Petition against spraying to be heard by FWC

CLEWISTON — Advocates of clean water in Florida are jumping on a bandwagon that started rolling late last summer when marine life expert Jim Abernethy of West Palm Beach started a Change.org petition calling for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to cease its spraying of herbicides in freshwater lakes.

Mr. Abernethy, who’s won awards for conservationist work in photographing, filming and writing about marine life, put up the petition Aug. 21 and planned to make a presentation about it to the FWC on Wednesday, Dec. 12, during the public input period at its regularly scheduled two-day meeting at Renaissance World Golf Village in St. Augustine.

As this is written, as of 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, that petition had garnered 167,575 signatures online.

The Change.org document explains that Mr. Abernethy and a small team had spent the previous weeks investigating aspects of the red tide and algae blooms that plagued the state in 2018. “I have stumbled upon a huge, overlooked, constant nutrient feeding and polluting of Lake Okeechobee that can be stopped very easily and immediately!” he declared, pointing to the spraying of herbicides including compounds containing glyphosate.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Courtesy of James Abernethy
FWC employs private contractors at a cost of millions of dollars a year in Florida to spray waterbodies in an effort to control invasive hydrilla.

Ramon Iglesias, who manages Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort in Clewiston and recently started the organization Anglers for Lake O, has been saying along with fellow sportfishermen and other local advocates for years that the spraying has been “killing” the Lake Okeechobee fisheries. He has been pushing for support from fellow sportsmen online, touting Mr. Abernethy’s plea.

(Mr. Iglesias notes that the FWC will accept comments in person from citizens at Wednesday’s meeting, or they can defer their podium time to Mr. Abernethy for his presentation, or they can email comments if not able to attend, to Commissioners@MyFWC.com.)

Mr. Abernethy’s petition claims that the red tide “is very much like a small campfire; under normal conditions, it would not affect much … but we are dumping millions of gallons of gasoline onto this small fire and burning Florida and all its wildlife to the ground!

“Our own Florida government through the FWC is spraying poison in all our lakes, rivers, canals and even Lake Okeechobee in an effort to kill an invasive aquatic plant called hydrilla. Hundreds of permitted contractors are all over the state, still spraying poison into our aquifers (90 percent of Floridians’ water source) Monday through Friday, 40 hours a week, for the last 40 years,” it says, adding that the main ingredient of glyphosate recently drove Monsanto to pay nearly $300 million to settle a lawsuit because it was found to cause cancer by being linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

The petition quotes two scientists as saying that glyphosate is aggravating the conditions leading to algae blooms and red tide. Dr. James Douglass, associate professor of marine and ecological studies at Florida Gulf Coast University, said the herbicides kill vegetation, which then releases nutrients that fuel the growth of algae and red tide organisms. Also: “… (T)he herbicide itself, the chemical when it breaks down, it breaks down into forms of phosphates that are actually a nutrient that fuels the growth of algae. In addition to that, if this hydrilla plant, as well as the others that are being killed, were alive, they would be removing nutrients every single day!”

And Dr. Geoffrey Norris, a geologist and algae fossil specialist who is a University of Toronto professor emeritus, stated: “Glyphosate is of particular concern since it has been used heavily in the agriculture areas around Lake Okeechobee and upstream in the Kissimmee River watershed for at least 25 years. Glyphosate provides a source of phosphorous for blue-green algae, and recent research shows that it enhances the growth of blue-green bacteria and actually become tolerant and absorb glyphosate directly.” He said that, further, “Because blue-green algae can make their own supply of nitrogen, they only need other important elements to survive, and one of those is phosphorus.

Among many items on the agenda for the FWC meeting is its Marine Fisheries Management Annual Workplan, as well as Fishery Management Council reports from both the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico regions — the areas most severely affected this year by red tide and blue-green algae blooms, which many coastal observers blame on polluted waters released from Lake Okeechobee.

Eight more people signed the petition since the third paragraph of this story was written — 167,583 as of noon Tuesday, Dec. 11.

Read the petition at change.org/p/florida-stop-the-state-sanctioned-poisoning-of-our-lakes-and-rivers/u/23167599.

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