Thursday, October 31, 2013

Florida's Dirty Little Secret: Part Three

This is the third in a series of posts focusing on the ecological issues facing the coastal estuaries of southern Florida. Read Part One here, and Part Two here

A spotted sea trout breaks up a slow day of fishing in San Carlos Bay. The
bay is influenced by excess water discharges from Lake Okeechobee,
which turn the water brown and add pollutants to the estuary.
It's fashionable, among sportsmen and women, to point fingers at others when it becomes obvious that our fishing and hunting are suffering thanks to degraded waters or lands. Certainly, it's true that some who use our resources leave them in a state that makes our pastimes less productive, and it's perfectly all right to identify the causes of the problems that trash fish and game habitat and hinder our opportunity.

But unless we act, we're just a bunch of whiners. It's a tough pill to swallow, but it's true. Complaining about a problem without offering a solution just makes for shrill rhetoric. It's unproductive, to be sure. For more, see: Congress, United States. 

I have a good friend who once explained to me how, traditionally, sportsmen engaged in politics, particularly when it came to natural resources issues that impacted their opportunities afield.

"If one day, you told a bunch of hunters that they had to wake up the next morning, report to the firing squad and be executed, they'd bitch and moan all night long," he said to me. "Then, the next morning, they'd dutifully report, and stand stoically in front of the firing squad to be shot dead."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Florida's Dirty Little Secret: Part Two

This is a second in a series of posts focusing on the ecological issues facing the coastal estuaries of southern Florida. Read Part One here, and Part Three here

You've heard of Big Oil. The Big Three from Detroit. And, of course, the Big Lebowski.

But have you heard of Big Sugar?

I have to admit, until I spent some quality time chasing saltwater fish in southwest Florida recently, I
An osprey surveys the stained water of San Carlos Bay in southwest
Florida. The bay turns brown when unnatural discharges of polluted
water are deposited by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' diversion
project to protect sugar cane crops during the summer wet season. 
hadn't. But, as I paddled the stained waters of San Carlos Bay and fished the chalky water off the beaches of Sanibel Island, it became clear to me that Big Sugar isn't as sweet as it sounds.

In Florida, this industry is source of great pride, particularly among those state and federal lawmakers who collect significant campaign contributions from companies like U.S. Sugar and American Crystal Sugar, or the collective lobbying group, the American Sugar Alliance.

For those living along both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of southern Florida, though, Big Sugar is a Big Problem.

This heavily subsidized industry is largely the cause of one of the most egregious environmental problems in the Southeast, and if you're a saltwater angler from Florida, or someone who travels to the Sunshine State to chase inshore trophies like snook, tarpon and redfish, you might already know the havoc Big Sugar wreaks on the state's southern estuaries.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Florida's Dirty Little Secret: Part One

Note: This is the first in a series of posts focusing on the ecological issues facing the coastal estuaries of south Florida. Read Part Two here, and Part Three here

Tarpon Bay in the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel
Island, Florida.
With each pull on the kayak paddle, I realized that, despite the abundance of life that calls Tarpon Bay home, something wasn't altogether right with this world. Decaying plant matter--likely dead seagrass and other native marine vegetation--hung suspended in the brackish water beneath the craft, and my paddle would disappear altogether once dunked in the drink.

I'd been hearing about this situation for the better part of a week before I took to the mangroves in search of salty fish--it's an odd dilemma facing both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of southern Florida. There's simply too much fresh water entering the estuaries down the Indian, St. Lucie and the Caloosahatchee rivers. And, frankly, the word "fresh" isn't exactly accurate, either.