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What is Wrong With This Picture?

September 13, 2010

Don’t fall in Pete.

I was driving north on SR-29 in the Everglades when a pair of Limpkin (Aramus guarauna)caught my eye as they surveyed the canal for Apple Snails. I pulled onto a bridge spanning the waterway and took a few pictures. If the water in the canal beneath me was clean and clear, I wouldn’t have this irrational fear of falling in, but the narrow concrete wall I’m standing on descends down into the water where there is an amassment of garbage and floating plants that reminds me of the trash compactor scene in Star Wars. I think I’d rather fall into that mess than what I’m looking at. At least I’d have a Wookie to save me.

The culvert was packed with garbage-battered Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) and Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes). Although listed as an exotic species, Water Lettuce is considered by some as a native plant, having been documented in Florida as far back as 1765. As the name implies, it looks like a floating lettuce plant. Water Hyacinth was introduced to Florida in 1884 and has been a nuisance in our waterways ever since.

Just about everything that had floated down to this point was jammed into a floating trash heap. A soccer ball, a light bulb, ceiling insulation, various glass, plastic and Styrofoam bottles and cups and a bag of dirty diapers. Adorning the bloated bag of baby waste – several thousand flamingo-pink, exotic apple snail eggs.

Although we have native Florida Apple Snails (Pomacea paludos), a favorite food for Limpkin and Snail Kites, several exotic species including those pictured here, have been introduced through the aquarium trade. Exotics out compete the native species and are a low-grade substitute food source.

So what is wrong with this picture? Everything.

I pledge to myself to help clean up messes like these, prevent waste from getting in our waterways and educate people on stopping the spread of nuisance aquatics. As I return to my vehicle, I notice a cup has escaped through the culvert and is floating down the canal.

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