Estuaries       1


Estuaries are features of the coastal landscape where the mainland, barrier islands, or vegetation semienclose a water body made brackish by the mixing of salt and fresh water.  Estuaries typically contain marine plants and animals having anatomical, physiological, or behavioral adaptations to the changing conditions found in estuaries.  Estuaries produce numerous kinds and vast amounts of sport and commercial fishes and provide numerous other ecological services of direct and indirect value to humans (Douglas and Stroud 1971; Wharton et al. 1977).

Florida estuaries vary greatly in size, productivity, and health.  Freshwater supplies to estuaries in the state range in quantity over six orders of magnitude, from the periods of no flow into the Myakka River estuary to peak flows of the Apalachicola River (approximately 100,000 cubic feet per second).  The area of these estuaries can be measured in acres, as in the case of tidal creeks and springfed streams entering the Gulf of Mexico, to the thousand square miles of mangrove forest and brackish water in the Florida Everglades.  Florida estuaries differ widely in shape and depth as well; estuaries such as the Indian River on the Atlantic coast are long and narrow, whereas estuaries located on the Gulf coast are more expansive.  Tampa Bay, for example, is 35 miles long, 10 miles wide, and connected to the Gulf of Mexico by Egmont Channel, the deepest natural feature on the Florida coastline.


Fresh Water in Florida Estuaries


Not all coastal embayments or waters sheltered by barrier bars are estuaries.  The salinity (or effective concentration of inorganic solids and salts or equivalents of salt) and quality of water varies in estuaries, and salinity is lower than that of adjoining marine waters.  Fresh water flows into Florida estuaries via surface runoff or is discharged from underground water sources.  The contribution of ground water to most estuaries is poorly known, although records exist of early sailors and settlers obtaining potable water at the surface of Biscayne Bay and other coastal areas (Kohout and Kolipinski 1967).  By 1980 numerous inshore and deep submarine springs had been discovered around the Florida coast.  However, because ground waters of peninsular Florida originate from surface waters, the fresh water supplied to an estuary can be said to originate from its respective watershed and recharge area.

The amount of fresh water entering the estuary by any route depends upon rainfall, infiltration, evapotranspiration, watershed size, and human alterations of the landscape.  Changes in the quantity, timing, and quality of fresh water reaching the estuary are critical to its health and productivity.  The amount of discharge determines the geographic pattern of salinity gradients, and timing affects the persistence and predictability of the gradients and numerous ecological responses, including harvests of sport and commercial fishes.  Discharges of fresh water to the St. Lucie estuary, for example, significantly affect catch rates of nine important fish species (Van Os, Carroll, and Dunn 1981).

Snedaker and DeSylva (1977) identified several roles of fresh water in estuaries.  The discharges of rivers import substances to estuaries.  In Apalachicola Bay, river stages are correlated highly with levels of detritus (particulate organic matter) reaching the estuary.  The detritus drains from inland forests and is flushed from tributaries, accompanied by dissolved organic substances, color, lower pH and turbidity, and elemental nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen (Livingston, Sheridan, McLane, Lewis, and Kobylinski 1977).  Contaminants such as organochlorine residues may also be present (Livingston, Thompson, and Meeter 1978).  Estuarine animals have been seen to avoid stormwater runoff in the bay; juvenile and adult blue crabs avoid acidified runoff from recently cleared fields, for example (Livingston, Cripe, Laughlin, and Lewis 1976).

Physical forces exerted by fresh water in an estuary can affect estuarine organisms significantly.  In Charlotte Harbor, sediment transported down the Peace River accumulates in mangrove and tidal marshes above Punta Gorda.  The bathymetry and shape of the upper harbor are controlled by the channels and discharges of the Peace and Myakka rivers.  During the rainy season, surface salinity may fall to zero over a large part of the upper harbor and depress salinities at Boca Grande.  Vertical stratification becomes pronounced as fresh water overflows salt water.  Substances in solution may precipitate and solids will flocculate at the interface of fresh and salt waters.  Levels of dissolved oxygen beneath the blanket of fresh water decline to levels injurious to bottom-dwelling fishes and invertebrates (Fraser 1981).

Fresh water creates a unique physiological, behaviour, and ecological environment in estuaries.  In the co, Everglades, fresh water delivers nutrients to mangr and reduces their salt stress, resulting in peaks of litte (a measure of productivity) during and after the ' wet season.  Fresh water promotes the export of litter and' dissolved organic matter by stimulating their formation and contributing to the physical forces driving the foodstuff from the forest.  Seasonal differences in rainfall and runoff to the mangrove forests result in cycles of food abundance and decreased salinity.  These cycles and spatial salinity differences throughout the forest are correlated with feeding, reproduction, migration, and population growth of benthic infauna (polychaetes, mollusks, and small crustaceans) and epifauna (larger crustaceans, like the shrimp and blue crab), numerous sport and commercial fishes, and a variety of sea and shore birds.  The timing of salinity changes acts to cue numerous species that migrate to sea or into rivers to complete their life cycle.  Salinity gradients in the Everglades also create refuge for larval and juvenile animals and diversify the biota.  For example, species of algae, invertebrates, and fishes in the Everglades near the Gulf differ in their identity and abundance from species closer to the mainland.

The intimate relationship of fresh water to estuaries may also have less desirable consequences.  Two of the five rivers discharging to Tampa Bay, for example, are impounded by dams and a third dam is planned (Dooris and Dooris 1984).  Another river was completely channelized, rerouted, and checked by locks to prevent flooding in developed lowlands.  These physical alterations affect the quantity and timing of freshwater discharge to Tampa Bay estuary.  Fresh waters deliver substances which by their quantity or biological toxicity are inimical to estuarine life.  Discharges of the Alafia River deliver phosphate, flourides, and radionuclides in amounts greater than naturally occur in the Hillsborough Bay estuary (Estevez and Upchurch 1984).  Acid runoff and effluent from shoreside chemical plants have destroyed areas of once productive bay bottom.  The effluent from numerous sewage treatment plants enrich the bay with nutrients and oxygen-demanding substances (Moon 1984) and stormwaters deliver metals, pesticides, and other contaminants from developed uplands (Giovanelli and Murdoch 1984).  The economic and environmental costs of such abuses to Florida's estuaries are undoubtedly high but at present are not well documented.


Value of Estuaries

Emerging from the shorelines and buried beneath estuaries along the Florida coast are symmetrical ea works formed by the state's earliest human inhabitants.  These refuse piles, living areas, and ceremonial mounds are impressive testimony to the importance of estuaries as sources of food, clothing and building material, tools, and other valuables (Goggin and Sturtevant 1964).  Estuaries were then and are today rich concentrations of shellfish, and fish and other vertebrates ;

The productivity of the state s estuaries is made possible by the photosynthesis of estuarine plants which are attuned to the Florida climate, particularly sunlight, temperature, and supplies of fresh water and nutrients.  Macroalgae and microalgae (phytoplankton) occur in all Florida estuaries.  Macroalgae grow as large, drifting forms and as forms attached to sand or mud, rocks, or other plants.  Several species of grasslike monocots grow in and near estuaries.  In addition to their high productivity, seagrasses trap sediment and stabilize the substratum and provide habitat and refuge for marine life.  Salt marshes and mangrove forests grow as approximate analogs on tidal shores.  In , many Florida estuaries, marsh and mangrove communities grow together in a complex and productive mosaic maintained by freezes, water stress, or tropical storms (Estevez and Mosura 1984).'Mangroves and salt marshes are replaced by freshwater vegetation above the tidal reach of estuaries in rivers.  Freshwater and terrestrial plants contribute litter and detritus to estuaries during the wet season.


Algae and vascular plants are consumed directly by herbivores.  Zooplankton, including fish larvae,  microalgae, and mollusks and crustaceans graze macroalgae and seagrasses.  Vast quantities of decomposing marsh and mangrove litter are consumed by filter feeding and deposit feeding invertebrates and fishes.  Food particules are enriched by microscopic bacteria, fungi, algae, and animals during the decaying process.  Very fine organic matter eventually dissolves and can be absorbed by animals in every major estuarine group.  The enormous supply of food in estuaries results in high secondary production, including the propagation of edible shellfish and fishes.  Other animals grow in size and number to sustain birdlife, dolphins, and other top carnivores.

Another set of estuarine functions unrelated to direct consumption but of human concern is the concept of estuaries as zones of transition.  On the one hand, estuaries buffer coastal environments from developed uplands and watersheds by sequestering heavy metals, biocides, and other contaminants in runoff.  Nutrients and organic matter are retained and recycled by chemical and biological processes. (In the same manner, toxic materials can be passed front prey to predator with serious consequences to top carnivores.) On the other hand, the estuary and its wetland fringe dampen the assault of storm surges, red tides, and other offshore events.

Recreation and aesthetic enjoyment of Florida estuaries play a significant role in the state's tourist trade.  Birdwatching and nature study are popular activities dependent largely upon the maintenance of healthy estuaries.  Environmental education in Florida has made effective use of field stations and other facilities located on or near estuaries.  The value of waterfront and waterview real estate has literally skyrocketed, particularly where new developments are integrated with natural landscape features.  Overall, these tangible and intangible benefits and value of Florida9s estuaries comprise the treasured 4 4 quality of life" enjoyed in the state's coastal zone.  According to the 1980 U.S. census, the coastal counties of southwest Florida-an area of largely pristine estuaries-is among the nation's fastest growing metropolitan areas.


Problems Facing Estuaries


Symptoms of ecological problems in Florida's estuaries are easier to recognize than their causes or solutions. gns of malaise in estuaries may be the consequence of accumulated direct, indirect, and interacting impacts (Estevez 1982).  A widely discussed issue concerns the status of the state's sport and commercial saltwater fisheries.  Elements of the controversy include uncertain estimates of stock and inadequate information on life histories and migration.  The impacts of commercial fishing upon recreational yields, and vice versa, are contested in public and scientific forums.  The impacts of habitat destruction and alteration of nursery areas are poorly known and data are few which describe levels of food fishery contamination (Saltwater Fisheries Study and Advisory Committee 1982).

The increasing number of "species at risk," e.g., those named on lists as endangered or threatened over the last decade, is another indicator of problems facing estuaries of the state.  Birds and mammals are well studied.  Endangered birds living in or near estuaries include wood storks, wintering Peregrine falcons, and dusky (and cape sable) seaside sparrows.  Threatened birds with estuarine affinities have included the eastern brown pelican, Rothschild's magnificent frigate-bird, southern bald eagle, osprey, American oystercatcher, least tern, and eastern brown pelican (Kale 1978).  The brown pelican is considered "an excellent indicator species for the quality of the marine-estuarine environment" as its number and reproductive success have been related to pesticide contamination and food abundance (Schreiber 1978).  These and other lines of evidence link pelicans to the quality of fresh water entering estuaries.

The precise contribution to estuarine problems of changes in the amount, timing, or quality of fresh water in Florida is not presently known, although some insights from studies in Apalachicola Bay and the coastal Everglades are instructive (Heald 1970; Livingston et al. 1977).  Enough is known from studies throughout the world to justify predictions of what will happen in Florida estuaries if freshwater supplies are significantly changed (Snedaker and DeSylva 1977).  When fresh water is deprived to estuaries,

nearshore waters become more saline and mixing due to salinity differences is diminished;

salt wedges may develop farther inland and saltwater intrusion in coastal water supplies can result;

exchanges of material between the water an substratum are affected and sediment chemistry is adversely impacted;

patterns of sediment erosion, deposition, and littoral drift are altered;

the estuary is starved of nutrients of terrestrial origin;

salt marshes, mangrove forests, and seagrass beds deteriorate under constantly elevated salinity;

certain fisheries decline or disappear for a variety of reasons related to fresh water;

other species and communities develop in response to new conditions; and populations of nuisance species increase.


Opportunities in Estuarine Management


The problems of Florida estuaries are complex and farreaching where fresh ' water from distant sources is involved.  Strategies of environmental management have evolved as perceptions of these problems have improved.  Numerous areas have been designated as protected habitats.  As examples, Rookery and Apalachicola bays are national estuarine sanctuaries and much of the coastal Everglades is within a national park.  The state legislature created thirty aquatic preserves and other coastal areas are protected as Outstanding Florida Waters by administrative action.  Wetland tracts are being acquired in environIs= mentally endangered lands programs.  Coordinated regional efforts to protect estuaries have been attempted in Charlotte Harbor and the Suwannee River by resource planning and management task forces.  Management plans are being developed or implemented in Biscayne and Tampa bays.  Scientists and resource managers are reviewing what is known and needed as pragmatic research in these and other estuaries.  Local governments have incorporated estuarine resources in their comprehensive planning and have created municipal preserve areas.

Three programs offer some promise for solving the problem of freshwater quantity, timing of discharge, and quality in relation to estuaries.  First, the Department of Natural Resources has authority to consider cumulative impacts in permitting activities in state aquatic preserves: such authority will prove critical in the prevention of piecemeal deterioration of preserves.  Numerous activities within preserves are exempt from regulation, however, and the Department of Natural Resources lacks any authority over activities outside of preserves, where fresh water originates.  Second, the Department of Environmental Regulation (DER), by authority of the 1984 wetlands legislation, may consider cumulative impacts in issuing dredge and fill permits in wetlands.  DER is also responsible for the maintenance of water quality standards in all state waters.  Third, regional water management districts may consider preservation of natural resources, fish, and wildlife when permits for consumptive use of water are issued.  Efforts by the water management districts to anticipate demands for water and provide for the requirements of natural systems could become the principal planning, research, and management tool for protecting freshwater inflow to estuaries.  The Southwest Florida Water Management District already has sponsored a symposium on the freshwater needs of estuaries (Seaman and McLean 1977) and has required compliance monitoring in estuaries by some users of tributary waters.  Adoption of these methods by other districts will help protect Florida's invaluable estuarine resources.


What are Estuaries?  2

They occur in areas where freshwater meets and mixes with salty ocean waters.  The term estuaries, according to gen­eral usage, refers to protected, nearshore waters such as bays and lagoons.

Survival of plants and animals in estuaries requires special adaptations.   Estuaries are dynam­ic systems where waters are  alternately salty and fresh.  The ebb and  flow of tides may leave some plants and animals, such as seagrasses and oysters, temporarily high and dry. Shallow estuarine water can range from freezing to more than 100° F during the course of a year.

Estuarine organisms are naturally adapted to withstand these ranges in salinity, tides, and temperatures. They must, however, have a balanced flow of fresh and saltwater. This balance can be upset if   1) there is too much freshwater, as when causeways  are constructed impeding the free flow of tides,

or if    2) there is too little freshwater, as in the diversion or damming of a river. Estuarine-dependent marine life may die if the precarious balance of fresh and saltwater is not maintained.


              “The cradle of the ocean” is a most appropri­ate title for estuaries.  More than 70 percent of Florida’s recreationally and commercially important fishes, crustaceans,  and shellfish spend part of their lives

              in estuaries, usually when they are young. Many fishes and crustaceans migrate offshore to spawn or breed. The eggs  develop into larvae (immature forms) that are  transported into estuaries by tides and cur­rents. The shallow waters, salt marshes, sea-grasses, and mangrove roots provide excellent hiding places from larger, open-water pred­ators. Some species grow in estuaries for a short time; others remain there for life.

Shrimp, for example, spawn offshore. The larvae then move toward inshore waters, changing form by molting as they progress through various stages of development. As young shrimp, they burrow into the sea floor at the mouth of the estuary as the tide ebbs, then ride into the estuary on the incoming tide. If successful in reaching the estuary after this hazardous journey from the sea, the young shrimp find seagrasses and algae to conceal them from predators. Because many larger animals cannot survive in the lower salinity of the estuary, the young have the added pro­tection of a “salt barrier.” Once the shrimp ap­proach maturity, they leave the estuary for the sea to spawn, and the cycle begins anew.


Estuaries are among the most productive eco­systems in nature. Rivers and streams drain into estuaries, bringing in nutrients uplands.  Plants use these nutrients, along with the sun’s energy, carbon dioxide, and water to manufacture food. Among the most important plant forms that contribute to estuaries are microscopic algae called phytoplankton. Other plant forms include marsh grasses, mangroves, seagrasses, and macroalgae. When these larger plants die, they are broken down into detritus and are colonized by microbes (bacteria, fungi, and other organisms). During decomposition, detritus becomes smaller and smaller and the nutrients and small particles become food for thousands of organisms. Larger animals feed directly on these tiny particles or on smaller animals that fed on detritus.

      As long as nutrient-rich freshwater flows and tides interact without human interference, our estuaries will remain productive. Snook, trout, mullet, jack, grouper, redfish, silver perch, spot, cattish, sheepshead, spiny lobster, shrimp, crabs, oysters, and clam’s are examples of the diverse marine animals dependent upon healthy estuaries. Estuaries also provide breed­ing and nesting areas, or rookeries, for many coastal birds, including several endangered species such as brown pelicans. Estuaries’ role as the ocean’s nurseries cannot be overem­phasized.

Florida’s Estuaries

Florida is undergoing tremendous growth and development pressure which is impacting marine fisheries habitat components important in maintaining viable commercial and recreational fisheries. Florida Department of Natu­ral Resources, Bureau of Marine Research scientists are locating and calculating the acre­age of existing estuarine habitat components such as salt marshes, mangroves, and seagrasses. Information used to map and monitor Florida’s coast is available from LANDSAT sat­ellite and other satellite information sources. The scientists are also noting trends in habitat change by analyzing aerial photographs from the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1980’s. Results of the habitat trend analyses have shown substantial losses of fisheries habitat throughout Florida. One study area on the east coast included the Indian River from Sebastian Inlet south to the St. Lucie Inlet. Over a forty year period, an 86 percent decline in the availability of mangrove habitat to fisheries was documented in addition to a 30 percent loss of seagrass acreage. Tampa Bay, in southwest Florida, has experienced an 81 percent loss of seagrasses and a 44 percent loss of mangrove and salt marsh acreage over a 100 year period.

Estuarine habitat loss is a serious problem in Florida’s coastal zone.. It is difficult to put a price on, estuaries, but without question  they are one of our greatest natural resources. This resource, however, can be destroyed. The coast’s appeal is very evident; 78 percent of Florida’s estimated 11 million residents live in the coastal zone. Dredge and fill operations for waterfront homesites and seawall construction destroy mangrove shoreline and underwater grassbeds. Though these activities may tem­porarily enhance real estate value, ultimately they may decrease long-term value as the natu­ral amenities disappear, the water becomes foul, and wildlife leaves. These activities often eliminate habitat and feeding areas for young fish, shrimp, and crabs. Without estuaries many important fisheries will disappear.

Estuaries are special. Help protect them.

Florida Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Marine Research



Lake Apopka      3


Marsh Flow-way Project removing nutrients


The St. Johns River Water Management District's 1,850acre marsh flow-way project is designed to filter suspended sediments rich in phosphorus and nitrogen from Lake Apopka.

An overabundance of phosphorus and nitrogen in the lake is the principal cause of the lake's poor condition.

The lake's pea green color, caused by chronic algal blooms, has prompted many to refer to Lake Apopka as a dead but it is much too alive.  The profusion of algae serves to choke off many of the normal life forms present in a healthy lake system.

These algal blooms indicate an overly-enriched condition in the lake where phosphorus and nitrogen, elements common in fertilizer, serve to feed the algae.

The flow-way, located on the northwest corner of the lake, is on a site where vegetables were once grown.  Functioning much like a swimming pool filter, it removes phosphorus and nitrogen from the lake as water passes through the grassy marsh in a shallow sheet flow.

The sediments contained in the lake are constantly re-suspended in its shallow, turbulent basin.  They will be filtered from the water as it passes through the marsh flow-way before returning to the Apopka-Beauclair Canal and Lake Apopka.  Rention time of water in the flow-way varys from 3-25 days to determine optimum water depth and flow rate for the full marsh flow-way project.

Environmental scientists at the District estimate 90 percent of the phosphorus in the lake is in particulate form and that much of the suspended sediments can be filtered out.

During the next two years, the District will fine-tune the flow-way. 

Dr. Mike Coveney, technical program manager for Lake Apopka's restoration, predicts the full marsh flowway system will remove and store 30 metric tons of phosphorus per year from the lake, and the total volume of Lake Apopka could pass through the marsh flow-way twice each year.

In the final 5,000-acre marsh flow-way, water from Lake Apopka will be filtered for 10 days.  Ninety percent of that treated water will be returned to the lake, while 10 percent will go downstream.  Only treated water from the marsh will be released to go down-stream.

Land for the initial marsh flow-way cost $5,000,000.  Construction on the 1,850acre project began in December 1989 and took one year to complete.


(1850 Acres)

Chronology of Lake Apopka Restoration Efforts

June 1995

Lake Apopka Restoration Act passed, directing SJRWMD to develop an environmentally sound, economically feasible method to restore Lake Apopka.


Legislature passes SWIM Act, naming Lake Apopka a priority for restoration.

August 1987

Marsh Flow-way concept formalized.

March 1988

Interim SWIM plan developed for Lake Apopka.

June 1988

First $5,000,000 appropriated for Marsh Flow-way land acquisition.

DER delegates to SJRWMD authority to regulate agricultural discharges into Lake Apopka.

June 1989

Second $5,000,000 appropriated for Marsh Flow-way land acquisition.

September 1989

DER approves Lake Apopka SWIM plan.

December 1989

Construction begun on Marsh Flowway Demonstration Project.


Final $5,000,000 appropriated for Marsh Flow-way land acquisftion.

November 1990

Marsh Flow-way Demonstration

Project begins operation.

For more Information about the Lake Apopka restoration project, call JIM Conner at (407) 897-4347, or the Public Information Division at (904) 329-4500.


Lake Apopka Vital Statistics

             Location: Approximately 15 miles north of Orlando in Lake and Orange counties.

Size:    Fourth largest lake in Florida with a surface area of 30,800 acres and a volume of 54 billion gallons.

Depth:   Lake Apopka's water stage is 66.5 feet above sea level.  The average depth is 5.4 feet.  Deepest point is 16 feet along south shore.  Ninety percent of the flat and shallow lake bottom is covered by a layer of sediment averaging 46 inches thick.  This black muck sediment is composed of dead algae and plant material.

These sediments are constantly stirred up by wave and wind action, reducing the clarity of the water.  This resuspension keeps the sediments in the lake water so that they can be filtered out as the water passes through the marsh flow-way.

Lake Apopka is classified as 'hypereutrophic' in that it has an average of .22 mg@ of phosphorus and 4.5 mg of nitrogen (typical level is.05 mg/L   for phosphorus and 1.0 mg/L for nitrogen).

Recreational Activity: Once heralded as one of the best bass fishing lakes anywhere, only one of 21 fish camps open in 1956 still remains open.  Recreational activity is nearly non-existent.  There is little recreational fishing and swimming is discouraged.


Marsh Flow-way Vital Statistics

Total Area: The Demonstration Project is 1,850 acres, including 950 acres of wetlands, of which 635 acres comprise the flow-way.  The full marsh project will be 5,050 acres, including 4,150 acres of wetlands.

Water Flow: The Demonstration Project's rate of water flow from the lake varies from 30-300 cubic  feet/second. h takes 3-25 days for the water to pass through the marsh flow-way, These flow rates will help determine the optimum nutrient storage levels for the full marsh project.  The full marsh project is designed for a watatilow from the lake of 510 cubic feet/second, with the water taking 10 days to make its way through the flow-way.  It is estimated the full marsh project will extract 30 metric tons of phosphorus from the lake each year.

Land Cost: Land for the Demonstration Project cost $5,000,000.  Land acquisftion for the full marsh project is estimated at $15,000,000.

             Benefits:      The Marsh Flow-way is designed to:


·                         Reduce muck farm discharges through land acquisition;

                          Restore fish and wildlife habitat;

·                         Protect downstream lakes;

·                         Improve water quality.


Flow-way project's filtering improves water clarity


The Marsh Flow-way Demonstration project's natural filtering process is having a visible effect on water quality and clarity.

In initial tests, the marsh has removing more than 40 percent of phosphorus and 50 percent of nitrogen from the water exceeding designers' projections.

More than 90 percent of all suspended solids-which phosphorus and nitrogen binds to-are removed as the lake water passes through the marsh.

The difference between water entering the marsh flow-way and that leaving R is startling.

District environmental scientists use a black and white secchi disk to measure water clarity.  They record the depth at which the disk is no longer visible in the murky water.

Secchi comparisons between the center of Lake Apopka and the pump station at the end of the marsh flow-way show water clarity at the pump station is up to ten times greater than at the center of the lake.



Lake's waters, future clearing

Kevin Spear of The Sentinel Staff  Published in The Orlando Sentinel on March 01, 2000

 Not long ago, scientists working to restore massive Lake Apopka warned success might not come in their lifetimes -- not for at least 50 years. 

 On Tuesday, St. Johns River Water Management District officials whittled more than a few years off the timetable. 

 Henry Dean, water district executive director, said the lake might be swimmable in 10 years -- perhaps even in as few as "seven or eight" years. 

 "Nature has a way of restoring itself," said Dean, whose prediction came during a boating tour to introduce the 50-square-mile lake to Orange County Chairman Mel Martinez. 

 A water district scientist later tried to downplay the possibility of Lake Apopka making such a stunning recovery. 

 Ed Lowe said much restoration work remains before many swimmers or skiers will jump out of their boats into water that, for now, still bubbles with the gases of rotting bottom muck. 

 Still, Lake Apopka is showing signs it may shake off its label as one of the most polluted lakes in Florida. 

 Ken Thompson and his uncle, John Anderson, both of Orlando, have fished for 30 years in the waters gushing out of the dam at the lake's north end. 

 "The fish look better, the shade of water looks better," Thompson said, angling for catfish and speckled perch. "The lake is coming back." 

 Jim Thomas, president of Friends of Lake Apopka, agrees that the lake is noticeably improved. 

 "The color is obviously different. You can see it as soon as you get there." 

 Thomas said it is reasonable to expect the lake to "return to the valuable fishery it was" within seven to 10 years. 

 So far, restoration work has cost about $130 million during the past two decades, with most of that spent to buy 18,000 acres of shoreline farms that had drained into the lake. 

 Although other restoration work had been done, the buyouts halted much of the polluted runoff in the late 1990s, and that was when scientists began to detect promising changes.   

               A few years ago, Lake Apopka waters allowed only about 6 inches of visibility. Today, that has increased to 18 inches. 

 A few years ago, Lake Apopka would glow a vivid green when struck by the right angle of sunlight. Today, the lake has less of the green algae that flourished from farm pollution. The lake now gets a brown tint from muck that stirs from the bottom.    

              Even the muck, which can have the feel of mayonnaise and the stench of rotten eggs, has shown signs of compacting into a firmer layer.   

               Cleaner water has allowed more sunlight to strike the lake bottom, nourishing the growth of eel grass and other aquatic plants. 

 In the mid-1990s, when the water district planted a short stretch of shoreline with eel grass, the plants died. 

 But a few years ago, eel grass began to appear on its own in small patches. Today, the lake has more than 50 patches of eel grass, which harbors young fish. 

 For all of the signs of recovery, the water district has been beset with unexpected disasters at Lake Apopka. 

 In late 1998, the water district flooded former farmland along the shore. Then hundreds of white pelicans and other birds died of pesticide poisoning from foraging on the flooded fields. The district drained the fields early last year and is still looking for sources of the contamination. 

 Shutting down the farm fields also is thought to have played a key part in last year's invasion of mice that struck homes and businesses in northwest Orange County. 

 To help meet the prediction of making the lake swimmable in a decade or less, those fields will have to be flooded again and other measures must be completed. 

 Restoration costs could grow to $150 million. 

 In 1999, his first year as Orange County chairman, Martinez criticized the water district's handling of restoration work, citing bird deaths and the mouse invasion. 

 His tour of Lake Apopka brought a change in attitude. 

 "It's a more encouraging picture than I anticipated," he said.  

 Posted Feb 29 2000 9:54PM




Treating a symptom rather than disease   4

Orlando Sentinal11/93

By Michael Zimmerman



Scientific experts on a high-level panel have come up with what they think might be a dramatic cure for the greenhouse effect.  Unfortunately, while their solution is in keeping with a basic law of ecology, their idea runs afoul of an equally basic law of medicine.


The experts, a panel of top scientists gathered by the National Research Council (NRC), have endorsed a plan to fertilize the planet's oceans with iron.  After all, iron is supposed to promote the growth of tiny marine algae known as phytoplankton.  Phytoplankton, like all green plants, take up carbon dioxide, one of the most troublesome greenhouse gases. and release oxygen.  So the thought is that a dramatic increase in phytoplankton will lead to the removal from the atmosphere of a large percentage of the offending carbon dioxide.


Why iron?  As every gardener knows, and as I teach my introductory ecology students very early on, the answer is quite simple.  In 1840, the great German chemist Justice von Liebig conducted a series of experiments and published a paper that established the "law of the Minimum."  That ecological axiom states that "growth of a plant depends on the amount of foodstuff which is presented to it in limiting quantity."  Even more simply, plant growth is always limited by a particular environmental factor.  Add more of that factor and plants will grow until some other factor becomes limiting.  The NRC scientists. recognizing that iron appears to be the factor limiting the growth of phytoplankton, want to add more iron to the phytoplankton's habitat.


So confident are the scientists of their solution that one of the leading proponents of this remedy, John Martin of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California, has been quoted as saying, "You give me a half a tanker full of iron, I'll give you another ice age."


Needless to say, no one on the NRC panel wants quite that much iron.  Also, needless to say, no purposeful human manipulation of the natural environment of this magnitude has ever before been undertaken.  And because the phytoplanklon are at the bottom of the ocean's food chain, fed on by tiny zooplankton that, in turn. are eaten by the fish and mammals of the sea, the ecological consequences of the addition of iron might be enormous. This uncertainty alone might be reason enough not to pursue such a massive manipulation.


But, in fact, there is a far better reason not to proceed along the lines of the NRC panel's recommendations, and that reason comes from medicine rather than ecology.  Doctors have long recognized that it is far less productive to treat the symptoms of a disease rather than the underlying causes.  While aspirin, for example, might be wonderful at bringing down a fever caused by a bacterial infection, it will not help remove the offending bacteria.  With the fever reduced, the patient may seem to be improving only  to suffer a massive and perhaps deadly relapse when  the bacteria reach immense quantities.


Fertilizing the oceans with iron is like feeding aspirin to a sick patient.  Increased quantities of phytoplanklon might well reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but they will not get at the root of the greenhouse problem.  And given the politics, both national and international, of attempting to rein in emissions of offending gases, any program that appears to make such control less immediately pressing is sure to add ammunition to those who would rather not take any action at all.  As with an untreated bacterial infection, continuing to use our atmosphere as a repository of unwanted pollutants is a prescription for suicide.


Regardless of how much increased phytoplankton growth can be coaxed out of our oceans, the amount of carbon dioxide that will be absorbed will never be infinite.


Ultimately, then, we will still need to control our profligate habits if we expect to live in harmony on this planet.  Fertilizing the oceans, while delaying the problem, will increase its magnitude and, ultimately, will make finding an acceptable solution even more difficult.  By delaying, we are doing what we do so well: Bequeathing to our children our own most difficult problems.  We should have the moral strength to act in a more responsible fashion


Michael Zimmerman is professor of biology Overlain College in Ohio



Oil from Algae   5

From Audubon Magazine Jan 1990

One of the most controversial offspring of the energy crisis of 1973 and 1979 is the subsidized production of alcohol from corn, for auto fuel.  Burning alcohol rather than gasoline reduces smog and our petroleum imports, but ethanol has also acquired a reputation of being damaging to automobile engines and a heavily subsidized alternative to straight gasoline.

Norm Hinman, a biochemical engineer specializing in ethanol at SERI says the first problem was solved several years ago:"Every auto manufacturer will warrant its engines on a ten percent ethanol blend".  He agrees that the current corn-fed approach, producing 850 million gallons of ethanol yearly is not going to make much of a dent in the 112 billion gallons of gasoline that the nation's engines burn every year (1990). But he predicts that ethanol production will soon be increased to five billion gallons per year (Another type of alcohol already is well established in one small but influential population of engines: cars in the Indianapolis 500, which burn pure methanol.  "It's safer and you can get more energy with it because it's susceptible to high compression" says Indy technical inspector Dave Kyle.)                                                                                                                                                                 

The corn to alcohol process is simple as can be, requiring only the fermentation of the sugars already in the kernels, along with sugars produced from the starches.  SERI is heading down a different road using lignocellulose, or plant fiber, as a feed stock rather than corn kernels.  The difficulty is that lignocellulose does not ferment until it is broken down into certain sugars and this is difficult to do economically.  Current Biotechnology can break three quarters of the fibers into sugars, using acids, enzymes, and yeast strains.  (The leftover lignin is useful in industry).  A full-scale plant, Hinman says, would look like a cross between a corn wet milling factory and an oil refinery.

Hinman says lignocellulose is worth using because it is inexpensive and available in vast quantities, as a residue from current food and fiber harvests.  Take corncobs, which are tossed out of corn harvesters onto fields every fall.  All those cobs, Hinman points out, could produce five billion gallons of ethanol a year.

At a gathering cost of $20 to $50 per dry ton, Hinman figures that lignocellulose processing could produce the equivalent of 130 billion gallons of gasoline a year, more than the current consumption (1990).  "That would produce a lot of jobs in the US rather than in Saudi Arabia".  He explains that even this high level of use would not mean sweeping up every branch and cornstalk and rice hull but would leave millions of tons of surplus fiber in forests and fields for natural recycling.  Because the ag-waste approach would piggyback on certain harvests, it would require no extra deforestation.  Some biomass proposals, however, call for converting millions of acres for forest and wilderness to energy crops.

As the technology stands now (1990), Hindman says, the production would cost $1.35 a gallon.  He admits that this figure is far from the wholesale price of gasoline, about 50 cents (1990-oh how it's changed!), but the progress has been rapid: in 1984 the cost was three times higher.  He is aiming for an unsubsidized, wholesale cost of sixty cents a gallon or ethanol, which would match the per-BTU cost of gasoline.  "I think its doable" he says "I look at the progress we've made and think we can do it within ten years. 


If you listened to biologist Lewis Brown long enough, you might conclude that we should cover one percent of New Mexico and Arizona with saltwater ponds.  Put to use producing algae, they could take care of about a thirtieth of the nation’s energy needs,  Brown says, in the form of high-value liquid fuel.

The algae he has been experimenting with, as manager at SERI’s biotechnology branch, is first cousin to that in the ocean’s upper layers.  This algae, he says, absorbs about 1/3 of all the carbon absorbed by plants worldwide.  The ideal alga is selected for its single-minded production of oil.  With the water removed more than ½ of the algae by weight is oil.

Brown has in mind building thousands of racetrack shaped ponds just six inches deep.  Algae could flourish in the intense southwestern sunlight, and Brown estimates that each acre could produce 150-400 barrels of refined fuel.  In effect, these ponds would mimic the ancient shallow seas that produced so much petroleum.  Here however, tubes would bubble large amounts of carbon dioxide through the water to boost algae growth. (What would this do to the pH of the water???)

“Carbon dioxide is not the enemy.” Brown says, “without it plants won’t grow and we’d all die.”  When questioned about proposals to discard vast quantities of carbon dioxide underground or at sea, he responds, “Why not give it to us and we’ll make use of it”?  He explains that algae in ponds is forty times more efficient at taking up carbon dioxide than algae in the open ocean.  A quarter of a percent of Arizona and New Mexico, he estimates, would absorb all the carbon dioxide that power plants produce in those states.  Natural gas, he says, burns so cleanly that its combustion exhaust could be piped directly into its ponds.

Brown concedes that the recycled carbon would enter the atmosphere eventually, as the algae-grown liquid fuel was burned in cars, but points out that this approach would extend the carbon’s usefulness before the harm started.  How about water lost to evaporation from the ponds?  “These farms could operate on existing brackish water supplies for many decades,” he says.   And the water that becomes too salty from evaporation could go back underground.

Experimental ponds are operating near Roswell, New Mexico.  The projected cost is $1.60 per gallon (Taxes NOT included) for the fuel, so don’t expect commercialization just yet.

The algae and lignocellulose proposals came under the heading of biomass.   Power production from biomass, using energy stored during photosynthesis, is well advanced in some industries.  The utility company in Burlington, Vermont, operates a 62 megawatt wood fired powerplant, and dozens more such small plants are being built or planned.



Bay Killlers  #6

Bay Killers  6

BY RONNIE WACKER Sea Frontiers v37#6 12/91

Mario Carrera rests the bull clam rake on the gunwale of his 16-foot skiff and scans the sil­ver-blue waters of Long Island Sound. “You see why I’m a bay man?” he asks. “This is a beauti­ful way of life.” His outstretched hand sweeps across the horizon. “It’s independence. It’s free­dom. It’s being your own boss.”

Then he plunges the long-handled rake into the muck ten feet below the boat. “It gives you a chance to pray, and there is no better cathedral than what God has made.”  Camera holds the rake still for a moment. “I will be very sorry when this ends.”

This is what he is afraid of, that it is all coming to an end, working the bays for fish and clams and scallops. On the day that I accompa­nied him, he was doing something I’m sure he would not have dreamed of doing when he first went out, 13 years ago: He was taking clams from polluted waters.

Now 27, a onetime aerospace engineer—for years he went clamming during high-school and college vacations—he worked this year as chief of a crew authorized by New York State to gather clams from the befouled waters of Echo Bay near New Rochelle for transplant into the Peconic bays in the tip of Long Island, where most—not all, but most—of the waters are still clean. Three weeks in the clean water rinses away the contaminants, and the clams can be harvested a second time, now fit for eating.

Gary Quarty, a seasonal fisherman, has re­cently trawled for shrimp off Tampa, Key West, and Panama City, Florida, but now is about ready to quit fishing altogether. “I don’t want to be the guy to catch the last fish,” he says.

He’ll try again this year, but he doesn’t ex­pect much. One reason is the slump in Texas and Louisiana production: Shrimpers from those states have been coming over to Florida and taking immature juveniles. The result, says Quarty, is that much of this year’s Florida catch won’t be big enough to keep.

So after 20 years of fishing, he now works for a landscaper and wonders what to do with rest of his life. He has no bitterness toward the Texas and Louisiana shrimpers: He blames home builders whose pink and white confec­tions line the Florida shoreline, and what he sees as theft wanton disregard for nature. “In Tampa,” he says, “it’s a violation to clear out mangrove trees, but developers just tear them out and pay the fines. As far as the government is concerned, it’s easier to blame the fishermen for overfishing and cut back on fishing limits than to get to the root cause—loss of habitat for the fish.”

Nat Bingham, who trolls for salmon on the 38-foot, wood-hulled Elliott M out of Fort Bragg on California’s north coast, worries that the area is losing its fisheries because water in northern rivers has been diverted from San Francisco Bay down long pipelines into desert lands to the south. This has dried up spawning beds and reduced salmon and steelhead fisheries to a frac­tion of their former landings.

Bingham, grandson of the late Hiram Bingham, a famous explorer and former gover­nor of Connecticut, left New England for the west coast in his twenties. He has fished for salmon for more than 25 years and headed the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Asso­ciations for the last eight. He accuses the Central Valley Project, a federal-state network of dams and reservoirs, of enriching huge corporate farms by selling irrigation water at far below cost, while destroying the fish and success of small salmon-fishing businesses. It’s taxpayers’ dol­lars, he says, that subsidize vast “agribusiness” farms growing water-intensive crops in the desert. One river, the Trinity, lost 85 percent of its water into the agribusiness pipelines, says Bingham, and with it went 85 percent of the salmon that once spawned there.

Like the canaries in a coal mine, whose death warned the miners of trouble ahead, dwindling fish catches everywhere should be clanging alarm bells for all of us, according to marine biolo­gists of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The state of U.S. urban bays, estuaries within 10 miles of population centers of over 100,000 people, is bad and getting worse.

The estuaries, where fresh water from inland meets the ocean’s brine, nurture many small and infant fish. They are showing the results of years of concentrated abuse. The worst degra­dation occurs, as might be expected, in the most urbanized and most populous areas: on the east coast, in Boston, New York, and New Jersey harbors, Long Island Sound, and Chesapeake Bay. Pictures of garbage floating in Boston Har­bor are credited with helping George Bush win the presidency. On the west coast, San Fran­cisco, Santa Monica, and San Pedro bays are in serious trouble. In the northwest, Puget Sound is victim of some of the worst industrial dis­charges in the region.

At the National Symposium on Fish Habitat Conservation last March, NMFS biologist James R. Chambers reported that all fisheries depen­dent upon estuaries—that is, 75 percent of all edible species—have been reduced to the low­est levels in their history.

In Chesapeake Bay, landings of hickory shad are down 96 percent since the 1960s. Alewife and blueback-herring landings are down 92 per­cent, and American shad is down 66 percent The Maryland oyster harvest has declined 90 percent from peak levels reached years ago.

In the northwestern United States, Columbia River salmon and steelhead runs are down 75 and 84 percent; the Snake River coho-salmon population is believed to be gone and the river’s sockeye-salmon stock is dwindling. Puget Sound’s English-sole landings are down from 2.4 million pounds some years ago to 700,000 pounds in the last reported year. Califomia has lost 90 percent of its historic chinook-salmon spawning habitat. In San Francisco Bay, there are few young striped bass, and the adult striped-bass population is down 60 to 80 percent.

Commercial landings of fish and shellfish along the U.S. southern Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts have declined by 42 percent since 1982. Nationally, 54 percent of all shellfish beds have been closed because of pollution.

What is destroying the world’s most impor­tant source of protein? Loss of habitat, toxic contamination and overfishing says William B. Fox, chief of NMFS, on leave from the Univer­sity of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Our estuaries are polluted by discharges from industrial and sewage-treatment plants, and by road runoff carrying the detritus of residential populations: road salt, rubber and oil, pet feces and litter. And they are crushed by real-estate developers who fill the spongy wetlands with sand and rock and top it all off with houses, factories, and shopping centers—all producing still more pollution. For the past 200 years, we’ve been losing our wetlands at the rate of one acre a minute, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. What was once a treasure trove of 200 million acres—each capable of producing ten tons of food a year—is down to 100 million acres in the lower 48 states, and shrinking fast.

     As bad as the threatened loss of food supply, some scientists believe, is the toxic im­pact on humans of chemical pollution. Effluents from chemical plants, synthetic fertilizers washed from farm fields and lawns, paints, sprays, and solvents all are assaulting the fish. Many scien­tists fear the pollutants may have the same long-range effect on us.

   Usha Varanasi, who heads the environmen­tal conservation division of NMFS’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, shares this fear. She has found liver tumors in English sole from Puget Sound, in black and white croakers from Santa Monica, San Pedro, and San Diego bays, and in winter flounder from Boston Harbor. Her crews have found flatfish in Puget Sound with signs of retarded ovarian development, reduced spawning ability, and lowered levels of sex hor­mones. Even young salmon that travel through affected areas like the Duwamish waterway in Seattle pick up the chemicals from sediments and are beginning to show an AIDS-like weak­ening of the immune system. “If toxic chemicals have that effect on fish,” says Varanasi, “what about the humans who eat the fish?”

Evidence of public concern is widespread and growing. In a recent survey of the sociology department at North Carolina State University, 92 percent of the respondents agreed that when humans interfere with nature, it often produces disastrous consequences, and 95 percent endorsed the statement “Mankind is severely abusing the environment.” Eighty-two percent also agreed that there are limits to growth beyond which our industrial society cannot expand.

In response to growing public awareness of the threat, Congress passed the Clean Water Act of 1987, creating a National Estuary Program (NEP), administered by the Environmental Pro­tection Agency (EPA), to identify environmen­tal problems in estuaries of national significance. NEP currently is studying 18 sites, jointly with local and state agencies and citizens’ groups, to develop comprehensive estuarine management.

The common factor in all bay pollution, ac­cording to EPA, is development. Three quarters of all Americans now live within 50 miles of salt water. This means more homes, septic systems, industry, marinas, restaurants, and other sup­ports of civilization to follow the migration. It also means more beaches close each summer because of high fecal coliform count in the wa­ter, or medical waste and other filth floating on the tide. And more “dead sea” zones, devoid of dissolved oxygen, where no fish can live.

And it means more algal blooms that come and go mysteriously, attacking finfish, shellfish, and the vacationers who swim among them. Their exact cause is unknown, although they usually appear close to developed shoreline.

Last August (1991), a red tide came ashore along the Florida coast south of Tampa, killing mil­lions of fish and creating a pervasive stench that devastated the tourist economy. In 1988, a simi­lar bloom struck the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary behind North Carolina’s outer banks. Swimmers suffered burning eyes and breathing problems. Shellfish eaters reported 48 cases of neurotoxic poisoning. For 18 months, shellfishing was banned along 240 miles of shoreline for an eco­nomic loss of nearly $25 million.


The Peconic Bay system, in eastern Long Island, suffered a similar economic blow in 1985, 1986, and 1987, when a brownish algae spread through the water, strangling a $2 million-a-year scallop crop. Oyster and clam harvests also shrank, and tourism slumped, denting a $229 million recreational industry. Then, as mysteri­ously as it had arrived, the brown tide left, in 1988. New bug scallops were planted, beginning a two-year growth cycle. Bay men were looking forward to a scallop bonanza this year—and then the brown tide returned, threatening another di­sastrous year for the fishermen.

Except for brown tide, the Peconic bays’ clean waters are afwight spot in an otherwise dismal picture. Named one of the “Last Great Places” in the western hemisphere by The Nature Conser­vancy, the 1 10,000-acre estuary consists of roll­ing farmland, beaches, creeks, woodlands, and wetlands. These recreational attractions swell its 115,000 population to 280,000 in summer. All this open space, one-fourth of the estuarine land area still available for development, concerns environmentalists and government. Given its lo­cation, less than 80 miles from New York City and the eastward march of population on Long Island, it is only a matter of time, they worry, until the Peconic system shares the problems of neighboring urban bays. They look to the federal estuary program to prevent this and are working to make the system the 19th NEP member.

Just north of the Peconic bays, Long Island Sound with 15 million people on its New York and Connecticut shores was slow to show the effects of contamination because it is deep and has good flushing action. But in recent years fish kills have occurred with some frequency in “dead zones” where the oxygen has been squeezed out of the waters as a result of enor­mous amounts of nutrients from sewage efflu­ent and storm-water runoff. Some 86 sewage-treatment plants, when all operating, discharge a billion gallons of nitrogen- and phosphorus-laden effluent into the sound every day.

Groups along both sides of the sound have angrily protested the water condition. The Na­tional Audubon Society took a campaign for public attention to the sound into 15 communi­ties. Fishermen, boaters, professors, schoolchil­dren, environmentalists, and government offi­cials who participated in the hearings talked, sometimes emotionally, about the need for lim­its to growth, vigorous protection of wetlands, clean beaches, healthy fisheries, changes in land-use policies to protect water quality—and gov­ernment funding for these projects.

A witness in Old Lyme, Connecticut re­called when the sound’s water was so clean his mother used to cook spaghetti in it. A middle-aged Long Island woman said wistfully, “I re­member swimming in the sound, having por­poises swim around me.” One father said he’s “mad as hell. I never saw a diseased fish until the mid-1970s. Now I have to find out what is safe to feed my kids.”

A Connecticut woman reported that she and her son took 80 tires, 209 oil drums, and 23 bags of glass from islands at the mouth of the Connecticut River, which flows into the sound.

But a basic conclusion was that people individually and collectively bear responsibility for the state of the bays. “They don’t pollute the sound,” said one speaker in Middletown, Con­necticut. “We do. And thye are not going to clean it up. We, as a community, must.” An­other, in New Haven said: “We need to see the personal connection between the irritating leak under the [family car] chassis and the poisoning of Long Island Sound from urban runoff.”

The public also has been mobilized to save Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the coun­try, which has suffered “a long, slow slide into degradation,” as Fran Flanigan, executive direc­tor of the Alliance for Chesapeake Bay,’ puts it. The bay’s famous Chincoteague oysters have almost disappeared, dwindling rockfish popula­tions resulted in fishing bans in Maryland and Virginia, perch are scarce, and aquatic grasses that provide breeding grounds for fish have dis­appeared in many parts of the bay.

   The Alliance has pulled together more than 100 organizations—corporations, bay men, en­vironmentalists, marina operators, developers— to work on management of growth problems of the 64,000-square-mile basin. The cooperation came about, says Flanigan, when “we finally recognized that economic development and a healthy environment, far from being in conflict, are mutually dependent.” In 1983, a three-state cooperative program was launched and, since then, there has been some return of bottom grass, and the striped-bass population appears to be improving. “But,’ says Flanigan, “we’ve still got a long ways to go.”

People living around Puget Sound in Wash­ington hadn’t been very aware of pollution there until several migrating whales died in bay wa­ters, according to John Dorman, director of plan­ning and compliance for the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority. Then community protest spurred the state to form the authority. Its stud­ies showed toxic chemicals from industrial dis­charges and storm runoff had settled in the bot­tom sediments. EPA called one area of the sound—Commencement Bay—more polluted than the infamous Love Canal zone near Niagara Falls.  . In spring 1991, Washington State adopted a Sediment Quality Standards Act.

A massive effort to change people’s behav­ior has helped prevent further pollution, says Donnan, but his prognosis for cleaning up Puget Sound is only fair. “We don’t know how well we can control storm-water runoff,” he says.

     Along the Gulf of Mexico, loss of habitat in urban bays is the result of canals and chan­nels dug into the marshes for transportation of oil and gas. The Barataria-Terrebonne estuary, between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers, had the most extensive coastal wetlands in the United States but lost them at the rate of 40 to 60 square miles a year from the 1950s-l970s.

Kay Radlauer of the management commit­tee for the NEP blames dikes and levees on the Mississippi, along with the canals and channels, for the loss of wetlands. “But,” she says, “the oil-industry recession has somewhat slowed the degradation process.”

It’s an ill wind...

Storm runoff from New Orleans and Baton Rouge was threatening the Louisiana oyster har­vest, which accounts for 40 percent of all America’s oyster crop. Also, about half of the state’s productive growing waters are closed at certain times of the year. This infuriates Louisi­anans, who are proud of their cuisine.

“That’s what it takes to get something done— people getting mad,” says Radlauer. “We formed a coalition of businesses, local government, churches, environmental groups, a broad base of people.” They got a dedicated trust fund for protection of the wetlands through the state leg­islature, and Louisiana voters ratified it by a 70 percent majority.

San Francisco Bay, with 94 percent of its wetlands gone and more than 150 square miles of the estuary filled, has the unwelcome distinc­tion of being the country’s most manhandled estuary. The Gold Rush in 1848 brought the first population boom to the bay and eventually its first serious water pollution: raw domestic sewage. Since then, humans have dug, filled, rechanneled, diverted, and dumped into the wa­ters and wetlands of this Pacific coast estuary.

Toxic contaminants have decimated once-abundant fisheries for shrimp, salmon, and Dungeness crab. But the most devastating blow to the San Francisco Bay system has been the systematic diversion of fresh water from its tribu­tary rivers, through state and federal pipelines and reservoirs, to supply the huge corporate farms in south-central California and the swimming pools of Beverly Hills, Palm Springs, and like communities. The water loss, into the maws of the Central Valley Project, is estimated at 65 percent. Studies have shown that a river cannot lose more than 25 to 30 percent of its flow without disastrous ecological consequences.

At times, the San Joaquin River is sucked so hard that it must flow backward. And, says fish­erman Bingham, that river, which once had a run of 115,000 to 140,000 king salmon every spring, now has zero. “The run was not just reduced,” he says. “It is gone. Along with it went the historic salmon gillnet fishery of the San Francisco Bay and delta that harvested San Joaquin stocks.” While water for the fish was being cut back at the beginning of the drought, he says, no agricul­tural cutbacks had been proposed. In fact, he continues, cotton acreage actually increased. He concludes bitterly: “King Salmon has been lost to King Cotton.”

The only bright light Bingham sees on the horizon is the Central Valley Project Improve­ment Act, sponsored by Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey, which would reallocate freshwater flows to give fish and wildlife an equitable share of that now going to municipal uses in southern California and subsidized agribusiness farms.

In the southern U.S. Atlantic region, estua­rine development has occurred along the nar­row strip of the coast, unlike the urban areas of the north which grew outward from core cities. The Albemarle/Pamlico estuary in North Caro­lina, the first estuary NEP accepted for study, contains four of the five fastest-growing coun­ties in the state, with ten-year population in­creases ranging from 30 to 91 percent.

Todd Miller, executive director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation, calls non-point source runoff the number one problem of the area. Coastline population growth has changed the character of the rural area from fishing and agriculture to service industries, tourism, and retirement communities, he says.


When asked what could be done to save the Albemarle/Pamlico estuary from its exten­sive pollution, environmentalist David McNaught, head of the Pamlico-Tar River Foun­dation, drawled: “People can stop making so many babies. . . or ii they make them, educate them not to be so wasteful.”

Wasteful or greedy, pollution is not the only threat to our fish supply. Overfishing also has shrunk the size of the catch in most U.S. coastal waters. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The Magnuson Act of 1976, prohibiting foreign fleets from fishing within 200 miles of the U.S. coast, was enacted to prevent high-tech factory ships from scouring the coastal water bottoms. Amen-can fishermen were delighted that U.S. grounds would be theirs again, but then they bought bigger boats and sophisticated electronic fish-tracking equipment and started slaughtering fish just as recklessly as the foreign fleets had been doing. The impact has been that “an expanding number of vessels is attempting to catch a shrink­ing number of fish,” says Fox of NMFS.

Urban bays seem to be in such bad condition that it is difficult to believe that progress has been made. But Brian Gorman of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Na­tional Ocean Service maintains that federal laws

have done much to prevent the bays from get­ting worse. “With the cleanup that has been going on during the last ten years, the coastal waters are actually cleaner than they were ten years ago. Seattle and San Francisco are not getting worse, and the Chesapeake is actually improving. We are not putting as much lead into the air as we were. U.S. environmental laws are having some effect.”

But it’s hard to be optimistic when you’re sitting at the culling board in Mario Carrera’s skiff in Echo Bay. Watch him as he plunges the clam rake into the sparkling waters and chugs the crossbar handle up and down into the mud. Then he hauls up the long, steel pole and dumps the basket on the board.

Nestled among the polluted clams are a beer can and a wine bottle. Other casts bring up an automobile tire, old floor mats, and many more beer cans. “That’s the kind of garbage we throw in our waters,” says Carrera. “We don’t think about what we’re doing. It looks beautiful up here,” he says, motioning toward the waters glinting in the sun, the greenery rimming the beach, sea gulls on-a rock facing into the wind.

“But look over there,” he says, waving his hand toward a sewage-treatment plant on the shore. “What happens when we have heavy rains and that sewage overflows? We are de­stroying our natural resources, polluting the wa­ters, building on shores where we shouldn’t be building. When it comes to land use, we are back in the Neanderthal age.”  Carrera shakes his head. “It’s hard to believe what we’re doing to our world.”



Ronnie Wacker has written on social behavior and environmental trends for several newspa­pers and magazines, including the New York Times, New York Newsday, Science 86, and McCall’s. She raised five sons on the shores of one of the New York bays she writes about here. For the past three years, she has been president of the North Fork Environmental Council, a New York regional organization acting to pre­serve the rural character of eastern Long Island.


Readings  Marshes Bays Estuaries NAME.........................……………………………pd…………………

1.  Questions with Estuary reading

__________1.  According to the article, estuaries provide numerous ecological services of only indirect value to humans. T or F

__________2.  Where ar Florida’s most expanse estuaries?  (A) east coast  (B) west coast (C) panhandle only  (D) Lake Apopka southern shores

__________3.  The amount of freshwater entering the estuary by any route depends on  (A) rainfall (B) watershed size  (C) power plant runoff  (D) all of these are correct  (E) a and b are


__________4. What reduces salt stress in the mangroves (A) high tides  (B) low tides  (C) fresh water (D) salt water

_________5.  What has happened to the fresh water runoff into Tampa Bay?  (A) dams impound rivers  (B) drought conditions occurred  (C) sea level rose allowing salt water to flow in

_________6.  Terrestruial plants canot contribute to the detritus of estuaries because they are not salt water plants   T or F

_________7.  Estuaries comprise the treasured quality of life enjoyed in the states coastal zones and is probably responsible for the fast growing of the coastal counties in Northeast               

              Florida.  (T or F)

________8.  When fresh water is deprived to estuaries, salt wedhes may develop farther out into the estuary and saltwater intrusion of coastal water supplies can result.  T or F

________9.  When fresh water is deprived to estuaries, populations of nuisance species increase.  T or F

_______10.  The department of Natural Resources lacks any authority over activities outside of preserves where freshwater ordginates.  T or F


2 Florida Estuaries (What are Estuaries)

1.What conditions do estuarine plants and animals have to put up with?

2. What can  upset the balance of estuarine organisms?

3. Why are estuaries special to Florida?

4.Where do the young shrimp live and describe their journey?

5. List some producers and consumers of the estuaries.

6. How is Florida mapping their estuaries?

7. What percent decline in estuaries has been noted from Sebastian inlet to St. Lucie inlet along the Indian River?

8.What value will the dredge and fill operations for homes have in the future?



 9.  What is the Marsh Flow-way  supposed to do?

10.  What do the algal blooms indicate?

11. What will they do with the filtered water?

12.  How deep is Lake Apopka?

13.  How thick is the sediment along the bottom of the lake?

14.  What should the benefits of the Marsh Flow-Way  project be? 


4 Symptoms  Treating a Symptom...

1.  What would the addition of iron to the ocean do?

2.  How would this work?

3.  Why fertilize phytoplankton?

4.  Would this cure the greenhouse effect?

5.  After reading this article, should scientists follow through with this idea?



 5..Oil From Algae Energy...

1.  List some positive and negative effects of using ethanol in cars.

2.  Where does Lignocellulose come from?

3.  How much gas per year could be produced from lignocellulose and at what price?

4.  How much of our energy could be produced from algae?

5.  How much of the algae is oil?

6.  What else would be used to feed the algae?

7.  How much would a gallon of fuel cost?

8.  Explain how would this recycle carbon?



6 THE BAY KILLERS                   












11.  WHAT IS AFFECTING 40% of the American oyster crop?