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Looking for closure

By Staff | Apr 29, 2009

To the editor,

Years ago, I paddled the Sanibel River in my kayak, catching and releasing record size bass, teaching my grandson how to fish, sharing our uniquely secluded environment with him, struggling to avoid the spawning carp, wondering when a leaping mullet would drop in the kayak, paddling so close to a statuesque great heron that I could see my reflection in his eye – in fact seeing a greater density of birds that you could see in “Ding” Darling – and sharing the narrow channels with the timid rabbits and the majestic alligators. But in 2002, we were shocked to learn through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the river had been officially registered as “impaired.”

As the years passed, the changes in our unique waterway became more and more evident. We witnessed a number of major kills of native fish, the proliferation of more tolerant, evasive species of fish, significant changes in shoreline vegetation, far fewer birds and other animal life and a general modification of the water’s “character.” The natural color of the water changed. One year, the water on just a small section of the river became unnaturally clear. Two years later, it had turned back to a murky green.

In the beginning, a few of us formed an informal group and called ourselves SOR (Save Our River). We began what became an ongoing, albeit quiet attempt to encourage the City of Sanibel to publicly recognize what we saw as serious threat to our historic environment. We managed to achieve little other than a commitment to continued testing. Even the ardent conservationists seemed uninterested. Eventually, we had to face the probability that the river as we knew it would never be the same.

Then came the major problems with discharges from the Caloosahatchee River. The City of Sanibel recognized what an impact that problem could have on the island’s economy and began to immediately commit substantial resources to a program for remedial action. Of course, we supported that effort. The interesting thing is that the problem we have been experiencing for years on Sanibel’s inland waters is similar; excess nutrients and all that goes with it. The recent fish kill on the ponds in The Dunes golf community on Sanibel is rooted in the same problem.

We do assume that our waters are not polluted in the sense of it being dangerous to our health. So we are prepared to accept the obvious – an altered environment. However, we believe that 10 years of testing should have taught us something conclusive. Fertilizer is a possible culprit and the city’s Web site says they are doing isotope tracing – whatever that is – on the millions of gallons of treatment plant effluent that is being applied to our soil. None of us know anything about the technology of pure surface water, but one thing is for sure: the changes are not due to some natural phenomenon.

This is not about a few old geezers losing their fishing hole. We need no recognition. What’s done is done and we wish to vilify no one. We can even accept the fact that the changes in our river have happened in the name of social and financial progress. We asked the city as recently as two weeks ago simply to acknowledge what has happened and to give the river as we knew it an honorable place in Sanibel’s history.

Sterling Fulmer

Sanibel and Spencer, N.Y.