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Seven Florida Water Bodies Under Threat

published on: August 5, 2021

Floridians rely on clean water, not just to keep our ecosystems healthy but our economy too! Each water body is different. Learn about these seven Florida water bodies, what makes them special, and the threats they face. 

Lake Okeechobee

Fun fact: Lake Okeechobee is huge. It’s about half the size of Rhode Island, making it one of the largest freshwater lakes in the U.S. Okeechobee means “big water” in the Seminole Indian language.

Threat: Prior to extensive draining and ditching of the Everglades, water from Lake Okeechobee flowed south through the river of grass into Florida Bay. Today, this historic flow has been drastically altered and large quantities of freshwater are sent east and west  to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. High levels of pollution and blue-green algae in the lake have led to wildlife and human health concerns along the coasts. 

Indian River Lagoon

Fun fact: The Indian River Lagoon is connected to the Atlantic ocean through five inlets up Florida’s South-Central east coast. Lagoons are known as the cradles of the ocean, serving as a safe place for fish and marine life to spawn, give birth, and raise their young.

Threat: Threats include pollution and loss of wetland and upland habitats. Because of pollution and poor water quality, more than half of the Indian River Lagoon’s seagrass has died. As a main source of food for manatees, the seagrass loss has led to starvation and hundreds of manatee deaths. 

Suwannee River

Fun fact: The Suwannee River is a federally designated wild river that flows from Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico. It  includes 55 springs. 

Threat: Many springs in north Florida are threatened by excess water withdrawals from agriculture and bottled water companies. Corporations pay very little and are able to profit from our precious public water. Reduced freshwater impacts ecosystems and wildlife downstream.

Dune Lakes

Fun fact: Coastal dune lakes are incredibly rare ecosystems. Dune lakes only occur in the Florida Panhandle, Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand, and Oregon. Fresh and saltwater mix through the lakes’ stream-like outfalls that flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

Threat: While many of the lakes and their surrounding habitat are conserved as state parks and forests, unprotected lakes are in high demand for residential and golf course development. Because they are dynamic systems, nearby homes and buildings can be swept into the sea as lake outfall areas shift or swell with heavy rains or the influence of sea level rise. 

Green Swamp

Fun fact: The Green Swamp is one of four statewide Areas of Critical State Concern, vital to protecting resources for Florida’s growing population. The Green Swamp supports the headwaters of the Hillsborough River, a primary drinking water source for the City of Tampa and portions of the metropolitan Tampa Bay region. It forms the headwaters of three other major rivers–the Withlacoochee, Ocklawaha and Peace.

Threat: The Green Swamp is under constant threat of development. The underground Floridan aquifer rises very close to the surface in the Green Swamp; protecting this area means protecting the water supply for all Floridians.


Biscayne Bay

Fun fact: Biscayne Bay is home to Johnson’s seagrass, a federally threatened species found only in southeast Florida. Manatees depend on seagrass as a main source of food.

Threat: Pollution is a major threat to Biscayne Bay. Located along one of Florida’s busiest coasts near Miami, the waterway is polluted by industrial waste, residential fertilizers and wastewater, stormwater runoff, sewage pipe breaks, septic tanks, plastic pollution and other contaminants. 


St. Johns River

Fun fact: The St. Johns River is the longest river in Florida, spanning more than 300 miles. It is also one of the few rivers that flows north.

Threat: In addition to pollution from human and agricultural waste, the St. Johns River is threatened by sediments that wash into the river from stormwater and agricultural runoff. Ending in Jacksonville and serving the Jaxport, the river is an important navigational route that is periodically dredged. This can impact bottom-dwelling organisms and change salinity levels.

Studying and understanding Florida’s different water bodies is the first step in determining the best ways to conserve and protect them. While effective conservation relies on the cooperation and partnerships between government organizations at the state and local levels, their capacity is shaped by the will of our state legislators. Florida Conservation Voters works to communicate important water quality issues with elected officials and offer resources such as our Gems Report so that they can make informed decisions on the fate of Florida’s important natural resources.

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