Thursday, June 24, 2010

Florida Times-Union: Signs of death abound on the sickly St. Johns River

Submitted by Ron Littlepage on June 23, 2010 - 11:29pm Ron Littlepage's Blog

On the St. Johns River, June 22, the second day of summer, 2010.

A school of mullet, not fingerlings but large ones, burst from the water as if in a choreographed dance, likely pursued by something, perhaps a tarpon or other big predator.

On this morning, the river was smooth. Dozens of pods of bait fish swirled the surface. Ospreys in search of a meal circled overhead.

The river was full of life, as it should be.

It was also full of death, as it has been since Memorial Day.

Aboard the Kingfisher, the St. Johns Riverkeeper boat, we headed south from the Ortega River, pausing where thousands of gallons of effluent from a JEA sewage treatment plant is piped into the river near Jacksonville Naval Air Station.

Then on toward Plummer's Cove, Mandarin Point, Julington Creek, past million dollar homes with lush, fertilized lawns reaching to the river's edge.

Ahead, we spotted what we thought was a line of crab trap floats.

Instead it was a line of large redfish floating belly up, adding to the sickening count of dead reds, skates and pogies that littered our route.

There are stretches of the river where the banks are still wild, thick with cypress, oaks and maples, not houses, condos and docks.

Farther south, starting past the Buckman and on past the Shands, the massive algal blooms there don't discriminate between the preserved and the developed. The green mess stretches from bank to bank.

We know what causes the algal blooms, which can be deadly to fish and devastating to habitat.

The St. Johns is overloaded with nutrients that feed the blooms, put there by storm water runoff that carries fertilizer into the river, by utilities dumping wastewater into the river, by industries treating the river as a sewer.

We also know that business interests and utilities, and the politicians they have in their pockets, are fighting stricter pollution rules that would help heal the river.

What we don't know is what's causing this fish kill, and almost a month into it, that is inexcusable.

The state agencies responsible for finding out - the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Fish and Wildlife Commission - should have their collective rear kicked.

Health departments in Duval and St. Johns counties have advised that contact with the river by humans and pets should be avoided where algae or dead fish are present.

From what we saw, the river should be considered closed from at least downtown Jacksonville to our turnaround point at Six Mile Creek.

Aboard the Kingfisher was Bill Kirill, chair of the Riverkeeper board of directors.

He had planned to spend time on the St. Johns with family during the Fourth of July weekend. Children were looking forward to it. Not now. Not this river. Not this Fourth of July.

Neil Armingeon, the Riverkeeper, idled the Kingfisher near a dead red that floated in a mass of algae. "It makes me sad," he said. "It makes me angry."

June 22, only the second day of summer, 2010. The river is sick, and it's likely to get worse as the summer grinds on., (904) 359-4284

No comments: