Allen's Blog

A Message to the Marine Resources Council from Thirty Years Ago- February 5,1988. Melbourne, Florida

E. Allen Stewart III P.E.—March 30, 2018

"That memory of so many years ago came back to me, when as a young  boy I first looked down an embankment into the wide expanse of the Indian River.  I remember how I felt physically--strong and energetic.  I remember the warmth of everything and how pleasurable it felt.  Somewhere in this mixture of positive emotions I came as close to true happiness as is possible.  What I believe I experienced  was a communication with what I mentally visualized as a benevolent entity, a critical order and complexity, created by the coordinated interactions of all the physical and biological components that made up the Indian River.  I had discovered god, not as a humanlike deity overly concerned with the works of humans, but as a more expansive force, which gave life to the earth, and to each life a gift of happiness in offering its contributions to the sustenance of life." From Reclothing the Emperor" E. Allen Stewart III and Skink Wiley. 2005. ISBN: 1-4259-5232-8 (sc). Photo by Allen Sewart

                                                                                                                                                                                                                

On February, 5 1988 I gave a brief talk to the Marine Resources Council at their Fourth Annual Meeting in Melbourne , Florida. I was about 42 years old then, and full of enthusiasm about my work as an Environmental Engineer, and as a Biologist. The Council had been created just a few years earlier in 1983 with the intent of not only enhancing understanding of the Indian River Lagoon, but also to mobilize the local community to protect and restore to the extent practical, the Lagoon. There was legitimate concern about some of the degradation that had occurred over the years, but there was also confidence that  dedicated actions could not only stop most of the degradation, but also could encourage the creation and implementation of laws and ordinances which would offer long-term protection. If I recall correctly, H.T. Odum was the guest speaker at this meeting, and I remember his talk as being full of great insight and optimism. 

Unfortunately, in the years that followed, society has not shown the political will that Odum was hoping for. Now, thirty years later, this lack of political will has resulted in even greater environmental challenges within the Indian River Lagoon, as suffocating algal blooms have lead to major fish kills and loss of grass flats, with attendant economic consequences and  an ever increasing demand for investments in restoration. 

The following is my February 5, 1988 presentation

                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Presentation to the Marine Resources Council

Fourth Annual Meeting

Melbourne, Florida 

February 5, 1988

E. Allen Stewart III P.E.

I have been asked to review with this group recent innovations in water quality management, particularly as they relate to treatment of polluted waters and to discuss how such innovations might be applied to protection, and hopefully restoration of the Indian River Lagoon. I wish I could make a disclosure of miraculous new techniques which, with reasonable investment, could return the grass flats to historical levels, could renew the critical balance of salt needed to ensure the protection of crucial nursery areas, and could reduce nutrient levels, so phytoplankton blooms no longer threatened ecological stability. I can't. I can only present some relatively new methods which, in combination with other existing methods and a supportive social philosophy, may increase our effectiveness in resolving these and other key problems associated with the estuary. But before I get into discussing these methods, I would like to talk briefly about the Indian River Lagoon itself--what it means to me personally, and more importantly, what I believe it represents to our modern human society. 

I was fortunate enough to grow up on the Indian River, and I can say without hesitation, that the happiness I extracted from days spent on the River (and we all knew even then that it was really an estuarine lagoon, not a river), had the greatest influence on my personal and professional development. I am quite confident that I am not the only one in the room so affected by this unique estuarine system. Unfortunately, such personal testimonies, while of brief human interest, offer little in convincing society to expend the energy and financial resources needed to "restore and preserve" the Lagoon. 

If our political system, which in theory at least, represents the composite attitudes and values of our human citizenry, is to invest time, energy and money into the preservation and restoration of the Indian River Lagoon, it must be convinced that such investments will have significant social/economic benefits. It is at this juncture that I believe we tend to encounter difficulties and conflicts. Personally, I can think of nothing else for which money could be better invested. Others, however, might ask why we need to consider the Indian River Lagoon as anything more than a convenient depository for our excess waters and waste; an efficient transportation commodity; and an abundant source of cooling water. Somewhere between these two extremes probably lay the attitudes of the majority of the people--a belief that some preservation may be prudent to protect some of the basic water contact recreational benefits and to preserve some of the economic value associated with commercial and sports fisheries, and to sustain what I call "picture window" aesthetics. 

As the various interest groups meet with one another, each with their own self-serving agenda and differing value systems, there is an attempt to compromise, to reach consensus regarding management of the Lagoon. This process of compromise has, in the past, resulted in grass flats being exchanged for boat channels; nutrient allocations being set for wastewater discharges; limits being established for commercial fishing; mitigations being granted; and properties being set aside for the collection and treatment of stormwaters. This is how we have managed the Lagoon--with the philosophy of minimizing damage, not eliminating it; by trying to preserve existing quality, not trying to improve or restore. 

I will ask two related questions. The first--is it legal or Constitutional  for us to purposely and knowingly degrade the ecological integrity of the Indian River Lagoon? Second--is it really in the best interest of our society to do so? Over two hundred years ago our society was, as I believe it is today, on the brink of a significant social revolution. At that time, it was the concept of American Democracy which was being developed, and we all realize that it was the incomparable efforts of a handful of individuals that made it possible to implement this government. We owe much to their wisdom, for they provided a means by which our system remained dynamic, adjustable, and self-regulating. They also, very wisely, included the word "posterity" in the Preamble of our Constitution and thereby charged all of us to conduct our business such that we ensure that not only ourselves, but our future generations have the opportunity to "pursue happiness" and enjoy the blessing of liberty. It should be noted that the term "posterity" gives no hint of finiteness, therefore we can only conclude that our activities must be directed towards maximizing social stability, for only this will be in full compliance with our Constitutional directive. In scientific terms, this means minimizing the rate of change in entropy or disorder, and striving towards a quasi or near equilibrium state. Do we really have any other legal choice? Recycling, preservation, restoration, and reuse, are not fads created by a group of environmental zealots. Rather they are mandates--not only from our governmental creators, but from the physical truths which control the energetics and survival potential of this macro-organism we call Earth. 

I deal everyday with persons who insist that short-term economic gain justifies environmental degradation. I suggest this is illegal. I also suggest that it is not in the best interest of long-term economic stability. There are also many who feel environmental concerns are relevant only when they have economic or human welfare implications. I offer an alternative concept, that the biological stability of what we call natural systems is in direct relationship with the survival potential of human beings as a species and the economic welfare of our modern society. I say we must establish a healthy stable ecology within the Indian River Lagoon, not because of some recent popularity of environmental consciousness, not because we want to save some economically valuable species, but because the future of ourselves and our posterity depends upon it. 

I said that I felt a social revolution is imminent. The revolution I believe will be initiated by a challenge to the concept of anthro-superiority. The replacement philosophy, which will permeate into and change the political complexion of all human societies, will emerge from a strong commitment to the sanctity of life and the recognition of the interdependency of all living systems. It will allow us as a species to once again be cooperative participants who, while having the capability, choose not to exploit, destroy, or control the environment for immediate gratification or wealth, but rather to exercise restraint as a sincere gesture of respect and concern for all posterity. 

Comments as always are welcomed

Continued pollution of the Indian River Lagoon in Brevard County has resulted in serious  water quality degradation resulting in fish kills such as this one from the summer of 2016. The County has recommended spending $303 million to avoid $4.29 billion in economic losses over the next decade associated with tourism and recreation, property values and commercial fishing.   Photo by permission Florida Today