Nature is like a trampoline. It bounces back when things go awry, but it doesn't bounce back as well after one too many springs are missing.
Kristie Anders
Education Director
Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation
Kristie Anders


Kristie Anders

Kristie Anders
Education Director, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation

The trampoline analogy is how Kristie describes an ecosystem that bounces back until too many springs are gone. The resiliency of an ecosystem after a hurricane is a great example of that. But Kristie thinks we are getting close to the point where parts of an ecosystem, the springs, are missing so that it's harder for the ecosystem to bounce back.

"Ecosystems are far more complex than people can imagine," she says. To her, seagrasses are "underwater meadows." They grow tall and fold over to create little tunnels for puffer fish, mini seahorses, blue crabs, hermit crabs and other species to live and feed. As many of those seagrasses have disappeared due to changes in the water quality, so too have the creatures that depend upon them.

From personal observation, Kristie sees less diversity in the ecosystem when using a seine net to sample species in the seagrasses. We have an affinity for the "charismatic wildlife" like the manatees, which depend upon the seagrass meadows for their grazing. But they won't make it if their food source is gone. Similarly, the dolphins, fish and shore birds that also depend upon the health of the waterways are being impacted.

It's a domino effect, and Kristie sees the impact first-hand as she motors her way to work each day in her boat. "Any angler will say fishing isn't what it used to be,"she says. "And there are more people fishing than there used to be." In addition, she says severe weather can impact fish populations.

"Saltwater fishing in Pine Island Sound is some of the best in the country; but, without vigilance regarding water quality issues, it is one more thing that will contribute to future consequences."

Lower water visibility is causing boaters who don't know the waters to run across turtle grass beds and rip them up by the roots with their boat propellers. That's compounding the damage to the seagrasses, with further loss of the plants and prop scarring of those that remain. She asks that boaters be cautious boating in shallow waters. Higher turbidity and changes in salinity as a result of high water releases also kills oyster. Just like sea grasses, the nooks and crannies of oyster beds provide a key habitat for other species.

Kristie even sees the effects in the upper reaches of Pine Island Sound, where she lives. That area is some of the healthiest in the region, but it too is changing as a result of water quality issues.

"Not everything that's happening in our estuary is a result of water releases from the Lake," she says. The cumulative effect of the use of septic tanks, increase in runoff from parking lots, and an increase in the population of Southwest Florida are part of the picture.

On a positive note, several communities have passed ordinances to reduce the amount and type of fertilizers people can use on their yards; and awareness of water quality issues has raised people's consciousness of their own responsibilities to improve water quality. Better yet says Kristie would be an increased use of native plants that would not only reduce the need for fertilizer but also the use of pesticides and consumption of water. "We have to take personal responsibility," she asserts.

Her organization, SCCF, has added a series of sensors to the area's river and estuary to measure the quantity of blue light, salinity levels, and nutrient amounts to try to pinpoint more specifically the sources of waterway changes. Perhaps ironically, there are cases when not enough fresh water flows down the Caloosahatchee River. It is a delicate balance that creates ideal conditions for an estuary to thrive, where freshwater mingles with salt water in proper amounts that allow fish, wildlife and vegetation to flourish.

She is grateful that residents and organizations are becoming more involved in the political process of Everglades restoration. Although attendance at public meetings is often tedious, it is necessary to demonstrate to decision-makers the importance of impact to Southwest Florida's economy and environment. Some people have made sacrifices of time and financial resources to attend meetings or support conservation organizations in an effort to defend Lee County's stake in the issues, but more involvement is needed.

The work of SCCF is supported by people who want to make a difference and who are saying "we can do this." So Kristie urges everyone in the area - residents and visitors alike - to realize the power they can have to affect change. To her, it's a matter of keeping the momentum going and of people feeling empowered to face a complex and seemingly daunting task.

"Citizens are finding out how empowered they can be."

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To tell us your tale, email us at mywaterstory@leegov.com. And thanks for taking time to help us better understand the scope of what’s happening to us all.

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Related Links

South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force:
http://www.sfrestore.org

South Florida Water Management District:
http://www.sfwmd.gov

More Links

Glossary

Phosphorus [P]:
An element or nutrient required for energy production in living organisms; distributed into the environment mostly as phosphates by agricultural runoff and life cycles; frequently the limiting factor for growth of microbes and plants.

Blue-Green Algae:
A type of algae natural to our area that blooms in the climatic and nutrient conditions it finds favorable.

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