Subject: Manatees:Problems Plague the St. Johns (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Tue, 30 Sep 1997 13:37:35 -0400 (EDT)

                      J. Michael Williamson
Principal Investigator-WhaleNet <>
                   Associate Professor-Science
  Wheelock College, 200 The Riverway, Boston, MA 02215
             voice: 617.734.5200, ext. 256
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"Follow in my wake, you've not that much at stake,
For I have plowed the seas, and smoothed the troubled waters"
                        Jimmy Buffett

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 29 Sep 97 02:00:00 GMT 
Subject: Problems Plague the St. Johns

Problems Plague the St. Johns River

 Associated Press Writer
   JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Two manatees dip their noses beneath
the water's surface as a group of small boats floats into tape
grass on the St. Johns River. A bass jumps and dragonflies flit
along the surface.
   Off Fleming Island, where towering oak trees are draped with
Spanish moss, the area known as Moccasin Slough is a vibrant
ecosystem, an example of what state officials would like to see all
along the St. Johns, Florida's longest river.
   For now, the healthy slough is the exception. Elsewhere, filth
and its stench prevail due to manmade problems in one of only a few
rivers in the world to flow north.
   The river runs 310 miles from marshes near Vero Beach to
Jacksonville, where it empties into the Atlantic. The lower basin,
where the slough is located, covers the last 100 miles from Palatka
to Jacksonville.
   A swampy area near the slough allows runoff to be purified
before it reaches the river. In addition, the area doesn't have the
heavy population that plagues the St. Johns elsewhere.
   Tape grass forms the base of the food chain, providing a feeding
area for manatees and a hiding place for young fish.
   "We need to have good water quality to support this habitat,"
said Mike Hollingsworth, with the state Department of Environmental
Protection. "We'd like to see more grass, it is important to the
   Officials said less than 1 percent of the tea-colored river has
the grassy beds like those found at Moccasin Slough.
   Churning up a chocolate milkshake wake, nine boats recently left
downtown Jacksonville, where water quality is relatively good
because of tidal action. The first stop was the Ortega River, a
tributary of the St. Johns southwest of downtown and the site of
severe problems.
   John Hendrickson, an environmental biologist with the St. Johns
River Water Management District, dipped a dredging instrument in
the water and pulls out black goo sprinkled with dead clamshells.
   "There is no life, the plants get choked out," he said.
   The site has been contaminated by pesticides, fertilizer runoff
and automobile exhaust, plus a history of industry.
   "It is an area that has been contaminated for a number of
years," said Betsy Deuerling, who works for Jacksonville's
Environmental Services Division.
   Hendrickson said the area could be replanted with tape grass if
water quality can be improved.
   The final destination on the boat tour was the south bank of the
St. Johns near Mandarin. Four huge plastic pipes carrying treated
sewage span the bottom of a dock before spilling 10 million gallons
a day into the river.
   A distinct stench fills the air and algae floats on the surface,
growing on nutrients from sewage.
   "The river can't control what we are putting into it," said
Pat McSweeney, a spokesman for the water district. "There are too
many nutrients in the river. Now, we are quantifying how much the
river can take."
   The district plans to work with Jacksonville to see about
controlling the amount of sewage water dumped into the river. In
other parts of the state, treated sewage water is used for
irrigation at parks, golf courses and other public places,
McSweeney said.
   An estimated 260 million gallons a day of sewage is dumped in
the lower St. Johns basin.
   "I think this part of the river needs to be looked at now,"
said Ernie Frey, head of the state Department of Environmental
Regulation in Jacksonville.
   Following the boat excursion for government officials and the
media, Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney announced a river summit for
Nov. 25. The city will invite elected officials, military leaders,
industry representatives, environmental organizations, landowners
and farmers, he said.
   Following the daylong session, organizers will compile a report
to submit to the Legislature before committee meetings begin in
   "This is a wonderful opportunity for us to develop some solid
solutions to the problems plaguing the river," Delaney said. "If
we work together, we can develop a strategy to improve water
quality and restore the St. Johns River to its original grandeur."
   Some facts about the St. Johns River:
   -- It is the longest river in Florida at 310 miles and one of a
few in the world to flow north.
   -- It averages more than two miles wide from Palatka to
   -- Major pollution sources include discharges from wastewater
treatment plants and runoff from urban and agricultural areas. The
runoff carries pesticides and other pollutants into streams that
lead into the river.
   -- Saltwater enters the river at its mouth. In periods of low
tides, saltwater has been found as far south as Lake Monroe, 161
miles upstream.
   -- Major tributaries of the St. Johns River are the Wekiva River,
Econlockhatchee River and the Ocklawaha River.