The seagrasses in most of Lemon Bay and Charlotte Harbor are gone. It’s a problem because most of our gamefish require lush grassflats to hide as they grow up. Seagrasses provide a home for shrimp, crabs, sea horses, baitfish, and juvenile fish. Smaller creatures need a place to hide or they become food for bigger fish. Many of our fish are cannibalistic. Don’t forget the manatees require food too.
I don’t care that our SWFWMD water management district says their aerial photos show seagrasses are doing great. Photos do not distinguish attached seagrasses from unattached and drifting algae. They have pictures of cover over our bay bottoms; I have four decades experience fishing these waters. I’ve lived and guided full time here for 34 years! I’ve fished more than 5,000 days on these waters. Who do you want to believe?
I’m fed up with studies and “experts” telling us what is going on. They sit in offices with computers. We are on these waters and living on these shorelines. I’ll be glad to show anyone who can make a difference exactly what I’m talking about, but I really doubt I’ll have any takers. I’ve made this offer before. But, one more time: Anyone with FWC research, or the water management district, or Sea Grant, or any other similar organization, let’s go out on my boat and take a look at where the grass isn’t.
Now, our Charlotte County commissioners do want to help address our water quality challenges. They have come a long way towards understanding many of our problems. But they have limited time to educate themselves and deal with our challenges. Their commission jobs are part time! They have other demands for their time. They have staff, but the staff has plenty of other things to deal with. We are a heavily populated and growing country!
I’m crystal clear that everyone has our water quality and growth challenges on their radar. I just need to point out these problems are much large than most realize. We have contributed to many of our problems for decades, and they have grown with our population and developments. The costs to address our problems are beyond what local taxpayers can cover. We are talking billions of dollars, and this is not going to just go away or fix itself.
Look at what other areas have done. I watch programs on our county station about water quality and drinking water problems that Las Vegas, New York, and Chesapeake Bay watersheds have all been forced to deal with. Our issues aren’t unique, and we have many proven solutions to consider. Stop trying to figure it all out again — study the fixes that have succeeded elsewhere.
One of our major problems with local seagrass is simple to figure out. Boats, especially larger ones, create wakes. This wave actions interacts with the silty bottom and milks up our shallow flats. Turbidity cuts off sunlight, which is crucial for grasses to grow. We have algae, not grass. Algae thrives on the abundant nutrients and covers any grasses remaining.
Remember that sea grasses contribute oxygen if they can photosynthesize, but this requires sunlight. No one wants to slow down, but we all need seagrasses. What is your answer? Do our manatees have enough seagrasses to maintain current populations? Remember that carrying capacity thing I talked about last week.
A large part of Lemon Bay’s problems stem from the fact that we dredged the ICW and destroyed the natural flows that maintained the estuary ecosystem. Why can’t we do anything to restore some of the natural flows?
It was ignorant to create the channel out in front of Stump Pass Marina. Who thought that water would flow around a 100 degree plus angle? It follows the path of least resistance. Our natural flow was from Cedar Point and upper Lemon Bay. By digging the ICW, we blocked and destroyed every natural flow along its length. From Tarpon Springs to Fort Myers, the ICW changed every natural pass and its flushing abilities.
This area used to be incredibly productive, and I still believe it could be that way again. But we are destroying it as fast as possible to trade our natural ecosystems for money. I’ve seen the fishing around Tampa Bay improve as I’ve experienced our local fishing spiral downward. They have problems but have somehow overcome some of them. Their sea grasses have recovered; what are they doing we aren’t? Local problems are compounding every year.
It’s not too late to find solutions for our local waters. It just comes down to priorities. Do we care about saving the natural resources that we and our visitors come here to enjoy, or would we rather sit in silence while the last pieces of paradise get sold to the highest bidder? Of course, everyone cares about our survival — but what are we going to actually do to address our challenges?
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.