STUART, Fla. — During Fourth of July weekend, many flock to the water on the Treasure Coast. Algae blooms on Lake Okeechobee threaten those waters if big discharges must be made to from the lake in the event of a big storm.
WPTV anchor Michael Williams spoke with a man who has dedicated his life to protecting the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon and hopes the community will join the cause.
Mark Perry first started exploring Treasure Coast waterways as a child in the 1950s and 60s.
"When I grew up here, we didn't have a care in the world,” Perry said.
Perry and his brother have lots of fond memories of their childhood.
"We caught fish everywhere,” he said. “You could never worry about algae blooms or bacteria or anything.”
In 1978, a few years out of college, Perry came home to find water quality in the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon in decline.
“In 1978, when I took over, we started doing the St. Lucie Estuary conference,” Perry said. “That was the first time we brought together all the jurisdictions and said hey this is important.”
So, he decided to take up the reigns of the Florida Oceanographic Society, which was about to fold, and has been with the organization ever since.
“I think we've recognized we can't continue to pollute it and think it’s going to survive,” he said regarding the estuary.
Like a good trauma care doctor, Perry monitors vital signs, with a measuring disc and a little device that samples water for salt content.
Too much freshwater runoff is diluting the salty ocean water needed for marine life to thrive.
“This estuary should be about 20 to 25 parts per thousand,” Perry said.
He is measuring success, one day and one fight at a time.
Back in 2013, Perry attended a hearing during to address thick toxic blue-green algae that was being pumped east from Lake Okeechobee that summer.
“We held up bags of algae and said look this not acceptable and it built up so bad in the marinas, people couldn't breathe,” he said. “Here we are 10 years later, and we are still just about to get the same kind of thing might happen.”
However, Perry won't give up and he never has.
"We were saying here, now is the time to move water south,” he said.
More water will move south to a new reservoir in the next decade and there is far more attention to discharges from Lake Okeechobee than there once was.
"I see other people believing in what we need to do,” Perry said.
Believing in no small part, because one man decided long ago to act.
Perry said he wants to be known to others as someone who is and always has advocated for the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon.
“Just that he fought the fight, he was doing it the whole time,” he said, “and he empowered other people together to do the fight.”