Please read “A Catastrophe in the Everglades and How to Fix It” by Hal Herring in the latest Field & Stream (click here). No one has ever crafted a sharper picture of what’s at stake in South Florida and how close we are to regaining–or losing forever–the paradise we used to have here.
“The night is ancient here, the water still. So long as we stay in open water and away from the jungled line of mangrove and buttonwood, the mosquitoes are few. It’s just before midnight, mid-May, and cool enough to wear a sweatshirt on the Indian River Lagoon, just outside Fort Pierce, Fla. We drift in darkness on the pontoon boat, talking mostly about sight-fishing for redfish, hunting snook, cooking, and eating wahoo. Dr. Grant Gilmore—scientist, fisherman, deep-sea diver, and veteran of 10,000 nights on the saltwater—uncoils a length of rubber-coated wire and lowers two black lozenge-shaped microphones, known as hydrophones, into the water. He flips a small switch on a set of speakers. Our conversation stops abruptly. A cacophony of sound emanates from the speakers, like a thousand clocks ticking loudly at once, a continuous popping like the little firecrackers we called ladyfingers as kids. ‘Those are snapping shrimp,’ Gilmore says. ‘When they get going like this, you pretty much can’t hear anything else.'”
Would they hear anything on the St. Lucie five months later? Black discharge from Lake Okeechobee is scouring out the grass beds, killing whatever can’t swim away, and the inlet is a gray plume jetting four miles into the ocean. The conditions are right for toxic algae: tons of nutrients in lake runoff, freshwater instead of salt, warm temperatures. Maybe we’ll get lucky this time.
“It is a little after 9 a.m., and the sun is high enough to draw the big snook into the shade of the docks along the St. Lucie River, and what a system of docks it is. A shirtless man with a surfer’s tan is kicked back on the deck of a yacht. A mansion stands beyond, on high ground, a quiet multistory palace of open-air rooms and verandahs. The house is only one of dozens I can see along the river, where big pleasure boats cruise by, bound for the St. Lucie Inlet, and the open Atlantic. It seems to me an unlikely place, an unlikely class of people, to be putting up with one of America’s most extreme cases of deliberate and avoidable water pollution.”
It’s not so unlikely when the polluting industry has virtually unlimited funding, perpetually renewed by lawmakers who owe their careers to US Sugar and Florida Crystals. Even when it loses, the sugar industry has the money and influence to change the outcome.
It’s happening now with SB10. SFWMD, whose leadership is handpicked by sugar-funded politicians, isn’t releasing details on the reservoir it’s required by law to plan and build. If they stall long enough, the next state government–led by more sugar-funded politicians–is unlikely to push for progress. The solution will die. Again.
“‘There have been so many stories told, so many stories about this written, and yet it just goes on and on,’ Chris Maroney, of Bullsugar, tells me, as we sit at sunset on the dock at his home on the St. Lucie. But there is one true story that cuts through to the core, he says. ‘There are two versions of Florida’s future here. I am pretty sure that most Americans would choose a restored Everglades, and huge, biodiverse rivers and estuaries that feed a prosperous economy, in a place where everybody wants to live.’ The other version, he says, is what we have now. ‘I’d say that 99 percent of Americans would choose to fix this. And so, in a sense, it’s about more than the St. Lucie, or the Everglades, or Florida Bay. It is a test of our country, and whether we have a democratic republic, or whether we will have to concede that we’re going to accept something much less than that.'”
That’s the foundation of the Now Or Neverglades movement: Florida’s future hanging in the balance of a single choice. An interconnected system, three irreplaceable estuaries and the communities that depend on them, rescued or doomed by what we decide.
The progress we made this year is at risk. SB10 and the EAA reservoir are being weakened from within, the regional unity and cooperation that made it possible are being tested, and we’re running out of time. The principles of the Now Or Neverglades Declaration have never been more important than they are today. If we stand behind them, we have a real chance to win our version of Florida’s future.