guys along with the bad guys.

We certainly could do more harm than good!

R. Grant Gilmore Jr., Ph.D., is a senior scientist with Estuarine, Coastal and Ocean Science Inc. in Vero Beach. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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