I am writing this for two interconnected reasons; to give tribute to a certified pioneer of Gulf County and to champion his last great cause. Herman Jones was a true adventurer, and for some reason, during my fifteenth summer, he invited me along.
Each summer my Dad believed our family needed to “get back to basics.” So we moved
our family of six into my grandfather’s 900 square-foot beach cottage in St. Joe Beach
(which, unfortunately, is now destroyed) with no air conditioning or television, and lived
on the beach for two-and-a-half months each summer there. That is where I first met Herman, who was a true native of St. Joe Beach.
I had received my SCUBA certification when I was 13, and like any kid that age who wanted to dive, I depended on my older brothers letting me tag along or some benevolent older person taking me. I still don’t remember why Herman decided to take a smart aleck 15-year-old kid diving with him, but boy was I glad he did.
We dove almost every weekend that the weather allowed, and I learned more about SCUBA diving that summer than most people get in a lifetime. Herman had been diving for some time, he was self-taught and his experiences ranged from treasure diving in South Florida and the Bahamas to archaeological diving in fresh water rivers and springs here in Florida.
Herman never dived a wreck on which had not done extensive research. He knew by the name of the vessel, its history, who was the Captain, what cargoes it carried, where it was going and where it came from, why and when it sank, how it lay on the bottom, who had salvaged her and when, and the list goes on.
He knew about every wreck between Carrabelle and Pensacola. For those us fortunate enough to have visited his home, you know the artifacts he salvaged from many of these vessels. After one dive in which had brought up a really cool brass porthole I asked him, “where do you find this stuff, I was diving the same wreck as you?” He laughed and said, “That’s because you’re not looking for it, all you are looking for is fish.”
He was right, of course; I was an avid spear fisherman in those days. I learned that day that there is so much more to diving than shooting fish.
Herman was a true environmentalist, and when I say true, I am not talking about the kind that lives in a metropolitan area, drives a Prius and donates to the Turtle fund. He lived and breathed nature, and his insights were invaluable to us when we formed BAYSAVERS, of which he was a charter member.
This group of dedicated individuals, including Herman, knew that we had to take action if we were going to preserve the natural beauty of St. Joe Bay, Apalachicola Bay and their interconnected watershed, Lake Wimico.
Herman had been a longtime advocate of restoring the hydrology of our area to its natural, pre-industrial state. BAYSAVES continues his legacy by proposing to do this very thing with the construction of a relatively simple, inexpensive water control structure that would stop the flow of freshwater and its sediments into St. Joe Bay, and allow this freshwater and sediment to remain in the Apalachicola River and Bay, where it is needed by the oyster bar ecosystem there. This would allow our bays to being the process of restoring themselves to their original state, the way they had existed for thousands of years before man intervened and connected the saltwater environment of St. Joe Bay with the freshwater ecosystems of Lake Wimico, the Jackson River and Apalachicola River drainage basin.
BAYSAVERS was in the process of “going public” with our message and suggested solutions when Hurricane Michael struck. Then the news about Herman came and our group is, to put it plainly, devastated.
Catastrophe creates so many, many emotions. The despair and heartache felt by the people who lost everything due to this storm. The sadness of losing a loved one. The loneliness created by this loss. The environmental destruction brought on by the storm, it is overwhelming. Yet, there is a silver lining.
Mother Nature has provided us a new pass into St. Joe Bay. BAYSAVERS (and Herman would emphatically agree) believes that this source of clean gulf water into our bay will provide just what we need to save our seagrass beds and flush out our sediment laden bay here in Port St. Joe.
The prevailing currents bringing Gulf water into St. Joe Bay pass through the mouth of the Bay and go south, mostly on the western side of the bay (state park side). In doing this these currents must pass through the sediment plume created by the Gulf County Industrial Canal over the last 75 years.
Most of us are now very familiar with this sediment; we have been shoveling and scraping it out of our homes for the last month. This “mud” is not supposed to be in St. Joe Bay. St. Joe Bay is one of the few bays in the Gulf region that does not have a natural freshwater source. Unlike Apalachicola Bay, Pensacola Bay, Mobile Bay or Tampa Bay, there is no river dumping sediment into our Bay. This sediment is here only because we have unnaturally connected St. Joe Bay with the Apalachicola River floodplain via the intercoastal canal system. This sediment if vital for the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay, but is death for our seagrass beds here in St. Joe Bay.
So these current pass through the sediment plume and carry these sediments into the head of the bay, where they are deposited on the seagrass beds, causing numerous problems. With the new pass, we now have clean gulf water unaffected by the sediment plume entering the head of the bay. This is exciting. We need to stop any efforts by the state park system to close this pass.
Catastrophe also has a history of creating change, often for the better. We at BAYSAVERS are facing the same issues as everyone. We have all lost so much personally and business-wise. Herman’s death was a kick in the stomach for all of us. We, however, like everyone else, have to decide how to move forward into the future, and I know for a fact that Herman would want us to continue our fight to restore our Bays and watershed to its original state.
At this time, however, we want to stay focused on the cleanup of our area and helping people get their lives back. We do not want to distract from these essential efforts, and want to help the hurricane recovery in any way possible.
Going forward, BAYSAVERS will continue our mission to restore St. Joe Bay, Apalachicola Bay and the Lake Wimico watershed to their pre-industrial state, and we want you to join in our efforts. Please stay tuned, we will be releasing our website and other information as soon as things get a little more normal. In the meantime, call anyone you know who might be of help to Save our New Pass.