SFWMD to Continue with Fish Health Project

The South Florida Water Management District Governing Board recently approved another year of partnership with the state of Florida, the St. Lucie River Issues Team, and federal researchers on a project to track fish health as an indicator of the progress of restoration efforts in the St. Lucie Estuary, officials announced on Feb. 25.

The project is part of a 15-year study by the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that began in 1996.

The study is analyzing the potential effects of water quality and environmental stressors, such as freshwater discharges, on the health of fish communities in the St. Lucie Estuary. The results are used to help set performance measures for restoration efforts.

Study results showed a spike in the prevalence of abnormalities in the estuary's fish populations after the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005. However, since mid-2006, the prevalence of abnormalities has sharply decreased. This year, the study will track the effects of restoration projects, agricultural best management projects, and urban and agricultural stormwater retrofit projects on fish health, testing to find out if the abnormalities are environmental in nature.

The St. Lucie River Issues Team, initiated by State Sen. Ken Pruitt nine years ago, comprises representatives of 17 different agencies and organizations. The members work together to prioritize issues, procure federal and state funding, and implement "turn-dirt" projects that have quantifiable benefits to the St. Lucie Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon. The program has funded more than 114 individual projects, totaling more than $131.4 million, in Martin and St. Lucie counties.