The Richest Waterway in North America. And We’re Killing It.

Florida is home to the most biodiverse marine environment in North America. It’s not the Everglades. Or Florida Bay. Or the Gulf Coast. More species live in the St. Lucie and Indian River Lagoon than in any other waterway on the continent. Dr. Grant Gilmore of Estuarine, Coastal and Ocean Science, Inc. has spent decades exploring and documenting an incredible array of life here.

Meanwhile Florida’s sugar industry and water managers have spent decades regularly blasting toxic pollution into it. Somehow, despite massive reductions in seagrass beds and plummeting fish and shellfish populations, this amazing estuary isn’t dead.

Dr. Gilmore shared some insight about the St. Lucie estuary and the unique environment Treasure Coast residents have been fighting to protect, and why there’s no other place like it in North America:

First, it never gets cold. The Florida Current pumps warm water into the Indian River lagoon all year. On a typical winter day Florida Bay, 200 miles south, is far colder.

Heat Map: How the IRL stays warm all winter

Second, no other major river system has this advantage. From the silver mojarra to the bigmouth sleeper (pictured), the St. Lucie has fish species that can’t live anywhere else in the U.S. It’s also home to the largest number of threatened and endangered tropical fish in the country, including five species of snook, five species of goby, the Atlantic sturgeon, and the sawtooth sawfish.

The silver mojarra and the bigmouth sleeper live only in the IRL

Third, the St. Lucie features nursery sites for just about every inshore sportfish species in Florida, including tarpon. As a rule of thumb, the shallow-water fish that people from all over the world come here to catch probably grew up in the southern Indian River Lagoon. 

The St. Lucie swarms with larval tarpon...when it's clean.

Like the Everglades, the St. Lucie and the Indian River Lagoon are irreplaceable. And we’re killing them.

We could be days away from landmark legislation that begins to address generations of destruction. IF the solution isn’t shortchanged by politics AND it includes enough land to send clean water south AND lawmakers and water managers follow the law and plan, design, and build a system that works… then instead of documenting the decline of Florida’s waterways, scientists like Dr. Gilmore may be the first to study their recovery.