Many folks have a hard time understanding “conservation” due to the scale of the issues. They take nature for granted and assume that they have been given an unlimited supply of resources at their disposal. Looking back at old black and white fishing photos that show stringers full of trophy fish, sometimes even our beloved tarpon hanging next to grinning anglers can be sickening. But they also teach us a lesson. In that era, there was a seemingly endless supply of gamefish, superb water quality and bountiful estuaries. Today, our fish stocks are threatened by water quality issues and dying estuaries.

Imagine you own a pond and had a business renting fishing gear to guests. You attract visitors from nearby areas. Customers rent gear from you, buy bait and go fishing. Business is great, you have many prosperous years. Eventually, a factory pops up next to your pond and they begin to dump wastewater into your pond because they didn’t want to spend the money to create their own treatment plant, and reservoir to hold the water. Water quality in your pond degrades. The aquatic plants begin to die, and the fish become unhealthy. Eventually, some of the fish die. You immediately recognize the problem, and get to work as it is in your best interest to fix it.

Your business is no longer sustainable. Fish are dying faster than they can reproduce. People quit coming to your pond to fish because they’re not having fun. It doesn’t matter how much you regulate anglers, or how much you spend on advertising to get new anglers out to your pond if the root of the problem is not addressed. If the problem is ignored, your pond will eventually become a cesspool, void of life. Once the pond reaches its tipping point, your business is done, for good.

Replanting the pond won’t do any good because wastewater continues to flow in from the factory and kills the newly planted vegetation. You start buying fish and releasing them into the pond for people to catch, but they too will get sick and die. You need to fix the problem before you replant the pond, and stock it with fish. Eventually, you work with the factory to create a wastewater treatment facility, and put the water into their own reservoir that they created. At this point, you proceed with the restoration of your pond, you replant it and restock it with fish. Finally, your business is flourishing again, and you no longer take the pond for granted.

This analogy is no different than what we are dealing with in South Florida and many other places across the world. Water quality directly affects the health of the estuaries. When water quality suffers, our estuaries die, effectively shrinking “our pond.” Our estuaries are reaching their tipping point, and eventually, we will cross that line if the root of the problem is not addressed. It is not only in our best interest, it is also our responsibility to fight to protect the resources we depend on. The draining of the Everglades is our metaphorical factory. Special interest groups, namely large corporate agricultural interests located in the historic Everglades, spend tens of millions of dollars spreading misinformation about these issues, in hopes of distracting the public from the biggest problem- the sugarcane fields that stand in the way of meaningful restoration. Reservoirs and treatment marshes need to be constructed on agricultural land to store, treat and convey water to the Everglades where it is desperately needed. Fixing this problem does not have to be a struggle between the coastal communities and Glades communities. In fact, having a third outlet would provide the Army Corps of Engineers a way to lower the level of Lake Okeechobee when the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike is threatened, therefore providing Glades communities with improved flood control. Scientists that work in the Everglades agree on what needs to happen, it’s our job to listen to the undisputed science, and convince our policymakers to do the right thing.

Everybody Can Make A Difference

When dealing with large-scale issues, such as Everglades restoration, some people think their voice isn’t loud enough to be heard, and they don’t believe they can make a difference. I thought that too, less than a year ago, but I was terribly wrong. I finally reached my tipping point and helped found Captains for Clean Water. We quickly grew it into a powerful organization. Captains for Clean Water has influence over policy relating to water quality in South Florida, and the ability to reach several million people per month. We have a growing network of local, state and federal lawmakers, businesses in the fishing, tourism and boating industries all ready to make a difference. Together we are becoming more powerful every day. This growing success didn’t come easily. I put my guiding business on hold; giving away well over a hundred charters this year, and relying on personal savings to pay my bills while many of our board members are finding themselves is a similar situation. Captains for Clean Water is more than a full-time job, it requires complete commitment from all of us. We have been incredibly successful because we truly care about this issue. These estuaries are far too valuable to just sit back and watch them fade away.

Learn more about the water quality issues facing the Everglades and South Florida