For the Chronicle
A mucky scene greeted visitors to Hunters Spring in Crystal River on Thursday morning as Duke Energy employees teamed up with One Rake at a Time and Rotary Club of Crystal River volunteers to remove Lyngbya from the river bottom and spring vents.
“More than 100 Duke Energy employees volunteered about 600 person-hours to remove
17 tons of Lyngbya algae,” said Heather Danenhower, senior communications consultant with Duke Energy, after the cleanup was completed.
Those employees were participating as part of the company’s “Duke Energy in Action” initiative. Many are Citrus County residents, but others came from as far as St. Petersburg, Lady Lake and Ocala to participate. The 17 tons of Lyngbya removed beat by 5 tons Duke’s record from its participation in a 2013 Lyngyba cleanup.
Volunteers scooped Lyngbya from the river bottom with rakes and pitchforks, as well as by hand, and plopped it by the pound into kayaks stationed nearby. As the kayaks filled up, they were floated over to large, specially made barges where the Lyngbya was offloaded for its final trip.
Once loaded onto a trailer, the tons of algae were delivered to a drying and composting site, where it will dry before being used as fertilizer at The Path of Citrus County’s farm. The Path is a nonprofit organization which assists homeless or displaced men, women and children. The organization’s 15-acre farm grows seasonal vegetables without pesticides, providing food for Path residents and for sale, as well as a supervised work program.
“They called me up and said they wanted to help,” said Art Jones, leader and founder of One Rake At A Time, of the Duke volunteers. “This labor here is just so invaluable.”
One of the Duke employees wielding a rake was Enrique Latimer, lead environmental professional at Duke’s Mariculture Center — a multispecies mitigation hatchery where various kinds of fish are raised to be released into the wild, including redfish and shrimp.
“Every single pound of Lyngbya that you remove, you’re making progress,” Latimer said.
Lately, Latimer has been raising more than fish in the ponds at the mariculture center — he’s also growing eelgrass, a native aquatic plant that is crowded out by the Lyngbya. Duke is working with the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to arrange to plant the eelgrass in cleared areas of the river.
“We’re still in the permitting process to come out and plant the eelgrass — right now it’s at the Mariculture Center, still in the growing stage in the ponds,” Latimer explained. The eelgrass is grown in material made from coconut husks, which is biodegradable, allowing it to be put in the river with the eelgrass for support as the plants take hold. Both the eelgrass and the coconut husk material are also healthy additions to manatees’ diets.
One Rake At A Time got a little more help on Thursday, too: Jeff Swartz, Duke’s vice president of fossil/hydro operations in Florida and a Citrus County resident, presented the organization with a check for $10,000 on behalf of the Duke Energy Foundation.
While the money will mean a lot to Jones and his efforts, he’s happy to have the extra hands.
“My grandfather always taught me — when I was a little kid, he’d say, ‘Art, without labor, nothing prospers.’ And so the opposite of that is true — with labor, we have prosperity. What a wonderful thing. This labor here is just amazing.”