BY SHANNON BLANKINSHIP, Outreach Director for St. Johns Riverkeeper
Jacksonville residents place a high value on the St. Johns River. This mighty river flows through the heart of our downtown, and its tributaries, the creeks and streams that feed it, flow through all of our neighborhoods. It is understandable then, with algae bloom outbreaks and failing septic tanks, that you might be curious about the health status of our river. Unfortunately, with shrinking budgets and a constant assault on the agencies charged with protecting our river, there is less monitoring of the river’s health. Despite this insufficient monitoring and an “unsatisfactory status” for so many health indicators, there is still some good news. Looking out onto this magnificent north Florida jewel, you’ll know that we’ve got a real gem. Here are the results from the 8th annual St. Johns River Report Card.
How are we Improving?
- Manatee numbers are up. Populations will likely continue to move north because of declining water quality in south Florida. Boat impacts continue to be the largest threat to manatee survival.
- The endangered Wood Storks are seeing population increases in places like the Jacksonville Zoo, Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve, and Clapboard Creek.
- Overall Air Emissions of toxic chemicals in the region are down.
Where are we getting Worse?
- Salinity is increasing and, if it continues to do so, the expected impacts include a shift southward of zones of species that are able to adjust to the transition. Freshwater hardwood swamps and aquatic grasses between the Fuller Warren and Buckman Bridges are particularly vulnerable to impact from increasing salinity.
- Tributary health continues to decline in the Lower St. Johns River Basin. This is due to several factors, but the biggest one is not prioritizing protection and restoration of our waterways.
- Approximately 74 invasive species are documented in the Lower St. Johns River, and the number is growing exponentially. Common examples are lionfish, the Muscovy duck, and the Tegu. Each carry significant health risks to our communities.
What Questions Remain?
- If you don’t measure it, you can’t tell whether the problem is getting better or worse. Question Marks throughout the report indicate a lack of sufficient data for monitoring to understand trends. This symbol means we aren’t tracking important water quality indicators in order to understand how to make improvements.
- Trends in wetland coverage and quality are unclear and their status is difficult to assess. We know how many acres are being destroyed through permits, but we don’t have a good way to assess loss, mitigation efforts, and overall effectiveness for flood control, nursery production, habitat diversity, or shoreline protection.
- Adequately measuring fecal coliform bacteria contamination in our tributaries is vital to placement of warning signs against fishing or making contact with the waterway. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is revising its assessment methods for measuring fecal coliform, which will make evaluation of long term trends difficult to produce.
The State of the River Report is compiled by a collaborative team of academic researchers from Jacksonville University, the University of North Florida, and Valdosta State University. The purpose of the project, funded primarily by the Environmental Protection Board of the City of Jacksonville, is to review previously collected data and literature about the river and to place it into a format that is informative and readable to the general public. Find the full report, brochure and appendices online at www.sjrreport.com.