Ruby Lake is a 15 acre man-made lake named after Mr. Stark’s second wife, Ruby Childers Stark. For decades the lake has been a heronry for many species of migratory aquatic birds that nest from late winter to early summer. Alligators, turtles, snakes, fish and a variety of other creatures can also be seen in and around the lake throughout the year.
Unfortunately, in recent times the water quality of Ruby Lake had degraded due to excessive nutrient concentrations and low dissolved oxygen levels, brought on by years of deposited excrement from seasonally nesting birds, repeated algae blooms, and lake stagnation. As a result, aquatic weeds and algae flourished while wildlife populations dwindled.
Efforts to begin restoring water quality began in the spring of 2012. The first step was to address the aggressive growth of non-native aquatic invasive weeds, in particular, duckweed (Lemna minor), that had almost completely covered Ruby Lake. Dye was added to the lake in early spring to suppress the emergence and growth of the duckweed. The results were nothing short of remarkable with a dramatic reduction in duckweed coverage on Ruby Lake in less than two years.
In the Fall of 2014, staff attacked the next challenge, reversing low dissolved oxygen concentrations in Ruby Lake that were reducing aquatic wildlife populations. An aeration system was added to the lake utilizing 20 micro-bubblers connected to 7,700 feet of weighted air hose. Aeration of Ruby Lake was able to significantly raise dissolved oxygen levels in a few short months. With time, staff hopes that continued aeration will encourage naturally occurring bacteria to decompose excess phosphates left from decades of bird excrement. Interestingly, a secondary benefit of aeration noted by staff was the continued suppression of duckweed, mostly likely due to the rapid turnover and movement of water.
Finally, in order to sustain existing and encourage the future return of bird populations to nest at Ruby Lake each year, artificial frameworks were added to the trunks of dead bald cypress trees during the winter of 2014-15 in the form of nesting platforms.
The road to a healthy and balanced aquatic ecosystem is a long one. Even so, by the end of 2015 Ruby Lake was showing positive signs of recovery. Dissolved oxygen content in the lake was within standards acceptable to most aquatic wildlife, invasive aquatic weed populations were dramatically lower, aquatic diversity was noticeably greater, other wildlife populations visiting Ruby Lake had rebounded, and the clarity of water in Ruby Lake was significantly improved.