Everyone is thrilled with the article in the STAR on July 18 saying that after years of poor harvests and population collapses, the scallops in St. Joe Bay have increased 800 percent this year! The question is why and will they remain? Researchers in the article wonder if the increase is natural or the result of restoration efforts. Has any human attempts at restoring scallops anywhere resulted in an 800 percent increase in one year?
I think not. So what happened in the past year that might have been the cause? Let’s see… Well, we had this little hurricane… And this hurricane cut a big gap in Cape San Blas and allowed billions of gallons of clean gulf salt water into our Bay. So I ask, did nine months of gulf water flush out our Bay?
But now, alas, Mother Nature is closing the gap (before humans got around to it). Will the scallops decrease again next year, or in five years, or 10 years? You see, historically St. Joe Bay was the only bay on the eastern Gulf of Mexico with no major fresh water intrusion.
Historically, it was clear and pristine with a clean sand floor. Historically, it was one of the best scalloping bays in Florida. That is, until the Army Corps of Engineers dug the Intracoastal Waterway and then we added the Gulf County Industrial Canal at Port St. Joe.
This connected the 75,000 acres of freshwater drainage from Lake Wimico directly to St. Joe Bay. After heavy rain events, we get billions of gallons of freshwater and silt entering our Bay and burying marine grasses and organisms and changing the salinity—all vital to the scallops. One factor that is known to decrease scallop survival is low salinity in the water. (By the way, this water from Lake Wimico traditionally drained exclusively to the lower Apalachicola River where it provided for the struggling oyster beds which are desperate for fresh water.)
What is sad is that we no longer need the Intracoastal Waterway for commerce and the Industrial Canal was built for a paper mill and chemical plant which no longer exist.
But there is an answer.
The Army Corps is mandated by law to mitigate environmental problems they have caused. They like to build things—but the government has to tell them what.
A lock on the Intracoastal Waterway would once again separate the saline waters of St. Joe Bay and the freshwaters of Lake Wimico and the Apalachicola. This lock would not prevent boat traffic, the doors can be opened to allow boats to pass, but it would prevent the silt and turbid freshwater from contaminating St. Joe Bay (and our saltwater from contaminating Lake Wimico). Baysavers is a local grass roots organization dedicated to this project. Their goal is to restore St. Joe Bay, Lake Wimico, and the lower Apalachicola River and Bay to what they were before the man-made connection of these three diverse environments.
They have applied for Restore Act funds to help, but eventually we will need a groundswell of public support to let representatives know that we want them to require the Army Corps to build a lock.
If you want to get involved or just learn more, go to www.baysaversfl.org. There is a great short video and more information on the plan. There is no cost to join and let your voice be heard!
By D.J. Mays
Port St. Joe