Scientist says cutbacks on Lake O releases will improve Caloosahatchee ecosystem

As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cuts back on water releases from Lake Okeechobee feeding into Southwest Florida, we decided to look at whether this will help the Caloosahatchee River bounce back Wednesday.

Over the past weekend, it was clearly visible where freshwater from the Caloosahatchee met the Gulf. Darker water is a mixture of lake water and runoff, but a plume is expected to recede as dry season begins.

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation works to protect the environment for all to enjoy. It plays a big role in restoring parts of the ecosystem such as oyster and seagrass beds.

“We’ve been getting excess amounts of freshwater for a number of months, and it’s been really affecting the seagrass and the oysters,” said Richard Bartleson, a research scientist with SCCF.

Now that we’re getting less freshwater from Lake Okeechobee releases, Bartleson says the ecosystem can recover.

“The grass that’s there can grow much faster when it’s not being stressed every low tide by low salinity water,” Bartleson said.

The SCCF scientist says there will be quick changes to water conditions.

“That’s going to be the most immediate change is the water clarity should increase, so we should see blue water at the beach instead of the brown water,” Bartleson said. “That will just depend on how much rain we get.”

For oysters and seagrass that have remained, they should recover quickly. However, if they have disappeared from the area, it will take at least a year for them to grow back or respawn.

Wednesday, despite damp and chilly conditions on the water, it didn’t keep people away from being out on Sanibel Causeway. We spoke to Barry Rhoades, who was visiting the region from Illinois.

“I’m a fisherman, kind of hobbyist, and it’s been pretty good down here the last couple of years,” Rhoades said. “Plus I love the people.”

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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