The Florida Piney Point phosphate plant in Manatee county has been releasing 202 million gallons of wastewater into Tampa Bay since the risk of collapse of the holding reservoir became international news due to a risk of major collapse with flood walls of over twenty feet predicted to inundate local communities and into the marine environment around Tampa. Fifty million gallons of poisoned water per day had been released into Tampa Bay since discovering the breach; now, five million gallons of treated wastewater are being released into the sea daily, says the Florida EPA. There have been no reports of fish kills but, nutrient levels in the bay are still pending.

Larry Brand writes in The Conversation:

Millions of gallons of water laced with fertilizer ingredients are being pumped into Florida’s Tampa Bay from a leaking reservoir at an abandoned phosphate plant at Piney Point. As the water spreads into the bay, it carries phosphorus and nitrogen – nutrients that under the right conditions can fuel dangerous algae blooms that can suffocate sea grass beds and kill fish, dolphins and manatees.

It’s the kind of experiment no one wants to see, but officials believed the other options were worse.

About 300 homes sit downstream from the 480-million-gallon reservoir, which began leaking in late March 2021. State officials determined that pumping out the water was the only way to prevent the reservoir’s walls from collapsing. They decided the safest location for all that water would be out through Port Manatee and into the bay.

Florida’s coast is dotted with fragile marine sanctuaries and sea grass beds that help nurture the state’s thriving marine and tourism economy. Those near Port Manatee now face a risk of algal blooms over the next few weeks. Once algae blooms get started, little can be done to clean them up.

That is just one of a couple of ecological crises unfolding in Ron Desantis’s Florida. Attention has now shifted to the Atlantic coast of Florida and the counties south of Tampa for this blogger because the personification of GOP governance under Rick Scott is soon to have a new face of incompetence and greed, the current sitting governor, Ron Desantis.

But first, I can’t neglect to point out that Manatees have been dying in droves on the Florida east coast in the last few months, particularly the Indian River Lagoon at Cape Canaveral National Seashore and NASA’S Kennedy Space Center. The lagoon consists of three lagoons in total, Mosquito Lagoon, the Banana River, and the Indian River, all of which are recognized as one of the most important estuaries in the northern hemisphere.

To tell the story, we have to go back to 2017 when conservationists watched in horror as environmental rules and regulations protecting wildlife, habitat, and the climate eviscerated. New regulations put in place by fossil fuel, sugar, land developer, mining industries et al. who wrote and implemented their nonscience based rules and regulations that would haunt the earth for four devastating years and continues to this very day.

Craig Pittman writes in the Florida Phoenix in early March.

Four years ago, a few months after the start of his administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that manatees — which had been on the endangered list since the first endangered list was drawn up — were now doing much, much better.

In fact, the feds said, they were doing so well that they could be taken down a notch. Instead of “endangered,” they would be reclassified as “threatened.”

“While it is not out of the woods, we believe the manatee is no longer on the brink of extinction,” Larry Williams, head of the agency’s South Florida office, said during a news conference that day in March 2017. (Ironically, the agency announced this step the day after celebrating “Manatee Appreciation Day” on social media.)

The feds promised that no one would even notice the change. They promised that manatees, Florida’s official marine mammal, would still get the same level of protection they had enjoyed before.

Fast forward to this month. Over the past couple of weeks, headlines have been trumpeting the fact that more than 400 manatees have died in just the first two months of the year, an alarming spike that’s well beyond what’s considered normal. As of March 5, the total was 435 and still climbing.

Such a spike, according to a Fort Myers News Press story, means we’re on pace for a year in which total deaths could top 2,000, or roughly a third of the total manatee population.

The most recent count I saw recently was 549 manatees dead.

Since 2009, 58 percent of the seagrass in the lagoon system has disappeared, killed off by excess fertilizer from people’s lawns, the stinky excess of leaking septic tanks, and other nutrient pollution that fueled repeated toxic algae blooms. Over the past decade, dolphins, pelicans, and yes, even manatees, have perished there as a result, and now it’s happening again.

“Environmental conditions in portions of the Indian River Lagoon remain a concern,” the state wildlife commission reported on its website. “Preliminary information indicates that a reduction in food availability is a contributing factor.”

In other words, so many thousands of acres of seagrass have been killed by human carelessness, stupidity and greed that the desperate manatees starved to death. The condition of the dead shows they were suffering from “severe malnutrition,” said Patrick Rose, longtime executive director of the Save the Manatee Club.

This wasn’t supposed to happen — at least, according to the federal wildlife agency in charge of protecting them.

  • April 9, 2021