Water Quality Issues
irl 1Florida's coastal estuaries are impacted in varying degrees from human population growth and coastal development impacts that compromise estuarine water quality and fisheries sustainability. CCA has previously addressed the impacts of fresh water releases from Lake Okeechobee and its impacts to coastal estuaries in southern Florida, including the southern Indian River Lagoon (IRL).  Therefore, this report will focus on other problems affecting the central and northern lagoon system.

For the greater Indian River Lagoon, the 2011-2013 "superbloom" and secondary brown tide bloom destroyed massive seagrass habitat.  The more recent 2016 brown tide bloom and fish mortality event in the Banana River gained national attention, further highlighting the need for a new approach to estuary conservation and stewardship in Florida.

The decline of Florida's estuarine water quality has persisted for far too long.  The current crisis in the IRL provides a historic opportunity for visionary, innovative, and effective leadership.  From the mid 1980's to 2007, seagrass coverage in the IRL expanded with general scientific consensus that ecosystem health was in stasis.  This occurred despite the fact that researchers who were studying water quality issues were discovering troubling nutrient levels, muck deposits, and even human pharmaceuticals in the water column.

 In 2011, the Indian River Lagoon experienced a series of unprecedented phytoplankton blooms.  The major bloom of green and blue-green algae was first observed in the Banana River in March 2011 (now referred to as the 2011 "superbloom").  This algal bloom expanded to cover large areas of the Mosquito Lagoon, Banana and Indian Rivers.  It caused the loss of an estimated 47,000 acres (73 square miles) of seagrass habitat essential to healthy recreational fisheries.

In the summer of 2012, a dense bloom of the Texas brown tide organism (Aureoumbra) occurred in the southern Mosquito Lagoon and IRL.  This was the first time this organism was recorded in the IRL, although extremely low concentrations of Aureoumbra were suspected to be already present in the system.  The bloom lasted through December 2012.  As it declined, low dissolved oxygen conditions and more than 30 fish kills were reported.

irl 2Water quality conditions appeared to improve slightly between 2013-2015, and modest seagrass recovery was observed in some locations.  In mid-2015, the scientific community noticed an algal bloom in the Mosquito Lagoon which migrated into the northern Indian River Lagoon.  It also affected the Banana River Lagoon and the Indian River Lagoon  south to Sebastian Inlet by January 2016.  The algae in this recent bloom included those in the 2011-2012 bloom plus an intense brown tide bloom.  As the bloom declined in March, low dissolved oxygen conditions prevailed and an extreme fish mortality event occurred in Banana River.  Thousands of fish representing over 30 species were lost, including countless numbers of trophy redfish.

IRL scientists continue to voice concerns the system may have reached a "tipping point" where algal blooms may be a new normal seasonal occurrence unless aggressive water quality restoration strategies are implemented. Understanding all of the complex biological, chemical, and physical factors which initiate and sustain algal blooms will take many years, but the human sources of nutrients that fuel these blooms are well known.

Unfortunately, there is no single cause or one easy fix to these problems.  All possible solutions are strategic, and will likely take several years to implement.  Still, immediate action must be taken to protect the Indian River Lagoon and our other estuaries where human stressors are well known.

 Potential solutions:
  • Expanded and accelerated local, state and federal authorization, funding, and completion of water quality and habitat restoration improvements like Brevard County's Save Our Lagoon Project Plan throughout the IRL, including continued efforts to provide relief from Lake Okeechobee discharges through the St. Lucie River into the southern IRL.
  • A comprehensive and integrated approach to IRL restoration and stewardship based on the best-available scientific knowledge as proposed by the Indian River Nation Estuary Program and the Indian River Lagoon Regional Compact.
  • REMOVE - REDUCE - RESTORE - RESEARCH as proposed by the Indian River National Estuary Program and the Indian River Lagoon Regional Compact.  (1) REMOVE the nutrient-rich muck on the bottom which has accumulated over many years.  (2) REDUCE the flow of nutrients, sediments, and other pollutants into the IRL. These pollutants come from three main sources: groundwater from septic systems and aging wastewater systems, storm water runoff that washes water and waste from our yards and streets into the IRL, and air pollution.  (3) RESTORE habitats and natural ecosystem functions through increased oyster and clam beds, mangroves, wetlands, and seagrass beds.  (4) RESEARCH problems and solutions so that we can attain the knowledge to be more effective and efficient with our restoration efforts.  Continued annual support for monitoring, mapping, and modeling is essential to determine what interventions work best.
  • Support for the IRL Council (a special district of the State of Florida) and the restructured Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program (IRL NEP).  The IRL NEP is implementing a non-regulatory, collaborative and consensus-building approach to IRL restoration, monitoring, and stewardship decision-making.
 
Although it is virtually impossible to fully restore Florida's east coast lagoon system to its overall environmental state as of the mid-20th century, CCAFL believes certain actions can be taken over time by local, state and federal authorities in concert with the residents of Florida which should help the Indian River Lagoon recover from its current condition.     On behalf of our members and all recreational anglers, we pledge to continue to work diligently in studying and supporting viable solutions which CCA hopes will benefit Florida's marine ecosystems.
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