Catches like this are becoming increasingly rare in Charlotte Harbor. As salinity levels increase in Charlotte Harbor, more and more species of fish move on to find suitable habitats.
Charlotte Harbor is part of the Peace River watershed. At the end of the freshwater flow, the Harbor is dependent on freshwater for its ongoing health and productivity. Flows to the Peace River have fallen dramatically over the years. By mining large tracts of land that provide runoff to the river, we risk further reducing flows, damaging the ecosystem and affecting our own quality of life, economic well-being and food source. It's a big risk.
One way to look at the consequences of further disruption in the ecosystem is to compare the number and type of fish species that were there in the past to those actually there now. According to some studies, some species should be present but aren't. Many ecologists believe that this is due to the reduced water flow to the Peace River.
Another way to look at the fisheries is to compare the upper and lower watershed areas. By comparing healthy (untouched) areas to those that are affected by mining, development and other activities, it's possible to anticipate the consequences of mining. After all, based on the latest information, we know that phosphate strip mining is 10 percent of the land use, but 30 percent of the impacts to the watershed. Obviously, if we expand strip mining, we can expect greater impacts.
Habitats in a river tidal system depend on a salinity gradient. A salinity gradient is the transition area between different salinity levels. If the gradient is altered and water is too salty or not salty enough, the habitat changes, and so will the kinds of creatures it supports.
Absent the right amount of water at the right time, for long enough, Charlotte Harbor will change. If salinity changes beyond a certain range, we know that populations of snook and spotted seatrout, striped mullet and redfish, and other popular species can be affected. These species depend on a specific kind of ecosystem and that system depends on freshwater inflow, which regulates salinity.
Reducing water flows to the river has an effect on the fisheries there and further downstream in Charlotte Harbor. The huge tracts of land scheduled for mining represent millions of gallons of water that will be held back. Those tracts also represent tens of thousands of acres that are forever altered, changing surface and underground water flows. It's a primary risk when phosphate mining is permitted.
We know that there are species missing from the Peace River watershed that should be present. We know that reduced water flows are a contributing factor, and we know that mining will further reduce the flow of water. We can't afford to allow mining without a full understanding of the consequences of the next project and all the projects to come. We need reasonable assurance that our fisheries, wildlife and ecosystems will be protected for now and the future.