Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The birds are back!

We left Stuart last September to spend a couple of weeks in Nevada and California. During that time, the Army Corps of Engineers determined that Lake Okeechobee was approaching dangerous depths - 15 feet - and posed a risk to the surrounding area by threatening to burst its seams (the dikes) and cause devastating flooding. They started bleeding the polluted lake through its two major arteries, the Caloosahatchee River to the west and the St. Lucie River to the east, in order to relieve the pressure. 

When we got home from our trip at the beginning of October, we looked forward to going out on the boat. Friends told us not to bother; the waterways (not only the St. Lucie River, but also the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie inlet) were a disgusting mess, and the Corps was still bleeding the lake.

We waited patiently for the bleeding to stop, but it continued another month. We made frequent trips down to our dock during that time, and what we saw broke our hearts. The bait fish had left the river, and so did the birds and our beloved dolphins who ate them. 

We have no idea what has happened to the oyster beds that locals were working so hard to restore. I read that an adult oyster, which can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, would not survive three months in the freshwater river we now had. (The salinity level, which usually hovers in the teens (parts per thousand), was then around 0.5 - essentially fresh water.)

They finally stopped bleeding the lake during the first week of November. We went out on the boat a month later. The river still felt like a cemetery. 

Last week we went out again. As soon as we got down to the dock, we felt the difference. The birds were back! Huge flocks of terns. We watched a pelican try to swallow a fish that seemed way too big, even for its flexible throat pouch. And - wonder of wonders - our great blue heron was wading along the shore by our dock eyeing the fish in the shallows.

Dolphins? Not yet, but we are hopeful. Where there are bait fish, there is hope.