South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Working Group

Annual Report 1996



[1996 Accomplishments] [1996 Initiatives] [1997 Goals]

a. Ecosystem Problems and Restoration Objectives

The natural quantity and timing of freshwater inflow to estuarine ecosystems in southwest Florida have been altered by anthropogenic activities. These include channelization and flood control, dredging for navigation, wetland drainage and filling, and urban and agricultural land development. The hydropattern of freshwater inflow into the Caloosahatchee estuary has been disrupted due to the river's artificial connection to Lake Okeechobee and other water management activities. In particular, periodic, large-volume regulatory releases from Lake Okeechobee upset the ecological balance of the estuary.

Extensive residential canal systems have altered natural freshwater sheetflow patterns to the estuaries, resulting in creased rates of runoff and substantial point loads of contaminants. As a result, salinity patterns have changed, the estuarine nursery value for fish and shellfish has decreased, fisheries and seagrass abundance have been reduced, and nutrient loading has increased.

The Charlotte Harbor estuarine ecosystem has experienced significant habitat loss and water quality degradation over the last 30-50 years due to anthropogenic activities in the basin. Seagrass and saltmarsh acreage decreased 29 and 51 percent, respectively, from 1945 to 1982. Nutrient loads, especially nitrogen, entering the estuary have been increasing for the past 15-20 years.

Conversion of uplands and pasture lands to citrus farming is expected to continue at a relatively high rate. There is concern about potential effects on plants, wildlife, and their habitats and on surface- and ground water quality and quantity. Some citrus development projections estimate that up to 50 percent of available Florida panther habitat in the Immokalee Rise area may be lost. Citrus also uses more water per acre than any other type of agriculture, except plant nurseries. There is concern over the potential impacts on water-table levels.

Slash pine forest ecosystem acreage in Southwest Florida declined 88 percent from 1900-1989. Large acreages of hydric pine flatwoods have been lost to logging, development, and agriculture activities. Habitat destruction from residential and commercial development and citrus conversion continues. Melaleuca and other invasive exotic plants are a serious ecological problem.


b. 1996 Accomplishments

Ecologic Programs

Published results of monitoring of bottlenose dolphin in Charlotte Harbor during 1990-94. Annual photographic identification surveys were conducted to establish an archival database for long-term trend detection in population abundance.

Involving the Public

Provided information to the Vanderbilt Lagoon Homeowners Association concerning water quality and environmental stewardship.

Provided assistance to the newly incorporated Town of Ft. Myers Beach in developing water quality and environmental programs. Outreach efforts are conducted at public workshops, and hearings.

Ecologic Programs

Completed mesocosm experiments to determine optimal salinity tolerances for seagrass species collected from the Caloosahatchee Estuary.

Clam Bay Estuary

Created flushing cuts to improve circulation, used Florida Yards and Neighborhoods standards to reduce freshwater and nutrient inputs into the system, and created a work plan for further study. Within the approximately 560 acres of the Clam Bay estuary, which has been set aside for preservation, approximately 60 acres of black mangrove basin forest has suffered mortality.

Researcher at work Construction of an estuarine research facility for conducting controlled experiments on different species of seagrasses was completed. Sediments and seagrass specimens were collected from the Caloosahatchee Estuary and transplanted in the enclosed chambers. A series of experiments was initiated to determine the effects of varying salinity on different seagrass species.
Analytical Apparati

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