By Alisha McDarris
For Hometown News
TREASURE COAST -- Dolphins are dying, oysters are disappearing and entire underwater ecosystems are disintegrating and Indian Riverkeeper Marty Baum just can't take it anymore.
He's dedicated himself to a mission of protecting, restoring and advocating for the waters of the Indian River Lagoon and it breaks his heart to see it deteriorating.
For 20 years, ever since the Environmental Protection Agency put standards in place dictating where the run off from Lake Okeechobee could be routed, the 156-mile Indian River Lagoon has been suffering.
Two billion gallons of discharges a day from the lake include pollutants like fertilizer, waste, and other chemicals and are being diverted from their natural southern flow directly into the Indian River Lagoon. Local marine life is suffering the consequences.
Black muck lines the riverbeds, detrimental algae is taking over, vital sea grasses are vanishing, and a delicate ecosystem that relies on the complete health of the waterways is fading, a significant problem for the most diverse ecosystem in North America.
"The upper lagoon is dying. The entire ecosystem is collapsing," said Mr. Baum, a local historian and passionate lagoon advocate.
He blames the tragedy almost entirely on politicians and their propensity to put the desires of big business, like the sugar industry, above the health and needs of the people. Mr. Baum looks at campaign contributions and voting records and says the verdict is clear.
"They're not protecting people, they're protecting polluters," Mr. Baum said.
Florida's government has also taken away the people's ability to do anything about righting the situation, according to Mr. Baum. He cited several instances where elected officials put remedying projects like storm treatment areas on hold for decades in order to benefit large corporations and agriculture.
For Mr. Baum, whose family has lived in the area since the late 1800s, there's nothing more devastating than watching his beloved lagoon suffer while he is forced to stand by and watch because the government has made taking action nearly impossible.
"We are essentially stuck," Mr. Baum said. An idea made more saddening by the thought that there's so much to be done to re-infuse the lagoon with life and that future generations might not have much of a lagoon left to enjoy.
"The problem is the elected officials who refuse to represent us," Mr. Baum said. His best advice is to pick up a pen, pick up a phone, and bombard those officials, starting at local levels, with demands to make the Indian River Lagoon a priority or be ousted from office come the next election.
There is great power in numbers, according to Mr. Baum. He believes that the more collective voices there are, the greater the pressure on our political leaders to represent U.S. will be and the better the chance that his beloved lagoon will receive the chance it deserves to survive and thrive.
For information, visit www.indianriverkeeper.org.