Game Plan To Save Apalachicola Bay? First, Find A Quarterback

Jan 16, 2013

The Apalachicola River Basin starting in the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers.
Credit Wikipedia

Apalachicola Bay is thirsty and the Florida Legislature is looking into ways to help save what is being called a national treasure on the verge of environmental collapse.

Apalachicola Bay is an estuary: half saltwater, half freshwater. And that mix is why Florida is famous for Apalachicola Bay oysters. And why it’s been likened to the Everglades for its great number of species. But the bay isn’t getting enough freshwater. It’s becoming too salty and those famous oysters also filtering the bay are becoming hard to find. During a Tuesday meeting with the Senate Agriculture Committee, Chair Bill Montford said, many don’t understand what losing the bay actually means.

“And we’re not talking about just oysters and Apalachicola Bay. What we’re talking about is a whole river basin from Georgia and Alabama down to our bay. This is a precious, precious jewel and we’re beginning to upset that in a way that, well that could be irreplaceable quite frankly.” Senator Montford said.

Currently the Apalachicola River Basin which is feeding freshwater into the Bay from Georgia is going through a drought so bad, that Dr. Karl Havens with the University of Florida says it’s been the driest place in the country for the past two years.

“If you look at river flow graphs, the river’s been flowing at a lower volume than in the whole 98 years when they’ve been collecting on them, so it’s an extremely exceptional thing so the outlook for more water coming down into the bay is not that good.” Dr. Havens said.

But droughts, as a naturally occurring event, can’t be fixed. Dr. Havens suggests the need for a long-term monitoring program tracking oyster harvests. Developing such a program could lead to more efficient harvesting practices in the future. Apalachicola Bay locals came up with a similar idea.

“Well I came up with something we call SMART: Seafood Management Assistance and Recovery Team.” Franklin Seafood Worker’s Association Vice President Chris Millender said.

And while Dr. Havens’ plan is more of a computer algorithm, the idea of better resource management is still at the core of Millender’s plan, which is about making anyone working with the Bay better stewards.

“We have a stakeholders which is going to be everybody from one end of our livelihood to the other and have an advisory group in the back like your department of agriculture and FWC and be working with them to see if we can help.” Millender said.

But that raises the question: Who’s ultimately in charge? Chair Montford asked Dr. Glenn Morris, also with the University of Florida.

“Who’s the quarterback of this? Who runs the show? Who in the state do you look at as being the lead on this?” Senator Montford asked.

“There is no quarterback. There is no quarterback. That’s your problem.” Dr. Morris replied.

And that may explain why different groups are coming up with similar plans. As talks continue, members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee are planning to  meet with the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee Thursday to talk about the state of the Apalachicola Bay and River Basin.