Lake Okeechobee discharges could harm marine life

FORT PIERCE, Fla.-- Scientists on the Treasure Coast are saying it's jeopardizing our ecosystem. Mucky brown water is invading the St. Lucie River affecting oysters. The fear now is that other marine life could suffer too.

It's a story more than a dozen FAU students at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute are learning about through the lens of a microscope.

“They're being smothered by sediments,” said FAU biology professor Ed Proffitt. He’s teaching his students something he is very passionate about, the impact of the Lake O releases on our local waterways

“They're being stressed because of low salinity,” said Proffitt.

And the creatures who call our waterways homes.  More than 50 billion gallons of lake water released into the St Lucie River since last month is creating low salinity.

“It's got to be stopped eventually or at least greatly curtailed,” said Proffitt.

Otherwise, he says, more than 90 percent of oysters now seriously distressed are at risk of dying, along with other marine life crucial to a healthy ecosystem.

“Some fish will either migrate out of the area or they'll try to survive and have some mortalities,” said Proffitt.

He says the fishing industry will feel it.

“You would notice if you're trying to fish you're probably going to catch many fewer fish in the areas where the releases are occurring,” explained Proffitt.

Professor Proffitt isn't alone in his fears.

“It's not just the oysters,” said Clayton Sims, a biology student. “It's an easy 20 different species. So, having such a die off is a huge issue.”

His students worry about the future.

“It's really disheartening to see them being negatively affected,” said Ashley Kennedy, also a biology student.

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