Lake Okeechobee was the best it looked in years, until this happened

Paul Gray, of Audubon Florida, lifts up his anchor with strings of dead yellowing eel grass where beds of water lilies once floated above fields of the grass. The murky water is too deep and dark for plants to thrive on Lake Okeechobee. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

 

Paul Gray steeled himself as he took the stick of the airboat and fired up its blades.

“It’s going to be kind of sad because the lake has really been pounded,” he said, before aiming the boat’s stubby bow into the sediment-choked soul of Florida.

Nearly nine months ago, Hurricane Irma raked over Lake Okeechobee, churning up its nutrient-laden guts with 80-mph gusts and turning portions into a molasses-colored broth.

In the wellspring of Everglades life, wading birds still forage, alligators hunt, and scores of bass are caught by happy anglers. Ringed by cumulus clouds that boil up over sun-warmed land, fauna abounds under blue skies in Lake Okeechobee.

RELATED: One tropical system can push Lake Okeechobee over the edge

But it’s what Gray, a lake expert for Audubon Florida, didn’t see in a survey last week that has him concerned.

Where beds of water lilies once floated above fields of emerald eel grass, there is only murky water, too deep and dark for plants to thrive.

“Everyone is asking what happened to the lake, but what happened …” READ the full story at MyPalmBeachPost.com and find out what current lake levels mean about the future of discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. 

A purple gallinule walks over lily pads with its big feet on Lake Okeechobee. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

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