By Spence Guerin and Fred Markham
The FLORIDA TODAY article of May 5, 2013, "A lagoon in collapse? Something is happening in the Indian River Lagoon" has some serious shortcomings, to the point of obscuring the underlying causes of the problem. In particular, the article prominently and inaccurately states "nobody knows why," suggesting that the root causes of the Indian River Lagoon's environmental collapse are unknown.
Instead of citing detailed technical evidence from expert sources, the paper takes the folksy, touchy-feely approach of including comments from concerned citizens, as in:
“Right now, nobody has any clue what’s wrong,” said Mike Badarack, who runs flats-fishing charters in the lagoon. “Just everything’s dying.” Now, Mike Badarack has every reason to be concerned - his very livelihood is at stake. But FLORIDA TODAY misinforms the public when it includes Mr. Badarack's comment that "nobody has any clue what's wrong" without also including that scientific evidence points directly to the real root causes of the problem. While it is entirely appropriate to empathize with the crabbers and fishermen who take their living from the lagoon, it is entirely inappropriate to let that empathy obscure the facts of what is causing the failure. In fact, the root causes of the environmental collapse of the Indian River Lagoon are known, and it is hard to understand why FLORIDA TODAY would not include them in such an article. Unfortunately, the article was written without interviewing any of a number of knowledgeable environmental scientists who can and will speak freely about the collapse of the Indian River Lagoon -- scientists who know exactly what is causing the lagoon's collapse.
For example, Marine Resources Council Executive Director Dr. Leesa Souto, whose PhD focused on the bad effects of nutrients (fertilizers) in estuary waters, was not interviewed for the article. Nor was Dr. Diane Barile, the founding director of Marine Resources Council. These people have a deep understanding of the problem, backed by significant research and data, and no article about the Indian River lagoon's failure can be complete without including input from these experts or numerous others who study the problems in Florida's coastal waters including Indian River Lagoon.
Another important facet of the problem is the commercially motivated politics that prevents Tallahassee from reining in the pollution that is one of the chief root causes of the lagoon's pending collapse. For example, the Florida Today report could have included information that Florida Representative Steve Crisafulli, Republican, Merritt Island, has attempted to have legislation passed that would prohibit local governments from enacting local ordinances to prevent fertilizer run-off into the lagoon, when that runoff is known to be a primary cause of the algae blooms that contribute to further lagoon degradation. By not including the fact that such political pandering to commercial interests is an underlying factor in the problem, the Florida Today is seriously misinforming the public.
In this article, the editors of FLORIDA TODAY have failed to provide the 'critical press' required of an informed citizenry.