Florida’s Indian River Lagoon was once considered one of the most diverse ecosystems in North America, but is now the scene of a murder mystery. 46 bottle-nose dolphins, 300 pelicans, 111 manatees, and 47,000 acres of sea grass beds have died. What’s the cause? Scientists believe it could be one or several things, but all of the possible causes are man-made.
According to an article in the Tampa Bay Times, possibilities include overflow from contaminated mosquito control ditches, polluted water from Lake Okeechobee dumped by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, fertilizer-filled storm water run-off, and climate change, which has raised the acidity of the water. So far, biologists are stumped by each dead manatee they examine, and dolphins are turning up dead at a rate of one per day.
The Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute had hoped for $2 million in state money this year for a study of the lagoon’s water chemistry, a study that could turn up some answers, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the grant.
While the pelican die-off has seemed to end, and the sea grasses are ever so slowly growing back, much time will be needed for the lagoon to bounce back, if it isn’t already too late.
“I’m thinking it’s seven, eight, nine years,” said Pat Rose, of the Save the Manatee Club. “We could be looking at a decade before it recovers.”
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