Florida’s Ocean and Coastal Ecosystems: Take Action, Our Future Begins Today

World Ocean Day-webBy Mark Perry

Our ocean and coastal ecosystems are of the utmost importance. The ocean provides 95% of the living space here on Earth and 98% of the water on our planet. It feeds billions around the world, drives our climate, absorbs carbon dioxide and produces 80% of the oxygen we breathe. Every life on the Earth depends on the ocean and now, the ocean’s life depends on us.

More than 80% of people live within 60 miles of the coast and 85% of all the pollution in the ocean comes from land-base activities. Since 1970, ocean temperatures have increased by one degree, causing bleaching of coral reefs. The ocean absorbs roughly 80% of the climate heating, increasing the volume by thermal expansion, causing a rise in sea level.

Human-generated CO2 emissions are currently 66 million tons per day and our oceans only absorb 22 million tons daily. Carbon dioxide is saturating the ocean waters forming carbonic acid, a process called ocean acidification. This dissolves the shells of plankton, corals, oysters, clams, shrimp, crabs and lobster.

Here are eight things we must do now:

  1. Florida must stop discharges of polluted freshwater from Lake Okeechobee. These discharges have caused lesions on fish, killed oyster reefs and seagrass habitat, cause diseases on sea turtles and bottlenose dolphin and bring harmful algal blooms.
  2. Florida and the U.S. must restore America’s Everglades to natural flows from Kissimmee to Florida Bay. Currently 1.7 billion gallons per day of freshwater that used to flow south to the Everglades now goes to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
  3. Florida and the U.S. must establish and implement strong numeric nutrient water quality standards and criteria essential to preventing pollution and protecting the health of Florida’s waters. An enforceable nitrogen and phosphorus standard should be included to protect downstream coastal estuaries and Florida’s ocean ecosystems and must be enforced at the source of the pollution.
  4. Florida must require any wastewater or RO residual water currently injected underground in Class I injection wells (UIC) to be treated to advanced nutrient-stripping levels. The state should require water re-use instead of allowing more Class I injection of water or “water disposal.”
  5. Clean energy technologies must be required to prohibit venting mercury, toxics, and other gasses into the air which pollute Florida’s surface waters and groundwater. Sulfur stimulates methylmercury production, which is toxic and accumulates in fish and bio-food chain to become more toxic.
  6. A comprehensive program to treat, regulate, and eliminate waste from ships that use Florida’s ports must be developed and implemented. The U.S. and Florida must require ballast water treatment as a condition of port entry to prevent biological and chemical pollution.
  7. Florida must require the utilities to discontinue the six ocean outfalls discharging 394 million gallons per day of secondary treated wastewater in to the Atlantic Ocean south of Delray Beach.
  8. Florida and the U.S. must not allow offshore oil drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico or off of Florida’s East Coast region. The “undiscovered technically recoverable” oil and gas in these two regions totals 4.1 billion barrels or 1/10th of the western and central Gulf reserves. The risk is too high for Florida’s coastal tourist industry, which annually contributes more than $56 billion and 900,000 jobs to the economy.

World Oceans Day, established in 1992 at the United Nations Earth Summit, is celebrated worldwide on June 8. World Ocean Network and Florida Oceanographic Society believe that our youth is our “next wave for change.” We must all work to increase awareness and inspire stewardship of our living ocean. Learn more at FloridaOcean.org.

Mark Perry - FOS executive director-web.Mark Perry is the executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society. You can contact the Florida Oceanographic Society, located in Stuart, Florida at (772) 225-0505 or visit on the web at www.floridaocean.org.

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