Weekend storm erodes beaches, stresses fish in lagoon
STORY BY JOHN WILLIAM JOHNSON AND EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of October 13, 2011)
Heavy winds and rain this past weekend tore off beach steps, battered the island’s beach and dunes, and flushed the normally brackish water of the Indian River Lagoon with an enormous influx of fresh water.
The storm dumped more than eight inches of rain Saturday – and a total of 11.30 inches in Vero Beach over the weekend.
The rain runoff into the lagoon was a mix of bad things coming together, said Jim Eagan, executive director of the Marine Resource Council. That much fresh water stresses fish, he said. Time will tell what else may be in store for the lagoon, the county’s unique resource because of its beauty and all it offers for boaters, fisherman and people interested in ecology and wildlife.
Eagan is of the opinion that the massive runoff may also increase the on-going problem of algae blooms, although not everyone agrees. St. John River Water Management District spokesman Hank Largin took a different view. He said the rush of fresh water into the lagoon would decrease salinity and reduce the likelihood of algae blooms.
Eagan said if the types of algae that produce toxins reach high concentrations, they can harm the lagoon’s ecosystem by causing declines in dissolved oxygen, in underwater plant growth and in fish populations.
To prevent more nutrient rich runoff, Eagan said property owners with direct runoff into the lagoon should let standing water stand – but not for more than three days because of the threat of mosquitoes breeding in the standing water.
Barrier island dunes, replenished over the years to try and prevent and control erosion and destruction to coastal property, took a beating over the weekend, according to James Gray, the county’s coastal engineer.
“There was moderate dune and beach erosion,” said Gray.
Bob Solari, the county commission chairman, said the storm surge and strong waves exposed about a foot of the concrete pilings along the boardwalk area south of Jaycee Park in just a two-hour period Sunday afternoon into early evening.
The wind and ocean were so strong that even surfers were chased away.
The storm also produced an off-shore sand bar that engineers like Gray are hopeful will be pushed back to the beach. Vero’s beaches have taken a bit of a lashing since summer considering no named storms directly hit the area.
When Hurricane Irene marched up the coast in late August, it churned up the beach pulling large amounts of sand in some spots and depositing it into others. About a 10th of the sea turtle nests were destroyed in that storm.
Over Labor Day weekend, heavy surf left the beach in the northern part of the county, including at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, with drops of about 8 to 10 feet from the dune line to the beach.
Disney recently knocked down a portion of the escarpment in an effort to make the beach more level, but after the weekend’s storm, the high walls of sand are back.
“Disney is an acute hotspot,” Gray said.