Since moving to Florida nearly 8 years ago I have been particularly revulsed by the phosphate mining industry and what their relentless destruction of Polk and nearby counties is and has been doing to the quality of the environment. Its a multi million dollar industry in Florida and environmental regulators, more interested in keeping their jobs than defending the earth, regularly look the other way when it comes to permitting new (endlessly new?) phosphate mines. Each is open pit and each is a horrific scar on the landscape. The phosphate industry tells us in their literature that "phosphate mining is only a temporary use of the land" which is true. They "use" the land only temporarily to extract the phosphate but then leave a permanent scar behind them.
There is not much that can be done to reign in the phosphate industry; likely nothing will be done until people start dying from the toxic runoff or when their drinking water is polluted from toxins infliltrating into the water table. However until that begins to happen its still possible to lampoon the phosphate industry and that is what I plan to do in my next novel which I'm working on right now.
Titled "The Phosphate Pupfish" this fictional tale follows J. Christopher Ramsey, Ph,D., a retired US Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist who retires to Sarasota Florida mainly to heckle minor league baseball teams. He also establishes an environmental consulting firm "Parrothead Environmental Investigations" whose sole purpose is to slow down the development that is consuming the paradise that 18 million Floridians moved here to enjoy. He becomes embroiled in a controversy involving the protection of 169 pupfish living in a spring in Hardee County on the JR and Catherine Hayslett County Park and Nature Preserve. Relying on experience gained from 31 years of fighting the bad guys for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Ramsey exposes the crooked dealings of some crooked county commissioners and the honchos in the phosphate industry who own and control them.
You'll have to wait to read the entire book to find out how it ends but until then here is the first chapter to give you a sampling. I plan to write it with both Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey as my guides for irreverance.
By the way, the book is being dedicated to Cathy's dad Randy "in honor of his 80th birthday and his family's fictional pond." Enjoy.
The Phosphate Pupfish
Only one hundred sixty nine of them remained alive. They swam in unison in the crystal clear water of Hayslett’s Pond, a bubbling spring in Hardee County, Florida. They swam slowly from one side of their limestone edged domain to the other and they did so all day long every day of their existence. There was little else for them to do. On the surface, Hayslett’s Pond was only thirty feet wide but below the surface of this Hardee County landscape, the pond spread out like the tentacles of an octopus giving Hayslett’s Pond and the creatures in it an area of about 100 acres they called home. Some of the locals said that Hayslett’s Pond was bottomless but these one hundred sixty nine individual fish knew there was a bottom because they had been there many times.
To the one hundred sixty nine individuals of a fish known as Ponce’s pupfish, all that remained between them and the oblivion of eternal nothingness that comes with extinction was the confines of Hayslett’s Pond. Their existence wasn’t always this precarious. Just 100 years ago there were thousands of them swimming in other spring ponds throughout Hardee and nearby Polk counties. When Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon first traipsed the savannas and live oak forests of central Florida in the early 1500s looking for the Fountain of Youth, this pupfish, named the Spanish explorer, lived almost everywhere there was a spring in the phosphate rich ground that extended north to near Gainesville and south almost to Fort Myers. They used to be everywhere. Now there are only one hundred sixty nine of them and they all lived in Hayslett’s Pond.
Even when Ponce’s pupfish was living in springs that from the surface looked to be isolated from each other, beneath the surface all of the ponds were interconnected. They lived in a pristine environment that was untouched by human beings. Here in this subterranean paradise Ponce’s pupfish evolved one of the most elaborate mating systems of any freshwater fish in Florida in a paradise that was free of almost all predators. It was an environment where they were allowed to just be pupfish.
Things started to change for Ponce’s pupfish one day in 1904 when a steam shovel began ripping central Florida to shreds in its quest for phosphate. The steam shovel could remove only one cubic yard of earth with each bite but that was enough to start the ball rolling against the fish. With considerable determination and the passage of much time, one cubic yard became ten and then ten became 100 and soon 100 eventually became almost the entirety of Polk County. Now much of the phosphate laden portions of central Florida appear from the air to have a pock-marked face like a survivor of severe acne. At least with acne the damage is short-lived and the scars can be removed. With phosphate mining the scars are long-lasting and remain on the earth’s face forever.
When the first freshwater spring was destroyed by the phosphate miners nobody seemed to pay much attention. There were so many other springs and so much phosphate to mine that destroying one little spring didn’t seem to really matter. In the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter. Many years later engineers building four-lane highways across the landscape would say in environmental impact statements that the loss of ten acres of wetlands by highway construction would make no difference because there were hundreds of other acres of wetlands within ten miles of those being lost. At first the engineer’s argument was truthful. Except to the creatures living in the wetlands those ten acres didn’t really matter. And it didn’t really matter when the next ten acres or even 100 acres were lost. There were plenty more where the first ones came from. Losing wetlands didn’t matter. What mattered was making money and there were billions and billions of dollars that could be made by mining phosphate and wetlands and springs and little fish in them didn’t really matter.
The earth it was said would heal from these wounds but after more than 100 years of raping the earth for phosphate, the earth and its creatures were feeling the effects. Now after relentless mining with no concern for how it affected the earth, only one hundred sixty nine individuals of Ponce’s pupfish remained, and they were all in Hayslett’s Pond.