Kings Bay in Crystal River was once a brilliant sparkling gem — the pride of Citrus County's portion of the Nature Coast, legendary for its springs and water clarity. An amazing assortment of underwater and shoreline vegetation made Kings Bay, and its surrounding area, home. Manatees, bald eagles, ospreys, and otters, porpoises, bass, tarpon, ducks, pelicans and on and on shared the bay with canoes, kayaks and other watercraft.
The pristine quality of Kings Bay has been hijacked, and is now but a nostalgic memory for the local old timers. The culprits in this kidnapping case are alien invaders of the vegetative kind that grew too profusely — aided by accomplices, fertilizer nutrients and wastewater effluent along with dredge-and-fill activities starting in the 1950s. They have all contributed to the decline in the bay's water clarity.
When the plant growth went wild with extra nutrients, they clogged the area like someone's clogged artery. Enter the herbicides and mechanical harvesters used to get rid of the invaders. Unfortunately, they killed off native plants, too, until all that was left was lyngbya algae and its relatives.
There is ample evidence that utilization of natural deterrents would effect a positive change. Water lettuce and water hyacinths are known to eat the nutrients that lyngbya and other algae thrive on. The evidence of this comes from studies from other countries with similar problems. Research studies documented that water lettuce and water hyacinths are successful competitors for the food these algae thrive on.
As an extra benefit, water lettuce and water hyacinths gather up all the detritus (that's all the floating junk in the water stirred up from the bottom decayed junk). They trap it in their roots like the filter on your air conditioning system, and hold it until they get eaten or float down the Crystal River and out to die in the Gulf of Mexico somewhere.
This clearer water minus large amounts of algae should allow hydrilla or the newest rooted species in Kings Bay, Eurasian milfoil, (that exists because the water is getting saltier) to emerge again. It will branch up toward sunlight, allowing the roots of the water lettuce and water hyacinths to catch hold and grow out over them in the water, shading them to a point that they can't survive.
The beauty of the entire cycle is that the lettuce and hyacinths finally get harvested by manatees or drift out into the gulf and act as food to other creatures out there. They won't clog up the waters. Mother Nature sure has a way of creating a balance when allowed to do her work.
If some of the lagoons or canals in Crystal River start growing too much of the water hyacinth and water lettuce, the county can dispatch a contract harvester to gather up the excess plants. But I'll bet the manatees eat them up first.
At this point, I must add that the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will not allow us to possess a single piece of water hyacinth and water lettuce. To get started, we must change their minds, convincing them to give it a chance to work and to see it will do no harm to Kings Bay — and all at no cost!
Wouldn't it be nice to stand in the deep water and see your feet once more? Granted, this is not a quick fix and it will take a few years to get the cycle even started. Sadly, I don't think we will ever get back to what we once had, but we can certainly start reversing things. Slowing boats that stir up the bottom during the growing season could help, too.
The campaign can begin now. We need to civilly and persistently petition the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Citrus County Commission and the city of Crystal River to cooperate and allow water hycinth and water lettuce to exist in Kings Bay.
Helen Spivey is a former Crystal River City Council member, state representative and member of the original Southwest Florida Water Management District surface water improvement and management team (SWIM) for Crystal River.