Restoring Our Coastal Waterways

Much like the forest fires out west, the floods in Europe and Asia and the volcanic eruptions in the Canary Islands and Hawaii, our waterways are under attack from destructive forces. The only difference is that the pollution undermining our marine environment has been more insidious or less noticeable to the naked eye. But now, with the devastation from the highly toxic release from Piney Point and the lingering red tide off our shores, the problems with our waterways are now painfully obvious to us all.

How bad is it? Seagrass is the signature species or the life blood of our bays and the Gulf. Most other sealife depends on it either as a food source or as a safe habitat. Even many ocean-going fish use it for protection as juveniles and other fish that don’t eat it come to it to find other fish to eat. Manatees depend on it and that’s why record numbers of them have died in the Indian River Lagoon this year because it has lost nearly 70% of its seagrass. Without it, they are starving to death. It’s also very bad over here on the west coast as Tampa Bay has lost 43% of its seagrass and Sarasota Bay has lost 33% of its seagrass. Even worse, 66% of our seagrass loss has happened in just the last three years. The problem is big and it’s accelerating.

Clearly, it’s time to act, but what do we do? There are only two things we can do.

  1. Reduce the inflow of pollutants into our waterways
  2. Clean up the massive build-up of pollutants already in our rivers and bays

Addressing the major sources of incoming pollutants from Lake Okeechobee and Piney Point are at the top of everyone’s list and we have to speed up the plodding political process to fund the necessary infrastructure to remove these egregious sources of excess nutrients in our waters. The movement to reduce the human based inflow of pollutants must continue with the conversion of aging wastewater infrastructure like the planned expansion and conversion of Sarasota County’s Bee Ridge plant to Advanced Wastewater Treatment standards or AWT. This process will reduce the amount of nitrogen in the reclaimed water used to irrigate our lawns down to less than 3 milligrams per liter from levels of 15 milligrams or more. We also should reduce the number of septic systems remaining near waterways and convert them to sewers.

All this must be done and done at a faster pace than we have moved in the past. But let’s be clear, to really restore our waterways to their pre-urbanized state, we also need to clean up the massive build-up of pollutants that have accumulated there over the years. Sarasota Bay, for example, has twice as much nitrogen in it today than it did just twenty years ago.

If only we had a process to vacuum up the excess nitrogen in the Bay to create a more livable environment for seagrass and other sealife. Actually, we do. It’s the natural work of bivalves, clams and oysters, that filter gallons of seawater every day.

That’s why the “All Clams On Deck” is an important movement you should support. The program will help restore our three west coast estuaries by planting seagrass in the areas where it once grew successfully and it will be planted in tandem with clams that not only filter the water by removing nutrients, but it has been scientifically documented by studies done by Duke and North Carolina.

Universities that clams situated near seagrass beds dramatically improved their growth rates. The “All Clams On Deck” program will bring this proven natural process to our estuaries to help their recovery. That means clearer water to further expand and keep healthy our seagrass beds and more food and habitat for our sealife. Join us and support this important environmental movement.

Related Articles

About The Author

Sandy Gilbert, CEO of START (Solutions To Avoid Red Tide)

Sandy Gilbert is a graduate of Cornell University with a B.A. in Economics. He is a retired publishing executive who worked for TIME and Smithsonian Magazines in New York for 35 years gaining extensive experience in marketing and communications while conducting business with corporations all over the world. Since retirement, he has served as the Chairman of the Planning and Zoning Board on Longboat Key, President of the Public Interest Committee, Chairman of the Long Range Planning Committee at Tara Golf & Country Club, Chairman of the Community Affairs Committee of the Tara Master Association and he has been a contributing writer on government affairs for the Longboat Key Observer.