STUART, Fla. — Jim Moir's backyard dock in Stuart sits near the intersection of the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. It's a beautiful view, at first glance. The longtime marine conservation advocate knows full well that beneath the surface there are ever-growing problems. Case in point, a record die-off of manatees this year.
"The devastation was a starvation event, these animals starved for nearly 10 years," Moir said.
The numbers are stunning. More than 900 manatee deaths recorded so far this year in Florida.
Moir said two out of three of those deaths happened in the Indian River Lagoon. A prime reason, seagrass loss. The seagrass is food for manatees, and Moir said it has been disappearing for a long time, and particularly over the past decade because of pollution. Without it, the gentle creatures are deeply imperiled.
"The starvation was somewhat inevitable as humans didn't take notice of the nutrient pollution we have been dumping in our estuaries," Moir told me.
Ranch and farm fertilizer runoff in the water that has long swept east from Lake Okeechobee is a culprit. So, too, is urban and suburban runoff, and septic tank leakage. The list is a long one. The result of all that nutrient-rich run-off is supercharged algal blooms that cut off the light seagrass beds need to grow.
"It has," Moir said of the estuary and lagoon, "been a seagrass dominant ecology, and now we may be seeing a macroalgae dominant ecology."
Moir said in recent years there are some signs of improvement in water quality but habitat recovery, he said, is not happening. He argues that there is a need for vegetation-rich living shorelines and a focus on more comprehensive wastewater management.
"Our (human) ability to survive as the dominant species depends on the resiliency of the ecosystem we live in, and the diversity of the ecosystem is responsible for its resilience," he added.
Daunting challenges and Moir vows to press on, for beloved and endangered manatees, for all of us. "I am also a father," Moir tells me, "and I need to leave him a better place. That's why I keep doing what I do."