Dedicated to the protection of birds, other animals, and their habitats through education and activism
Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170; president@SEVolusiaAudubon.org
Section 7 of Article II, General Provisions, of the Constitution of the State of Florida, provides a clear statement that the actions of the legislature and state agents of Florida are to be defined and guided by policies that serve to “conserve and protect” the Florida environment.
SECTION 7. Natural resources and scenic beauty.
(a) It shall be the policy of the state to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty. Adequate provision shall be made by law for the abatement of air and water pollution and of excessive and unnecessary noise and for the conservation and protection of natural resources.
This guiding principle has long been in the Florida Constitution but many of the actions of our state legislators and state agents have shown that they have either ignored this codified principle or interpreted it in ways that promotes or allow, further degradation of the natural environment of Florida. Some of the richest and most diverse biomes in the world are in Florida, and include the regional Mosquito Lagoon/Indian River Lagoon complex. Florida is a state in which the central economic engine of the state is development of land and facilities for residential and commercial purposes, and for tourism and recreation. All of these developments and activities are directly dependent upon maintaining healthy ecosystems.
We saw what happened last year when the nutrient-laden runoff from Lake Okeechobee enabled an algal bloom in the Stuart, Florida area that killed hundreds and hundreds of thousands of marine animals. This of course did not go unnoticed by the residents who had to deal with the guacamole-like and odiferous effects of this bloom. This disaster did at least wake up the citizens and state and federal officials of the area to the need for direct action to clean up both the Lagoon and the waters that are entering the Lagoon. There was a general recognition that local and county governance must mitigate those identified and non-point sources which contribute to the nutrient loading--principally phosphates and nitrates--that catalyzes algae bloom.
Taking the lead on lagoon clean-up, this past November the citizens of Brevard County voted for a ½ % increase in sales tax. This increase, estimated to bring in $300 million over 10 years, is dedicated to cleanup and mitigation of the Brevard County portion of the Indian River Lagoon system. There is much to be accomplished in this clean-up and much to learn about technique and implementation, but the initiative has been taken and the clean-up and restorative actions designed and funded. It is hoped that other counties along the Lagoon will take the lead of the voters of Brevard and dedicate county resources to mitigation of nutrient sources and restoration of polluted and compromised waters.
In Florida we are fortunate that we don’t have to deal with the problems with industrial pollution that affect other areas in our country. For example, the area along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans has long been known as “Cancer Alley. This 125 mile stretch of the Mississippi River is home to over 200 chemical plants and refineries and has levels of cancer much above the national average. This chemical pollution was the direct result of the decades-long refining, storage and dumping practices that occurred prior to the implementation of environmental protection laws in the mid-1970s. Mitigating this industrial-scale pollution is a daunting task. In some cases it is likely that only the very slow breakdown of the biologically poisonous substances dumped in some of these areas will eliminate the poisons saturating the soil and water of former and current industrial sites. [See Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us for a discussion of the effects of our industrial society.]The “ normal processes” of our industrial economy have left a great mark on the Earth, and every day we pay an economic and biological price for our industrialized economy. Solutions to environmental problems linked to industrial pollution are often costly and technologically complex and, of course, the funds to implement these solutions are often difficult to obtain, economically and politically.
Cleaning up and restoring, for example, an abandoned industrial site in South Louisiana, is a daunting task. But it can be done. These are very large-scale projects and the cost are borne not by the companies that originally were responsible for the industrial pollution but by the taxpayers. Such cleanups and mitigations require the application of large-scale environmental and engineering principles, staffing, and equipment. In some cases, for example the Rocky Flats plant outside of Denver and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, mitigating the effects of the industrial processes [in these cases, associated with the nuclear industry] can take many years and billions of dollars.
By contrast, most of our environmental problems in the Central East Coast of Florida are directly related to residential and commercial development. Many of the “business as usual” processes and principles that guide our actions cause immediate and long-term damage to living systems. Covering thousands of acres of land with impermeable surfaces; applying glyphosate compounds to control those plants we call weeds; over-fertilizing our lawns and installing plants that are not Florida-friendly; or permitting additions to the tens of thousands of septic systems placed within 100 yards or less of our surface waters are some of the localized actions required to reduce or mitigate environmental pollutants and bio-disruptors.
In Florida, our home-based and localized decisions and actions can enable our living waters to recover those conditions that indicate our waters can support the extensive systems of fauna and flora that have developed over the millennia. Those individual actions that we can take include planting Florida-friendly landscapes; developing living shorelines; and using fertilizers that release their nutrients slowly, applying these only as necessary, only during certain seasons, and always away from local drainages.
We can also make certain that our voices are heard by city commissioners and planning departments when meetings are held that ask for public participation and input into planned developments, sewage treatment regulations, and water-treatment facility buildouts and redesigns. Public participation can ensure that run-off and nutrients are treated, chemically and biologically, before impacting surface waters and aquifers.
The “Be Floridian” program (http://befloridian.org/) is a good source of information for actions that homeowners can take to improve the water quality of the biosystems of their areas. This may seem like a small step but a thousand or 10,000 residents taking the steps outlined in the Be Floridian campaign can make a very large difference in water quality. Collectively, these small steps that individuals can make in their own yards, or in the parking areas and landscaping of their businesses, have life-affirming/creating and long-term effects. We are living in our day in this ancient, ancient world, and we need to ensure that our entire world is thriving.