01 Jun Biophilia: Okeechobee, Florida
PHOTOGRAPHED & WRITTEN BY MIKEAL BELAND
Florida’s Lake Okeechobee is an ecological disaster. The headwaters of the Everglades has been exploited for agriculture and suburban expansion since the 1920s, when the Army Corps of Engineers erected a rock wall and a series of regulated canals to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Once the second largest freshwater lake in America (outside of the Great Lakes), its now so polluted with industry byproducts that during a drought, portions of the exposed bed caught fire and released Mercury and other contaminants into the air.
News coverage of Florida’s toxic algae blooms have found international attention, but little did I know that this series in early May would provide evidence of its beginning. Observable from space, an algae bloom took over the lake and torrential rain forced releases through the canals to coastal communities. The devastation has killed wildlife up and down the coast and altered the economies of affected communities.
Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature have been criticized for failing to enact a voter-supported plan to buy sugar industry lands south of the lake and restore the natural flow of the Everglades. The hope is that the ecosystem can be repaired and better managed, but this looks like the new normal for Florida as climate change continues to make it ground zero for most affected in the United States.