August 11, 2008

Spraying the River

By Beverly Fleming

If you have been on the river lately, you may have noticed some plants appear to be dying along the shore south of Shands Bridge.

You are not mistaken.

Water hyacinth and water lettuce in creeks and along the banks north of Riverdale have already been sprayed and Corp of Engineers crews are working their way north in an effort to treat these invasive species in the river and adjacent streams. They will continue until they reach the area just north of the Buckman Bridge.

According to an unidentified worker, they are "trying to keep the population in check and we try to do the best we can with what the scientists have told us." Crews recently launched from the Riverdale ramp as well as the Trout Creek boat ramp.

Many have asked why the plants aren't harvested. According to the most recent information, that may not be the most environmentally- friendly option. Many creatures including blue crab, snakes and other species would be harvested along with the plants. Spraying with selective herbicides especially chosen for the project is supposed to protect the water creatures as well as not harming the eel grass where many of them feed.

But Riverkeeper Neil Armingean said he had serious doubts that the herbicide would only kill hyacinth and water lettuce. "I don't see how that is possible for an herbicide to kill only those two plants," he said.

In the past, some residents along the river, me included, have observed that when the hyacinths did die, the dead plants settled down through the water and formed a brown mass, smothering other smaller plants around them. However, it remains to be seen if this particular event will do the same. Perhaps, since we have had lots of rain and the water is high, the other plants will be better protected.

On a better note, shrimpers are already predicting a prosperous year for those delicious crustaceans, but I am wondering how the spraying will affect their habitat.

The vegetation along the shore is where the little shrimp hide while they are growing up. Last year was one of the best in quite some time. Locals are predicting even better results this year, provided we don't have any hurricanes in the area.

Fishermen have also been having a good season. Several tournaments have been held out of Trout Creek with good results. There have also been several who have fished from the bank in that area who claimed to have good luck. Those at the east end of Shands bridge have also been successful, judging by the number of people fishing there.

Although we are still in the dog days of summer, the season will soon be cooling down in the evenings and that usually makes a change in the kinds of fish we get.

This is a perfect time to take a kid fishing. The boardwalk at Trout Creek Park, the Old Shands Bridge Pier in Orangedale, and the floating dock at the ramp at the end of Palmo Fish Camp Road are just a few areas where you can take a youngster fishing if you do not have other access to the river.Beverly Fleming is a park naturalist with the St. Johns County Recreation and Parks Department. She can be reached at 284-9488.

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