Florida is supposed to have lots of grass, but not like we have now. Seagrasses are necessary for natural habitats. Lawn grasses are a problem.
We are enduring issues with algae and too many nutrients. Yet so many folks still don’t understand the sources of our nutrient problems. Grass lawns and landscaping that require heavy watering and fertilizing are a significant part of our problems. Sure, it looks pretty, but it contributes to our overloads of nutrients. Plenty of other things are factors, but manicured lawns have nutrient-rich runoff. To reduce it to a slogan, green grass contributes to red tide.
I’m not saying you can’t have a sort-of green yard. My mix of weeds and volunteer grasses looks green most of the year. Other go completely xeriscape, planting native plants that need no or very little water and feeding. The bottom line: If your yard is planted with something that requires less watering and minimum fertilizer, you’re contributing less to our problems.
The fact that many homeowners’ associations require you to have a green grass lawn shows us how out of touch their governing boards are. Cape Coral is the best example I can think of. The Cape has literally hundreds of miles of dead-end canals with no flushing mechanism, all lined with high-maintenance lawns. Then they are surprised they have problems with blue-green algae.
We destroyed the natural wetland water filter systems by dredging up the area to dig canals and make waterfront homesites. A few here and there might have been OK, but when developers realized how much money could be made doing this, they dug hundreds of miles of canals before the state put a halt to it in the late ‘70s.
Without dragging it all up again, our Everglades problems stem from road construction: First the Tamiami Trail, and then Alligator Alley to finish the flows off. We literally dammed off almost all natural waterflows south. We drained the more of the ‘Glades for homes and farming.
Now, we’re realizing our errors and attempting to repair some of the damage — but replacing natural sheet flows and wetlands is not as easy as it might seem. Look close at any previous attempts. Things aren’t the same as when nature makes them. We are not creators.
Many leaders want to beautify our shorelines and roadways — with good intentions, I hope. I hear talk of how Sunseeker wants to improve our gateway on U.S. 41. I’m sure it would look beautiful. But I’m also sure it would increase nutrients in an already-congested waterway. At some point, we must try to all get on the same page. One hand sincerely wants to help the growth and beautification, yet we are dealing with algae blooms and problems from too much nutrients. How do we communicate and discover a working solution?
Developments need healthy natural environments to attract and hold buyers. Governments thrive on the revenue from an increased tax base. Construction, real estate and banking need jobs and customers too. My sincere prayer is that the powers that rule will grasp this concept: If we manage things in a sustainable balance, we can survive. But if we continue to encourage growth at this rapid pace, we risk destroying the very things that we are marketing.
We are risking our lifestyles to make money faster. Consider taking a slower pace, improving our water quality and quality of life. Allow our communities to absorb new residents and visitors. Then we can sell a better place for more money!
We also have a big problem that we are attracting and developing for almost exclusively upper-income retires. That’s fine. Where do we house the folks who are going to take care of them, to serve and maintain these retirees’ lifestyles? You can’t find a place to live in our area for the income working folks have. Affordable housing isn’t as profitable, so it gets left in the dust. We hear some talk, but then the retirees don’t want working people in their neighborhoods. And retirees have time to go to government meetings, while working folks don’t. The squeaky wheel gets the attention!
Why am I discussing this? It’s simple: Everything we build upstream runs off into our waterways. The more people, the more nutrients. The more development, the less natural areas to filter runoffs. What better serves our common interest: Fast money, or long-term managed growth? Which will sustain our waters and quality of life?
I saw the fishery before we trashed our water quality. It was amazing. It’s nothing like it was. More people equate to fewer fish to target, and fewer we can each take home. I’m also aware many folks value their quality of fishing more than killing everything they catch. Anglers are being educated to handle fish better and value each fish for more than a meal. Catch and release is now a popular concept. Every fish we put back helps, but many of us would like some fresh seafood now and again.
I understand these are big deals to consider. Jobs, homes and lifestyles are on the table. How should we manage our future? Look at how close we came to disaster last year, when Southwest Florida was all over the news — and not in a good way. We lost a huge amount of income as tourists from around the world decided to go elsewhere. What more does it take to wake people up?
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.