We Only Have One

Most of us, especially those of us reading FishMonster/Island Jane Magazine, have a deep love for our waters. From lakes to bays, the Gulf to the Atlantic, and everything in between, we all seem to get recharged when we are on or by the water. Over the past few months, there has been increasing concern about our environment, especially here in Florida. While it may be easy to just turn our heads and think that the ‘higher-ups’ will take care of it, we simply cannot afford to chose that option. Our waters, our native animals, our environment, will not tolerate it for much longer.

Fortunately, it has become national news that there is great concern for the waters in and around Lake Okeechobee, that run out to Martin County and the Atlantic. Because of environmental factors, farming practices, dredging canals and filling land for infrastructure, as well as lock systems in those waterways, the waters that run out of Lake Okeechobee have become extremely toxic. Fish, birds, and marine mammals are all struggling to eat because their food sources have been depleted due to the toxicity of the waters. Even worse, many are dying because there is a noxious sludge on top of the water and it prevents the animals from being able to breathe properly, and/or prevents them from being able to fly or swim. And those are just the effects we can see right now; there is no telling what future damages we could expect to essential grasses, planktons, hatcheries and fisheries. The biggest threat will be to South Florida waters and especially the Everglades (which act as a natural filter for our waters, as well as a hatchery to hundreds of species).

While all of this is not pleasant to talk or think about, it is so very important that we do take notice and have a conversation about it. Being a fisherwife (and fisherwoman), my husband and I depend on our waters not only for our enjoyment, but also our livelihood, just like so many other families do. Whether you fall into either or both categories, we ALL need to take action and do what we can before it’s really too late.

Growing up in the 80’s, spending much of my time around and on the Chesapeake Bay (the largest bay in the US), I witnessed firsthand the effects this type of situation can have on our environment. The blue crab and oyster fisheries were severely depleted in the 80’s and 90’s, almost to endangered, amongst other important species in the Bay. This was due to farming and environmental runoff (pollution) coming from the Bay’s estuaries, as well as oyster dredging (raking the Bay floor, which destroys vital bay grasses) and general over fishing. As a small child, I remember pulling up my trap to find 10 or more nice sized blue crabs; I remember my Grandpa coming home with 2 or 3 bushels of oysters at a time and watching him shuck some open right on the dock. I also remember watching watermen filling up the oil in their outboard motors and throwing the empty cans in the water. This never made sense to me, even as a young child, because I didn’t see why someone who worked on the water would damage it and I knew littering was not good. It was ‘different times’ then. Eventually, in the late 90’s, after decades of abuse to the water and entire Bay ecosystem, people finally began to take notice that the fishery numbers were seriously down and were not coming back up; that something needed to be done to make changes or the Bay would never get better.

It is reassuring to know that because people started to take action to ‘Save the Bay’, the Chesapeake Bay has begun to repair itself and is far better than it was 20 years ago. This proves that if we all take action here in Florida to protect our waters and the Everglades, that it can, and will, pay off. We all want to maintain the pristine natural beauty and the distinct ecosystems that our waters in and around South Florida (and everywhere else for that matter) have to offer. In order to do that, everyone needs to think about how they can make a difference to save our waters, and, ultimately, our environment.

Talking about the problems that are facing us must be our first step, and hopefully this article promotes conversation, and in turn spreads awareness. Awareness is key to finding solutions; the more heads involved trying to help save our waters, the better! We also need to be educated about the facts facing us and our waters, and make decisions in our daily lives that benefit our cause, not harm it. This could range from choosing which products we buy, to researching what candidates support our causes and who we want to vote for in the upcoming elections, to signing protection petitions online or in our communities.

Finally, everyone should practice what we preach and be as environmentally friendly as possible in all aspects of life. We only have one ocean (and all her waterways) to share, and each of us doing what we can now, will help preserve her for all of us to enjoy for many years to come!

Susanna Pope grew up spending a lot of time on the Chesapeake Bay where she developed a love for the water. She’s lived in the Lower Keys for four years and loves exploring, fishing, photographing, and living the Keys lifestyle.

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