I know these are not the words you tend to hear when we talk about diving in Palm Beach, Florida, but we would be sugar coating our stories if the truth wasn’t told. Even here in our underwater paradise there is trouble. It is one we see every year for a couple of months and it truly has me concerned.
The problem occurs primarily on the reefs north of the Lake Worth inlet during the summer months when heavy rainfall occurs. You might have noticed the less than attractive brown-colored water in the inlet during low tide during this time. Motor just outside the inlet and the apparent color difference is as clear as black and white. The clear, Gulf Stream fed blue water south of the inlet crashes with this brown water making a very distinctive line. The water coming out of the inlet, tainted in all kinds of human-produced pollutants and high in nutrients makes its way north out the inlet. In it’s path are numerous reefs and wrecks.
The nutrients in this water, things like nitrogen and phosphorous, are like a super fertilizer for numerous algae; many of which are invasive to our area. The effect of invasive lionfish is nothing in comparison to what these algae can do to our reefs. Within the span a month of heavy rains this algae overgrows the reefs. Thankfully, the reef’s resiliency keeps it going through the year. As the waters cool and the heavy rains decrease much of this algae dies off and the reef slowly returns like the phoenix from the ashes.
My concern is how much pressure can the reef take before it is too much. Just north of us, in the Indian River lagoon, the story is quite different. Over 4.8 billion gallons of water are being allowed to be dumped from Lake Okeechobee PER DAY right now.
“Since January, over 112 manatees, 70 dolphin, 300 pelicans, 47,000 acres of sea grass, and 90% of the oyster beds have been killed,” according to Ed Tichenor of Palm Beach County Reef Rescue. This does not even speak of the dangers it imposes on humans such as dangerous bacteria infections simple by swimming in the water.
Looking through my photographs from Juno Ledges throughout the beginning of this years shows with sufficient evidence the changes that are occurring. Although every year this algae explosion has occured to some degree, it is perhaps the record-breaking rainfall this year that helps to paint a clearer picture of the effects that all this tainted water has on our reefs. Hopefully something will be done to correct the natural flow of rain water in Florida and fertilizers levels will be put in check.
Don’t despair! The reefs in this area will return to their full glory in due time, but think of how much more amazing they would be if it weren’t for the pressures we put on them year after year.
Consider signing this petition that might help make these concerns heard and help protect our reefs for future generations.