Teen Angler































The Magical Power of Estuaries Part Five

Estuaries May Be Magical, But Solutions to Their Problems Aren't

Bob Bergen

Professor of Science, retired

Palm Beach Community College, Florida

"If we would just leave them alone...."

-- and not pollute, overfish and destroy them, they would come back.

We wish.

The fact is, we do all those things, and we are one of the most environmentally conscious countries on the planet. Yet even we still allow estuaries to be polluted, overfished and insulted in other ways.

So what can we do?

You've started already, just by being a member of Teen Anglers. I'll have more to say about this later.

Meantime, what are we actually doing to bring estuaries and other wetlands back to health?

I can't speak for other states; I don't live there. But I do know a little about national efforts, and about what we're doing here in Florida. So here goes.

I mentioned earlier there are four basic problems here: habitat destruction, suspended solids, dissolved materials, and overfishing. Obviously, these are interconnected, and as I go through these, see if you can find some of the connections. I'll point some out, too.

One more general note before I get specific. Money is always involved. Destroying some part of an estuary generally makes money or saves money for someone, or some corporation. It may be a developer creating expensive waterfront property by destroying a grass flat, it may be a city which doesn't want to raise taxes for advanced wastewater treatment, it may be an industry that doesn't want to cut into its profits to treat its chemical wastes - or it may be a commercial fisherman trying to make enough money to pay for his boat and keep his family together.

Generally speaking, I have a lot of admiration for commercial fishermen. Most barely make a living, and only fish because they love the water so much. It is sad that this often involves damaging or even destroying the very resource they depend upon.

So what do we do?

First, stop destroying habitat. We have laws - which are pretty well enforced - to stop destruction of shallow bottoms by dredge and fill projects, to stop siltation by requiring silt barriers, to regulate in varying degrees how much change you can make in the littoral zone. These laws, when they are well enforced, go a long way to prevent physical destruction of habitat. Here in Florida, some of this enforcement is by the state through our Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies, and the remainder by our local county commissions. How about where you live? Your county probably has a web site; check for the environmental department, and see what they have posted about local situations.

I live in Port St. Lucie on the East Coast (find it on a map of Florida), and we are trying to put in a third parkway from US 1 west to I-95. But there is a protected river in the way. We will have to build a bridge to cross it, but the area we need to cross is a State Preserve. It is estimated it will take at least five more years to come up with a design for that bridge that the state will approve. Some construction projects here, especially when they involve wetlands, may require permits from more than two dozen different county, state and federal agencies. These generally take years to be approved.

Suspended solids, the second problem. Some states do pretty well with this problem, but from the Middle Atlantic States to New England, streams bring loads of suspended solids with them. They come from clearcutting hillsides, and from mining of coal. Try Googling it: maybe start with "suspended solids + pollution + coal mines" and see what you get. Try other keywords, too: siltation, storm runoff, things like that. Remember that suspended solids from these sources get into the waterways after rainfall events.

Dissolved materials, the third problem. Again, the situation varies state to state. Look into the effluent from sewage treatment plants, what happens to "pig ponds" - ever smell pig excrement? Wholesale pig producers take the feces (imagine how much from a 400 pound pig!) and usually just dump them into a pond, which stinks and may overflow when there's a lot of rain or when a nearby river floods. Those feces are not only suspended solids to start, but as they dissolve, the nitrates and phosphates are added to the river, stream, lake, estuary - whatever.

Look into the states of North Carolina and Missouri to find problems associated with pig ponds. Many of the environmental group websites have bulletins or articles about pig farms; check Audubon, the National Wildlife Federation, maybe the Sierra Club. You might also check River Keepers. Look especially into Hurricane Floyd and the effects of its flooding on the Neuse and Tar Rivers in North Carolina, and the subsequent effects of river runoff flooding on both Albemarle Sound and Pamlico Sound.

Industries of many kinds are major contributors of dissolved materials. Even a "clean" industry like electronics gets involved. They use acids of many kinds to clean components as they are manufactured, and those acids have to go somewhere. For you New Jerseyites, I can remember in the 1940s betting with my brother what color the Raritan River would be as we went to pick up my dad, who worked for Bakelite, a major plastics company. The colors in the Raritan came from Calco, another plastics firm. Some days it would be white as snow, sometimes red, or purple - or black.

Finally, overfishing. I'll share with you a lesson I learned from a Professor at Appalachian State University about managing wild populations which are subject to either hunting or fishing (just another kind of hunting). What he said was this:

Suppose you have a population of animals which are prized by fishermen or hunters. Let's say freshwater trout in a stream. As the population dwindles, there are typically three steps which are taken, usually in the following order, to bring the population back.

1. Rules and regulations. Size limits, bag limits, open and closed seasons are the typical ones. In Florida, we also limit nets.

The population continues to decrease, so more is needed. The rules and regs are kept, and something is added.

2. Restocking. Raise wild animals and turn them loose, to be "taken" (killed) by hunters or fishermen. Game farms and fish hatcheries are common in many states.

While I was in North Carolina during the 1970s, we had what is called a "put'n'take" fishery for rainbow trout. Every Tuesday the hatchery truck would dump 7 inch trout at specific points (which everyone knew), Wednesday was no fishing, and on Thursday folks would go out and catch these hatchery trout on corn niblets. The niblets resembled the food pellets the hatchery fish were used to eating.

Result: the native populations continue to decline. Time for the third step, which often made the difference and allowed native populations to rebuild.

3. Habitat restoration. Control and remove sources of pollution, prevent habitat destruction, and actually rebuild (or replant) habitat. In the Indian River Lagoon, we are replanting cordgrass and mangroves and experimenting with seagrass restoration. In many lakes, FADs (fish attracting devices) are placed on the bottom of the lake to provide what fishermen call "structure," an important hiding place for fish. In many streams, downed logs may be used to create eddies in the current where fish can rest and to increase the diversity of species living in the stream.

The most important of these is controlling and/or removing sources of pollution. It is also the most difficult.

4. Overfishing. Lots of rules and regs, and more importantly, a change in attitude among many fishermen. Becoming more and

common is the philosophy of "catch and release." This is especially important with the bigger fish; the difference in egg production between a ten pound grouper and the same grouper at fifty pounds is thousands of times more eggs. More eggs,

more young, more grouper to eat. YUMMMM!

Yes, we're getting better. Most people are much more environmentally conscious today than even just ten years ago, and support for all of the things I have mentioned continues to grow.

Remember I mentioned that being a member of Teen Anglers was a good start? You can go further!

Seriously consider joining one of the conservation organizations which are both nationwide and even worldwide. Generally, a donation of $25 to $50 makes you a member, and brings their magazine or newsletter to you. Some you might consider include the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the Sea Shepherd Society, Ducks or Trout Unlimited, the Rainforest Alliance, Zero Population Growth - and there are many more. Google 'em.

At no cost, you can take part in public hearings about conservation issues, read your local newspaper about issues, write letters to the editor, join blogs on the web - just keep the overall goal in mind. Conservation first!

One last thought. If you get involved in discussions about conservation issues, remember always that honey gets better results than vinegar. Ask your parents.







By Bob Bergen

Professor of Science, retired


Now that we have looked at some of the magic of estuaries, it's time to look at one final piece of magic.

Recall that the "Magical Power of Estuaries" revolves around at least three, maybe four, different communities of producers: emergent, submerged and floating plants, and that the floaters come in two basic sizes: the microscopic plant plankton and the macroscopic (that is, visible to the naked eye) algae the drift in and out of seagrass beds. Remember also that estuaries have two completely different sources of power, and that estuaries also receive nutrients from two different sources: runoff from the land and incoming tides from the ocean.

Now for the last bit of magic. But first, a little history.

Until very recently, say the past several hundred years, we lived on and around estuaries without causing any lasting damage. The shoreline of Florida is littered with the mounds of native American peoples who lived here as much as 12,000 years ago -- yet these folks did no damage to the life of an estuary that we can see. And they lived along those estuaries for nearly all that 12,000 years.

Then the invasion began, starting in the early 1500s. By the 1800s, most of the major coastal cities of the USA were already teeming with people, and with industry. After all, if you wanted to move cattle, or lumber, or tea, or anything else measured in tons, the easy way was by water. By the mid-1800s, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, Mobile, New Orleans were all thriving port cities. On the west coast at the same time, San Francisco was leading the way.

And all were built on estuaries.

Where did the trash from all these millions of people and thousands of ships go? Overboard, into the estuary. And where did all the sewage go? Into the estuary. At that time, and even today in much of the world, estuaries were and still are considered buggy, bad-smelling swamps that made great places to dump garbage.

Many, perhaps most, of the world's estuaries have been degraded by poisons, landfills, loss of habitat, overfishing and other of man's activities to the point that most if not all their magical productivity has been lost.

In 1974 I wrote a series of articles for the Palm Beach Post about the importance of mangroves (our estuarine emergents) and seagrass beds. One of my interviewees was a former commercial fisherman who now owned a large seafood house. As we talked about the roles of mangroves and seagrasses in the productivity of estuaries, he suddenly leaned forward in his chair, took the cigar out of his month, and looked at me wide-eyed. "Do you know," he said, "my condo is built right on top of the grassbed where I used to catch all my bait shrimp!" That's called "loss of habitat."

Now that I come to think of it, our president, Al Bernetti, and wife/webmaster Suzanne live in a condo on the water -- which was built on top of a grassflat I used to wade-fish 50+ years ago!

Let's look more closely at some of the insults we humans heap on estuaries. We'll start with pollution.

We can break pollutants down into two big categories: poisons and excess nutrients.

The poisons can be further broken down into two big categories: pesticides and metals. Pesticides are used on lawns, farms, golf courses and lots of other places. We generally use more pesticides than necessary, and the excess then runs off into canals or rivers which feed estuaries.

A moment ago I picked on our president. Well, he is definitely not alone. I am for sure an environmental criminal. And some of the stuff I did back in the early '60s will be around to haunt you-all throughout your lives. At that time, I worked in mosquito control for our county. And I put out probably 100 pounds of a pesticide called DDT; we used it to kill mosquito larvae in ponds, ditches, canals - wherever. Now DDT has a half-life in the environment of 20 years; that means that every 20 years, half of it is gone, but the other half is still out there killing all kinds of things. So if I put out 100 pounds by 1965, 50 pounds was still killing things in 1985. And in 2005, 25 pounds was still out there killing. And in 2025, 12 1/2 pounds will still be killing stuff. And in 2045? 2065? We biologists figure ten half-lives must pass before the stuff is diluted enough not to matter. For DDT, that's 200 years!

Metals are generally poisonous at some concentration. Living things must have tiny amounts of some metals; iron, for example, is at the heart of the hemoglobin molecule, and if you, like me, don't process iron well or get enough, you are anemic. Magnesium, of all things, is at the heart of the chlorophyll molecule. But metals in overdose are highly poisonous, and some of the amounts involved are so tiny they are hard to believe. Some of the common metals seen in waterways include copper, zinc, lead and others. These metals get into our waters from the wearing of tires on pavement, the gases coming from the tailpipe on your car, burning coal to generate electricity, and multiple other sources.

Now to excess nutrients. They come from two main sources: agriculture and sewage. The nutrients we worry about mostly are nitrogen and phosphorus, in the form of nitrates (or ammonia) and phosphates. Sewage is the easy one to control, but we don't do a super job of it. Yeah, we treat our sewage to remove bad bacteria and viruses - but most treatment plants don't touch nutrients in the effluent from the plant. A few, known as advanced wastewater treatment plants, do remove excess nitrates and phosphates from sewage effluent, usually by allowing the effluent to sit for a while in a marsh or pond, where plants grow and take up those excess nutrients.

Agriculture - and suburban lawns and golf courses - are harder to work with. A sewage treatment plant is known as a "point source discharge," which means the nutrient-laden effluent leaves the plant through a pipe (a "point source"). Agriculture and suburbia are harder to work with; their excess nutrients and poisons just run off the land all over the place. But always downhill, and usually into a ditch, canal, river, lake, pond - or estuary.

A town I lived in a few years ago (Jupiter, FL) is actually collecting that overland runoff and treating it as sewage. It ends up going through an advanced wastewater treatment plant - and it costs money to do it. Agricultural runoff can also be collected and treated (usually by giving it time in a marsh or pond) to allow plants to remove excess nutrients from the fertilizer used on the farm.

Question: where does your milk come from? Cows, of course. And cows give more milk if they feed on rich grasses, made rich in nutrients by artificial fertilizers. Question: how many cow splats does a cow produce in a day? These are loaded with the nutrients the cow didn't utilize - and the average cow produces 80 pounds per day! So a pasture with 100 head of dairy cattle produces 4 tons of sewage a day. Where does it all go?

Worse still, how about pigs? We raise lots of pigs, and their feces are especially noxious - and loaded with nutrients. Talk to the folks who live in North Carolina about the effects of a hurricane which flooded pig sewage ponds; the rivers carried the "stuff" into Pamlico Sound, and created two dead zones in the Sound. Or talk to commercial fishermen in Louisiana, where the Mississippi River has created a dead zone of thousands of square miles in the Gulf of Mexico - from excess nutrients carried downstream from the farms of the midwest.

So we have horror stories. What can we do about them?

We've already done the easy stuff. Point sources of pollution, easy to identify and act on, are by and large under decent control. Nonpoint sources are the hard part. And that's where the effort is going today.

What can you, as an individual, do? You've already started, by joining Teen Anglers. A next step, if you wish, is to do volunteer work. Talk to your state and local parks people, see if there are any stream or pond rehabilitation projects you can work on, find out about your local government to see if they have any projects that might use you as a volunteer -- things like planting trees, water quality sampling and so on. Another direction where you can make a difference is to join an organization which promotes conservation. Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Audubon, the Coastal Conservation Association -- there are many organizations looking for members to help on their projects. Maybe even get a group of you together to do something. One person CAN make a difference!

Good fishing, tight lines, and may the wind always be at your back.








So far, we've learned a little about the different kinds of producers that live in an estuary:  emergent plants, submerged plants, drifting algae and finally plankton.  All of these are powered by the sun.
But last time I left you hanging with an unanswered question; I claimed there were two completely different power sources in an estuary, and asked you to figure out what the second one is.  The first, of course, is the sun.
But what's the second one?  Would you believe the moon?
Good gosh!  How does the moon count as a source of power for an estuary?  It surely can't reflect sunlight to power much in the way of photosynthesis, so how does the moon provide a second source of power to an estuary?
Simple.  Tides and tidal currents.
Think about all the critters living in the estuary that depend on the tidal currents to bring food to them.  The list includes lots of mollusks (clams, oysters, scallops,  mussels and more), barnacles, anemones, worms of many kinds, even some shrimps and crabs, and lots more.  These animals could not live without the tidal currents to sweep food by so they can filter it out of the water.  In general, these critters are called "filter feeders".
What kind of food are they eating?  Obviously, it's not pieces of leaf or stem -- they are too big to handle.  In fact, most of their food is plankton.
Do any other estuarine animals depend on the tides?  Find a commercial fisherman and ask him or her.  Or ask one of those other fishermen who always seem to come home with fish. 
Many of the fish we want to catch (predators like striped bass, snook, weakfish and more) often lay up in grass beds and wait for the tide to bring food to them.  They are ambush feeders.  When the tide is dropping, they lay in channels and wait for prey to come to them from the shallows.  When the tide is rising, they often move up into the shallows to chase food.  I take advantage of this:  fishing the little channels on a falling tide, moving up onto shallow flats on the rising tide. 
Another factor to consider:  most predators are very energy conscious.  Since food for them is not guaranteed, they will spend as little energy as possible while they wait for food to come to them.  Tidal currents eddy around obstacles, just like rivers eddy around rocks, and these eddies behind the obstacle are places of quiet water where a predator can wait for the current to bring food while using as little energy as possible. 
Most estuaries have lots of docks and pilings, and these produce eddies downcurrent where predators lie in wait. 
We've seen that tidal currents can transport food.  Can they also transport other things?
Of course!  Seeds from emergent plants float around with the currents, occasionally becoming lucky enough to germinate in a suitable location and start another stand of grasses or rushes or mangroves.  Many of these plants depend entirely on the tidal currents to propagate themselves.  And the submerged grasses depend on the currents to do what bees do on land:  carry their pollen to female flowers.  These grasses don't have to attract pollinating insects, so their "flowers" are reduced in size, hard to find (no pretty colors) and have little or no colorful petals. 
How about an oyster?  It can't get up and move over to a suitable mate, so how do they do it?  Again, tidal currents.  Oysters, and many other organisms which can't move around in the estuary, depend on the tidal currents to carry their sperm to eggs to start the next generation.  Which, when you think about it, implies an exquisite sense of timing, to make sure the eggs are afloat just as the sperm reach them.  For oysters, it seems the trigger for mating - the release into the water column of eggs and sperm - depends on temperature. 

Another effect of the moon involves its phases. You know from basic science that when the moon is directly opposite the sun, rising just as the sun sets, we call this a "full moon." Then, two weeks later, the moon is lined up between earth and sun so that we cannot see it, and we call this the "new moon".

These two periods, every two weeks, lead to more gravitational attraction (sun and moon combined) which makes high tides higher and low tides lower. This in turn means that more water moves in and out than normal, creating much stronger tidal currents. We call these extra strong tides "spring tides".

A rule of thumb for fishermen is that night fishing is better on a full moon (especially if you have a clear night) because the fish can see prey better, and that fishing during the day - especially at dawn and dusk - is better on a new moon, when the fish haven't had enough light through the night to be full of food by daybreak.

A general rule of thumb for tidal amplitude - that is, the difference in height between low and high tide - is that it is least in the tropics, and gradually becomes greater as you approach the poles. Where I live, on the east coast of Florida, the tidal amplitude is generally only 1 1/2 to 2 feet, while further north it may be 6 or 8 feet. The shape of the body of water can also affect tidal amplitude; the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia is shaped like a funnel, and the range between high and low tides up at the narrow end of the bay can be as much as 50 feet on a good spring tide.


And, of course, those same tidal currents which make life possible for many of the estuary's inhabitants are also capable of carrying pollutants of all kinds to the far corners of the estuary.  How many of you have seen trash floating around?  I hope you pick it out of the water and put it into a dumpster!  And, while we're thinking about pollutants, consider that most of the most harmful ones are invisible:  dissolved in the very water itself. 
Next time, we'll look into more of the magic found in estuaries, and consider what we can do to make them even more productive than they are today. 
Later this year, we'll examine ponds, lakes, reservoirs and streams. 








In the first part of this series on how estuaries really work we talked a little about some of the magic involved.  It revolved around the presence in an estuary of three totally different and independent plant (producer) communities.  Actually, there are four, if you separate out the seagrasses from the drift algae community.
No other ecosystem on earth has this advantage.
Now it's time to talk a little about the power sources for the estuary.  And again, there is no other ecosystem on earth which has this combination of sources of power to drive life.
When biologists talk about the power that drives ecosystems, they start (of course!) with the sun.  It powers the magical biochemistry of photosynthesis which allows plants to store energy in a form animals can use, and it powers the plant communities of an estuary.
But there is another source of power available in estuaries which is not found in most other ecosystems.  The exception is the coral reef -- but the estuary uses this power in ways the critters of the reef cannot.
I'll let you wonder for a little bit, while I digress into food chains and webs, which are really energy relationships:  who eats who?
In the world of science, we recognize a pair of rules which work every time.  They are called the Laws of Thermodynamics (thermo = heat, dynamics = movement) and they describe how energy (heat) is moved through chemical reactions to produce life. 
The First Rule (and that's really what it's called) says "you can't get somethin' for nothin'."  In other words, you can't create energy from nothing.  A corollary to this says you can't destroy energy, either.  You can change it from one form to another, but you can't destroy it. 
The Second Rule says "Not only can't you get somethin' from nothin', you can't even break even."   In other words, any time you change energy from one form to another, most of the energy involved is lost (as heat).
Think about your car and the Second Rule.  You put gas in the tank, and then you burn it in the engine.  That's a change of energy from one form to another; In burning inside the engine, the gas allows the engine to power the wheels, which move the car.
Question:  When it is running, does your engine get hot?  WHY?  The Second Rule!
Now let's apply this idea of the Second Law to a living thing:  you.
How do you get the energy to play soccer?  Or to work out an algebra problem?  Or just to stay alive?
You eat, right?
Let's say your eat one pound of food per day.  Yeah, I know - some of you can eat that at just one meal, and you eat more than once a day.  But let's stick with just that one pound of food per day.
How much do you weigh?  And one year ago today, how much did you weigh then?  But in the meantime, you ate 365 pounds of food!  Do you now weigh 365 pounds more than a year ago?
So where did all that food-energy go?  Well, you lost some as sweat, a lot more to the toilet.  But even that doesn't add up to 365 pounds.  So where did the rest go?
Some of that energy you used in playing soccer or using your brain, but even that doesn't add up. 
What's your temperature?  And what does that have to do with food?  The Second Law, again.  Much of the energy we take in as food goes only to keep our body temp at about 37C (99F, give or take).  We here in the USA live in the temperate zone; it takes about 2500 Calories per day to keep us going.  If you were an Aleut or Inuit, though, living in extremely cold conditions, you would need at leat 5,000 Calories per day just to stay alive (and keep your body temperature at +37C when it is -40C outside).
So what's all this stuff about the Second Law have to do with estuaries?
Only everything.  We're talking food, after all.  And that means food chains and food webs in the estuary.  And now things get a little complex; not a lot, just a little.  Remember that there are at least three, maybe four different communities of producers in an estuary, and that means that many more food chains and webs.  Just for example, a food chain involving mullet which feed at the roots of the grass beds would have no relationship to a plankton-based food chain which involves herrings, sardines and anchovies.  Except that a hungry predator won't really care whether it's a mullet or a herring; they are both food. 
Let's follow a food chain which starts with emergent plants:  cordgrass in the temperate zone, mangroves in the tropics.  These plants live at the edge of the estuary, with their leaves in the air and their roots under water in the mud.  In both cases, the energy they store in their leaves, stalks and roots only becomes available when those parts of the plant die; year-round for mangrove leaves in the tropics, winter for cordgrass in the temperate zone.  Once these plant parts actually die, they become available as stored food for other critters. 
Now we eat dead plant stuff, too.  I happen to love mashed potatoes, especially mixed with peas or green beans.  They've all been cooked before I eat them, so they are dead plant material.  And dead plant stuff is where this food chain begins. 
A mangrove leaf or a cordgrass stem (leaves still attached) dies and falls to the mud.  Now what?
Well, that leaf or stem is stored energy from the sun.  It's FOOD!  And the first critters to take advantage of this energy source is a community of bacteris and viruses which begin their attack within minutes.  Soon - several days or weeks - that leaf or stem is covered with a slime coat of bacteria and fungi, and they in turn become food for the next set of critters up the chain.  These guys - amphipods, ostracods, isopods and more - graze their way across the surface of the leaf or stem, eating the slime coat of bacteria and fungi. 
So now this leaf or stem is covered with a bunch of things which are rich in proteins, carbohydrates, lipids (oils and fats) and nucleic acids, and new characters arrive to chow down.  These new guys include baby lobsters, shrimps of many species, crabs of many species - and they all carry a tool which they can use to cut a leaf up into manageable pieces.  They all have some kind of pincer claw. 
So they grow.  And soon other predators find them, and feast.  But remember what they are really feasting upon:  leaves and stems. 
What's the most common bait used by fishermen in an estuary?  Shrimp!  Not to mention small crabs and baby lobsters.  And how come those shrimp are there?  That food chain, powered by the sun. 
The last three steps in this food chain are easy to figure.  Little fish eat shrimp, bigger fish eat the littler fish, and I eat the biggest striper or snook I can catch -- and I don't share!


This is a "detritus-based food chain," called that because it starts with dead leaves and stems (detritus), rather than with living plant material.  In this example, there are eight steps in the chain:
    1.    The sun (the source of energy for photosynthesis)
    2.    Dead leaves and stems (the basic food in this chain)
    3.    Bacteria and fungi which begin the process of decomposition
    4.    The grazers who travel the surface of the dead leaf or stem, feeding on the slime coat of
            bacteria and fungi (they can't digest the plant material itself)
    5.    The shredders (crabs, shrimp, lobsters, etc.) who tear the plant material into small                     fragments which they ingest; these shredders can't digest plant stuff, either, and their             food is the grazers.  They excrete the small pieces of leaf or stem back onto the                     bottom, where the bacteria and fungi, and the grazers, do their thing all over again.  The             original investigators (Eric Heald and William Odum in 1969) found that a single piece of             stem or leaf is reused (recycled?) as many as six times before it is finally gone.
    6.    Small fish, who will eat every shrimp or crab or baby lobster they can get into their                     mouth
    7.    Larger fish, like snook, stripers, salmon and so on who eat the smaller fish
    8.    ME!!!
This food chain is typical of an estuary.  Let's compare it to a corn field.  Corn is used for two different purposes by humans.  We eat it as food, or we feed it to livestock.
If we eat it as food, it's a two-step food chain.  Sun (energy), corn, you (or me).  If we use it to feed livestock, then the chain is one step longer:  sun, corn, cow, me. 
But no other ecosystem on earth has food chains as long as those found in the estuary.  And that's part of the Magical Power of Estuaries.  The longer the food chain, the more steps it has, the more productive the ecosystem.
Uh-oh.  I told you there was a whole 'nother source of power for an estuary, other than the sun.  But I have not yet given you an answer to the question.  Can you make an educated guess?  And can you figure out why it's important to the estuary?






   BY                                                                                                                         Robert Bergen
                                                                                                                            Professor of Science, retired


Estuaries are places where fresh water from the land mixes and mingles with salty water from the ocean.  This not-quite-fresh - but not so salty either - water is often called "brackish."
It makes for a stressful environment.  Critters that live in fresh water - like largemouth black bass - can't handle the saltiness, and critters that live in the ocean can't tolerate the fresher water.  We'll look at some other stressors a little later.
But estuaries are biologically extremely productive; that is, they are home to lots of living things of different kinds and they produce more food per acre per year than almost any other ecosystem on earth.  There are only two other ecosystems that are more productive than estuaries, and you can probably name them:  tropical rain forests and coral reefs. 
In the end, though, we humans, even with all our modern technology, can't grow as much food on our farms as a healthy estuary does. 
So what makes estuaries so exceedingly productive?
And that's where the magic gets explained.  You know there is no such thing as true "magic;" it's misdirection and illusion, easy to understand once someone shows and explains it to you.
Same thing in the estuary.  They aren't really magic; it's just that we are just now learning how they really work, and why they are so productive.
Let's compare an estuary with a forest, or a prairie, or even a corn field.  A first glance shows that an estuary is really a mix of different plant communities, and since we know that plants are the base of any food chain, the more different kinds of plants the better.  A forest, on the other hand, is made up mostly of one kind of plant:  trees.  And a prairie is made up of small shrubs, wildflowers, grasses and other smaller plants.  A corn field is tended by the farmer to prevent any other kinds of plants from growing; they are called weeds.
Since plants are the only critters on the planet that can make food from sunlight, we call them producers.  Any estuary worth its salt has at least three different kinds of producer communities:  submerged plants, emergent plants, and floating, microscopic plants we call plankton.  The forest, the prairie, the corn field only have one kind of plant:  roots in the soil, leaves up in the air.  No plankton floating around.
And, since we call the plants producers, then animals become the consumers.
These three different kinds of estuarine plant communities provide shelter and food for many kinds of animals.  We'll explore some of these.
    Emergent communities:  rooted in soil under water, with stems and leaves out of the water.  Think mangrove trees in the tropics, cordgrass and black rush further             north.  Mangroves drop leaves year-round, while the grasses and rushes die back each winter.  In both of these, the dead leaves and plants are the base of the food         chain.  They are fed upon by bacteria and fungi, which become food for grazers, which become food for crustaceans, which become food for fish. 
    Submerged plants:  seagrasses, which provide shelter from sunlight and predators, and which provide solid surfaces for things to colonize:  tiny sponges, barnacles,         larvae of many kinds, algae and many others.  These in turn become food for animals like the green sea turtle, which grazes on the grass and gets all the encrusting         animals as extra protein.
    Plankton, which float on the currents of the estuary and are the basic food of many filter-feeders like oysters and barnacles, and many kinds of fish such as                     herrings, sardines and anchovies.
No other ecosystem on earth has all three of these producer communities.  The coral reef has no emergent plants, the tropical rain forest has no plankton, the prairie has no submerged plants - and the corn field is a killing ground for anything other than corn. 
A basic rule in ecology is that species diversity leads to stability.  A healthy estuary certainly has that diversity.
Let's explore this diversity and its role in the estuary a little further.
The emergent community is a part of the littoral zone, where the bottom of the estuary gradually shallows until it reaches the edge of the land.  If you were in the Navy, the littoral is where the latest generation of submarines operates - in water less than 600 feet deep.  If you are an estuarine ecologist, the littoral is the zone affected by the tides at the edge, where low tide finds mud flats exposed to the air and high tide finds them under several feet of water.  In estuaries, the tides control what grows where in the littoral zone.  North of Florida, cordgrass grows in the deepest water, where the soil is wet even at low tide, while black rush grows on higher ground wet only at high tide.  In the tropics, different species of mangrove trees occupy different elevations in the littoral zone. 
The animals that live in the littoral zone must adapt to periods of dryness followed by flooding tides on a daily basis.  Where do fiddler crabs go when the tide comes in?
Little fish (little predators, really) move through the marsh or swamp following the water to find different kinds of food.  Worms of many species retreat into their burrows at high tide, coming out and feeding only when they are again covered with water on the incoming tide.  Oysters close their shells, barnacles close up, sea anemones retreat into little round clumps of soft stuff, all waiting for the tide to cover them again and bring food to them.  We are still learning about these animals. 
Another important role of the littoral zone is so common-sensical it is often overlooked or ignored.  Shallow water is an exceptionally good hiding place for an inch-long minnow; what one pound predator can swim in water only an inch deep?  But there's a price to pay if you are that minnow:  wading birds like herons and egrets which wade those same shallows looking for you and your brothers and sisters. 
Principle:  a healthy estuary produces such a surplus of baby critters that the birds and the larger fishes cannot eat them all. 
The seagrass meadows live in water deep enough to (nearly) always be flooded.  These grassy meadows - and they are real grasses, only living underwater rather than on your front lawn - don't tolerate drying out, so they live in shallow water just below the low tide line.  There are often several species of grasses, with different species of algae living with them, attached to the grass blades or just floating and drifting through the grasses. 
Now grasses of all kinds like direct sunlight, the more the better.  So a typical estuary, with water muddied up by runoff from the land, only has grass beds where the sun can reach.  Often that means their grass beds can only exist to a depth of three or four or five feet.  Deeper than that, and not enough sunlight gets through the murk to support photosynthesis.  If you have a big tree in your yard, grass won't grow in its shade.  An exception is the Florida Keys, where I have dived on seagrass beds in 30 feet of incredibly clear water.
These grass beds provide food for many predators, who hide in the grasses and ambush prey.  Other predators graze on the grasses themselves, and the communities of organisms which live on the grass blades.  Many of these grazers and predators are camoflaged to resemble the grasses; pipefish and some shrimps are good examples.
Finally, we come to the plankton community. 
The plankton community is a world in itself.  Microscopic algae like the many species of diatoms are fed upon by microscopic animals like copepods, and all of these tiny critters are then fed upon by predators like clams and oysters and herrings and sardines.  But these tiny, microscopic producers and consumers cannot swim far enough to move around an estuary.  So how do they get to the barnacles and worms that eat them?
Although we've talked a little about the magic of estuaries, we have not yet talked about the power of estuaries.  And that's where we'll start next time.  And, yes, it has to do with how plankton move through the estuary.  

Can you figure it out before next month? 






By Capt Al Bernetti

The Teen Angler program celebrated our 8th anniversary this month.

For 8 years we have been focusing on the "Education"

Component of our motto, " Recreation and Education for the Next Generation",

By bringing in experts in their fields from some very well known organizations.

Take for example our February schedule.

While Teen Anglers in New York will be having their 2nd annual Ice Fishing event at Guffin’s Bay on Lake Ontario. Teen Anglers in Florida will be getting a presentation from the folks at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. The great work they’re doing at the site in Fort Pierce Florida, has gotten the attention of politicians as well as Universities, and the public at large.

As Florida suffers from the ravages of point and non-point source pollution degrading our resources, Harbor Branch has been a leader in documenting those effects on our environment.

Earlier this year the Biologists from the Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce were the guest speakers at our meeting and gave a very informative presentation on the Indian River Lagoon and the effects that growth and development play on the health of the estuary.Scientists, Biologists, and the public are agreeing that the policies of the 1980’s and 1990’s are no longer adequate for the 21st century growth that has been projected for Florida, and it’s water resources.

Our January meeting hosted Kevin Stinnette, the Indian River Keeper.

Kevin is part of the National organization founded by Joseph Kennedy to provide

Educated persons whose job it is to monitor government as well as America’s Rivers and watersheds so that action can be taken in a pro-active, rather than a reactive, approach.

It is the objective of our organization to recognize and help solve the problems that we

As teen anglers observe in our environment. And through our education sessions and scholarship program, we are getting educated anglers into the workforce to make a positive difference for the good of America and our waterways.









Osceola Chooses to Pollute Part 1 

  Osceola Chooses to Pollute Part 2

Osceola Chooses to Pollute Part 4

Draining Mentality North of Us


Osceola Chooses to Pollute

Part 4

"Teen Anglers Step Up!"

As one Teen Angler wrote to Bill Lane County Commissioner, " Just know that there are citizens out there doing YOUR JOB for you and they aren’t being paid for it, don’t worry people who care will take care of it for you"!

The Teen Anglers have until October 2007 to re-engineer an Osceola County Road that

Osceola’s engineering staff wanted to continue the dumping of storm water run-off into the Kissimmee Chain of lakes and eventually into the Indian River Lagoon.

" The natural flow is directly into the bay that’s what we want," said the engineering dept.

We are producing a video documentary to show the Teen Angler generation how we must accept the challenge if we want to change the mind set that got us so much pollution.

"Every gallon that we clean up is another gallon of storm water runoff that won’t adversely impact everyone downstream".

I really believe that the mindset of Osceola County is just "Flush the Toilet"! Let the folk’s downstream deal with it!

We have been overwhelmed with support from our Teen Anglers, their parents and our supporters to show the county of Osceola Florida that this mindset may have been acceptable to the last generation but not to the Teen Angler generation.

But we need all the support we can get! Send your donations, no matter how small!

$5.00, $10.00, or more if you can, to help us change this runoff from polluting our resource!

Send your checks to: 

National Teen Anglers

1177 BayShore Dr. # 207

Ft. Pierce, Fl. 34949

Remember we are a 501 (C) 3 Not-For-Profit, and your contribution is tax deductible to the full extent that the law allows.



  Osceola Chooses to Pollute!

Part 3

Osceola County Florida Officials Refuse to Meet with this

82 year old Great-Grandmother! WHY?



The taxpayers of Osceola County are paying a staff of Engineers to sit on their duff and Pollute the Kissimmee Chain and all the waters connected to it! Why?

The good OLE’ boy network is alive and well and living in Osceola County!


Bill Lane County Commissioner DO YOUR JOB


Osceola Chooses to Pollute Part 1

Part 1 of 6

March  2007

Osceola County Florida

The home of Lake Toho, Lake Kissimmee, as well as other legendary Bass lakes,

Has been struggling to compete with other legendary lakes in other states, Lake Fork, Texas, Clear Lake, California etc., etc.

So one would think water quality would be a very important issue, at least that’s what you would get as the politically correct response from the public relations department. But recently we were shocked to be told that when the Osceola County Engineering Dept.’s staff was asked what they wanted a property owner to do?

The Osceola County Staff choose to pollute!

The owner offered;

(At his expense), to permit for a change in runoff and point source pollution from directly going into the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, or restore the road to 1955 standards with no swales or consideration for storm water runoff, as the county staff had suggested.

The county staff elected to put the runoff directly into the water body.

Keith Jackson, Osceola County Engineering Dept, said " The natural flow is directly to the bay, that’s what we want". Actually the development was platted in about 1955, so we question whether that could be considered "Natural", but we’ll use his words.

We received comment from Osceola’s Lakes Management Specialist, "their expert",

Kimberly Lawrence, her response, "If that’s’ what engineering wants then that’s the way it will be". No, let me look into it, or maybe there’s a better way?

"Alex I’ll take Pollution for $ 1000.00 dollars"! Just pollute away!

A 40 ft right-of-way, (public road), was at first not a county road, that was in 2005, now, the county claims it is under their jurisdiction, but they won’t maintain it, that remains the responsibility of the homeowners. And although the homeowners wanted to replace an unstable material with a more stable material, and redirect the water flow, at their expense, the county threatened a daily fine if the homeowners don’t start polluting by the end of the month!

But to be clear the homeowners are not given the option to correct the storm water runoff.

If you’re a Teen Angler this goes against everything we stand for!

Tell them so!

Email: Bill Lane Osceola County Commissioner District 5 at

Or Miro Poss Assistant County Engineer at

Tell them: Give a Hoot- Don’t Pollute !

In part 2 we’ll discuss why they are doing it!

Post your comments about this article also on the Teen Anglers forum 

  Osceola Chooses to Pollute Part 2

Why does Osceola Choose to Pollute?


Remember send an email! Do It Now! Bill Lane County Commissioner

Tell him, Give a Hoot! Don’t Pollute!

Lets look at this issue from the Teen Angler perspective, as you recall in education session #1 Orientation we discussed the "Teen Angler way",

Which is educating ourselves to be better able to protect our resource and by doing so,

We are making our sport of fishing better able to handle the pressure we tend to put on it!

So why would Osceola County engineering choose to pollute the resource?

Lack of education… maybe?

Lack of commitment? I like that one even more!

Let’s look into that one.

Who would have the desire to "do the right thing", you remember that phrase from your Teen Angler education session as well, right?

Would the Osceola Lakes Management Specialist,

Kimberly Lawrence want to "Do the right thing", the Teen Anglers would at first think, well of course! But we’d be wrong…right, at least that’s what she said, remember,

" If that’s what engineering wants…that’s the way it will be"!

How about the engineering departments Keith Jackson, Would he have the desire to "Do the right thing", he lives in the area around the Kissimmee Chain, and he doesn’t care either, and remember what he said! " The Natural Flow is directly into the Bay"!

If he did wouldn’t he have done something to correct it. That’s what a Teen Angler would do! That’s what we ARE doing!

Do the actions and comments from either of those folks show commitment?

You be the judge of that one.

So.. Let’s look at who these folks answer to. If you still believe in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, your answer would be, the citizens of Osceola County! Right?

Grow Up!

The people, the voters of Osceola County elected, have the ability to change the mind set, they don’t want to, that’s the bottom line! Period, end of story!

Bill Lane, Ken Smith and the others are, in our opinion, violating the federal clean water act, the Everglades restoration plan, as well as stonewalling; hoping this issue goes away!

The commissioner’s definition of Growth Management is managing the growth of their Campaign accounts as the developer’s contributions roll in.

All of us in Florida and the outdoors nation are watching you, Osceola, will you,

"Do the Right Thing"

In part three we’ll address these questions:

Why would an Osceola County School Teacher want to stop the raising of Scholarship funds for the "Teen Anglers"?

Why would Osceola County want to stop the raising of scholarship funds for the "Teen Anglers"?

Would Osceola County’s Engineering Department pollute the resource just to do a favor for a friend?



Draining Mentality North of Us

Business as usual when it comes to developers against the environment. Read this and contact the DEP.

Osceola Chooses to Pollute
March 12, 2007
Osceola County Florida

The home of Lake Toho, Lake Kissimmee, as well as other legendary Bass lakes,
Has been struggling to compete with other legendary lakes in other states, Lake Fork, Texas, Clear Lake, California etc., etc.
So one would think water quality would be a very important issue, at least that’s what you would get as the politically correct response from the public relations department. But recently we were shocked to be told that when the Osceola County Engineering Dept.’s staff was asked what they wanted a property owner to do?
The Osceola County Staff choose to pollute!
The owner offered;
(At his expense), to permit for a change in runoff and point source pollution from directly going into the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, or restore the road to 1955 standards with no swales or consideration for storm water runoff, as the county staff had suggested.
The county staff elected to put the runoff directly into the water body.
Keith Jackson, Osceola County Engineering Dept, said " The natural flow is directly to the bay, that’s what we want". Actually the development was platted in about 1955, so we question whether that could be considered "Natural", but we’ll us his words.
We received comment from Oceola’s Lakes Management Specialist, "their expert",
Kimberly Lawrence, her response, "If that’s’ what engineering wants then that’s the way it will be". No, let me look into it, or maybe there’s a better way?
"Alex I’ll take Pollution for $ 1000.00 dollars"! Just pollute away!
A 40 ft right-of-way, (public road), was at first not a county road, that was in 2005, now, the county claims it is under their jurisdiction, but they won’t maintain it, that remains the responsibility of the homeowners. And although the homeowners wanted to replace an unstable material with a more stable material, and redirect the water flow, at their expense, the county threatened a daily fine if the homeowners don’t start polluting by the end of the month!
But to be clear the homeowners are not given the option to correct the storm water runoff.
For more Information on this developing story contact:
Capt. Al Bernetti



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