OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — The environment and our water woes were clearly some of the biggest issues of 2018.
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The word "toxic" wasn’t even a thought in the first couple of months of the year.
Then May came with lots and lots of rain. Lake Okeechobee filled up with polluted water, as well as our canals.
Then discharges came, combined with local runoff.
"Don’t want people out here touching it, breathing it in," said Emily Mauri in Stuart.
Once again, blue-green algae plagued the St. Lucie River. Business owners lost money.
"We’re at the point where we’re thinking about moving," said Jordan Schwartz, the owner of Ohana Surf Shop, this past summer.
Some even went out of business.
"Replace it with something that’s working," said Sebastian Lahara. He closed Riverfront Kayaks and rebranded his shop as Bikes Plus.
As the summer went on, there was a lot of discussion about the possible link between cyanobacteria’s toxins and neurodegenerative diseases. There was also outrage and activism.
"There’s no marine industry left," said Marty Baum with Indian Riverkeepers.
"Documentation is key," said Kim Streiber. She and four others created the #toxic18 Facebook page where people can post photos of algae.
"Everyone in the community can come to and post what they’re seeing in their backyard," said Jennie Pawlowsky.
Once again, there was a difference in opinion on what is the best solution for the issue. We heard calls for sending the excess water south, and others calling for storage north of Lake Okeechobee.
Also in 2018, we witnessed one of the worst red tide events in Florida history.
"Just floating fish everywhere," said Wyler Gins on Fort Myers Beach.
Then for the first time in years, red tide hit the East Coast. From Miami to the Treasure Coast, beaches were shut down. In Vero Beach, dead fish lined the beaches.
"About 120,000 pounds of marine debris," said Indian River County’s Coastal Engineer James Gray as his crew picked up dead fish one day.
All of these issues led up to a key issue in the November midterm elections.
"Not a Republican or Democrat issue," said Emily Mauri from Stuart as she handed out fliers in support of cleaner water. "Who is the best fit to take care of the issue?"
Now we look forward to 2019 as everyone hopes our paradise recovers from what is now labeled as #toxic18.
"This is a whole disaster for the state, not just Martin County or Lee County," said Mary Radabaugh at Central Marine in Stuart. "This is the entire state of Florida we’re talking about."