A couple of weeks ago two anglers wandered into the Lagoon House. Their first words to me were, “What happened to all the sea grass that used to be in the Lagoon? We fished all along these shores from south of Sebastian to north of Melbourne, and the bottom is almost bare. What’s up with that?” I shook my head, and said, “Let me tell you an ugly little story about beautiful green grass lawns.” Now, before we go any farther I must confess, I once had a serious infatuation with green grass. No, I’m not referring to the stuff some smoke, but to the kind that people plant in their yards. See, when we first moved from north of Tampa to Florida’s east coast I owned and operated Clean Cut Landscaping and Lawn Maintenance, a business that a partner and I started in Tampa back in 1977. Much of the service we provided to many of our customers living in the Indian River Lagoon’s watershed was geared toward keeping their lawns lush, green and well-manicured. It was this business that gave us the financial ability to start the fishing guide business we began 1990. What I learned about people and their St. Augustine grass, the primary turf grass of Florida is down right scary:
- Many people judge themselves and their neighbors by the appearance of their lawn.
- The vast majority of these people will do anything possible to have flawless green grass lawns.
- Hardly anyone has the slightest clue how much they are damaging our environment and quality of life, killing the Indian River Lagoon and impacting other significant estuaries and wildlife by coddling their lawns.
When I found out, I felt an urgent need to change my ways, and rid our yard of green grass.
See it is the fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides contributing heavily to the demise of our nation’s greatest lagoon system by destroying the prodigious sea grass beds that have made them world famous for good fishing, water fowl and beauty. Sea grass is the foundation and cornerstone of the Indian River, Banana River and Mosquito Lagoons. Without healthy sea grass, the lagoons will not be able to support the plethora of marine mammals, fish, crabs, shrimp, and other critters depending on it for survival.
There was been a disastrous algae bloom in the Indian River Lagoon. I have seen many my lifetime, but nothing like this. Due to an odd pattern of alternating dry and wet spells, unseasonably warm weather, and an overabundance of nutrients, algae thrived to the point of blocking out the sun light and killing the six types of sea grass in the Lagoon (This link leads to a decent IFAS article, Sea grass Beds of the Indian River Lagoon. Unfortunately UF’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences (IFAS) program, with financial backing from the major fertilizer and lawn chemical manufactures, has presented much damaging and misguided information to government agencies against sensible fertilizing ordinances.) Heavy rains reduced the salinity of the brackish water and washed an intense concoction of fertilizer, herbicides, and other contaminants (untreated) into the system.
It is time to “tap out” of this strangle hold. To fix this problem we need to stop coddling this finicky St. Augustine grass. Let’s start changing the way we design our landscapes and treat the environment by making wiser choices about fertilizer use, insecticides and herbicides. Putting it as simple as possible, the more healthy sea grass beds we have the more fish, crabs, shrimp and other marine species we’ll see coming from our waterways.
Written by Captain Rodney Smith.