Saturday, July 28, 2018

EUTROPHICATION: A word every Floridian should know

As of today, 28 July 2018, Florida is suffering from at least three different kinds of harmful algae blooms, happening at the same time.

1. We have a blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) bloom filling Lake Okeechobee and spilling out into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. The main species of cyanobacteria in that blue-green bloom is Microcystis aeruginosa, which is toxic to both humans and wildlife.

2. We also have "Florida Red Tide" extending along much of the Gulf Coast of the state. For many months it has been shifting and changing shape, flaring up in one spot or another but never going away. We've seen countless dead fishes of all kinds washed up on beaches from Tampa to Naples, hundreds of dead sea turtles, scores of manatees, and most recently a 7.9 meter long, otherwise-healthy young male Whale Shark whose corpse ended up rolling in the surf off the luxury vacation spot of Sanibel Island.



The organism that causes Florida Red Tide is a type of single-celled algae called a dinoflagellate. It has two whip-like flagella and is covered in protective plates, like some kind of alien sperm. The species name is Karenia brevis, and it makes a toxin called brevitoxin.

3. Finally, we have seaweed (multicellular algae; macroalgae) blooms on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, with unprecedented volumes of stinky red and brown multicellular algae washing up on the beaches. On the Atlantic Coast, most of the seaweed washing up is brown macroalgae in the genus Sargassum. The Sargassum macroalgae bloom is affecting the entire Caribbean this year. On the Gulf Coast the red seaweed washing up on the beaches is a mix of hundreds of different species of macroalgae that normally grow attached to the bottom but easily break loose and drift around with the waves and currents.



What do these nasty algae blooms have in common? They are all examples of EUTROPHICATION.

Eutrophication is the excessive growth of algae or nuisance plants in a body of water.

Eutrophication is usually caused by nutrient enrichment. You can remember that nutrients cause eutrophication because eutrophication rhymes with “nutrification.”

Nutrients are dissolved chemicals like nitrate and phosphate, which all plants and algae need to grow. Nutrients usually occur in small concentrations that favor healthy amounts and type of plants and algae. But excessive nutrients lead to excessive growth of undesirable types of plants and algae.

Most problems we have with eutrophication are man-made problems, because the excessive nutrients come from man-made sources like sewage and fertilizer-laden runoff.

Eutrophic growth of algae is sometimes called an “algal bloom.” Both microscopic algae (known generally as phytoplankton) and macroscopic algae (known generally as seaweed) can “bloom” in response to eutrophication.

Besides excessive nutrients entering the water, another factor that contributes to eutrophication is a lack of the organisms that normally eat the problematic plants and algae. For example, seaweed blooms can be worsened by a lack of seaweed-eating fish, and phytoplankton blooms can be worsened by a lack of filter-feeding shellfish like oysters.

Eutrophication can have a variety of harmful effects. For example:

*Some of the types of algae that increase in response to eutrophication exude toxic chemicals that can kill wildlife and sicken humans. For example, the Karenia brevis red tide and Microcystis aeruginosa blue-green algae mentioned above.

*Even non-toxic algae can kill wildlife in an indirect way. The algae become so abundant that they run out of space and light and start dying off in mass. As the masses of algae decompose, the oxygen levels in the water go down, because the process of decomposition consumes oxygen. When the water is oxygen depleted, organisms that get their oxygen from the water, like fish, die. This phenomenon is called "hypoxia and anoxia" and it is the cause of the infamous "dead zone" in the ocean near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Hypoxia due to eutrophication has also been the cause of many fish kills recently in the Indian River Lagoon on the East Coast of Florida.

*Dense blooms of algae make the water murky green or brown, which reduces the amount of light penetrating the water. This can be fatal for the “good” plants, like seagrasses (not to be confused with seaweeds), that are trying to grow on the bottom underneath. (All plants and algae need light to grow.)

*Even when algal toxin levels are not concentrated enough to kill the aquatic organisms from direct exposure, they can be dangerous for animals higher in the food chain, like big fish, birds, and humans, who eat contaminated seafood. This is because the sea creatures we eat, like fish, clams, and oysters, can concentrate the toxins in their flesh to much higher levels than they were in the water itself. For example, direct exposure to Florida Red Tide waters irritates the eyes and respiratory system of humans, while eating shellfish contaminated with the red tide causes much more serious Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning (NSP).

The best way to prevent eutrophication is to avoid putting nutrients in the water in the first place. If the nutrients are already in the water, then you need to remove them. The best way to remove excess nutrients from the water before they cause eutrophication is to have the water run through lush wetlands, where the “good” wetland plants can suck up the excess nutrients before the water gets into rivers, lakes, or the ocean. The Florida Everglades are a giant wetlands that are great for storing water and filtering out excess nutrients. Unfortunately the man-made water flow in Florida mostly bypasses the Everglades, due to ill-conceived canal and dam projects begun over a century ago. The Everglades are now left dry and unused, while the unfiltered, nutrient-polluted water is ushered straight to the coasts, resulting in major eutrophication effects along the coasts. In addition to the "major plumbing problem" of Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, we have the "death from 1000 paper cuts" eutrophication effect of nutrients leaking out from myriad sources in urban, suburban, and agricultural landscapes. I propose that we address those problems with some emergency regulations.


A Modest Proposal
Whereas almost the entire coastline of Florida, and many of the state’s freshwater lakes and rivers are experiencing harmful algae blooms,
Whereas these algae blooms are causing massive damage to the ecology, economy, and spirit of the state,
Whereas these algae blooms flourish on nutrient-polluted runoff,
And whereas a substantial portion of this nutrient-polluted runoff stems from commercial and residential landscape management practices that serve merely aesthetic purposes,
We propose a moratorium on those non-essential landscape management practices that contribute to nutrient pollution, effective immediately and continuing until such time as the harmful algal blooms have abated.
The moratorium will include:
*The sale and use of fertilizers for all non-agricultural purposes. This shall include fertilizer-weed-killer mixtures.
*The chemical treatment of ponds and canals with herbicides such as Copper Sulfate, because this practice results in the release of nutrients to downstream waters from decomposing plants and algae. (The moratorium should also cover the sale of such chemicals.)
*The clearing, mowing, or poisoning of vegetation within stormwater detention areas or within five feet of the waterline in these areas, because destruction of such vegetation limits the nutrient-filtration and removal abilities of these areas.


What do you think? Would you support that proposal?

68 comments:

Johnny Douglass said...

This is a very concise explanation of what the problem is, why it has happened, and what has to be done to reverse the problem.

Donna Catron said...

I agree 100%. Something has to be done now! Our beautiful waters are dying! Thank you James for this insightful and well written, understandable blog.

Lady Notorious said...

Fantastic post, James. Wonderfully written, full of information, and most importantly, offers a great call to action. I am so impressed, and I agree 100% percent. The amount of marine macrofauna die-off is breaking my heart. :(

Deborah Sutton said...

Great post James! I will share to help get the word out!

Catherine said...

Yes. My answer is YES I would support your proposals and hope they get the attention of Florida voters.

Dr. Lin said...

Yes yes yes!! Please vote! Tell your friends that vote. Tell your neighbors that vote. Tell your family to vote. We have the power. We need to show the will as well.

Unknown said...

Why the exclusion of fertilizers for agricultural purposes? What percentage of nutrient-polluted runoff comes from agriculture and what percentage from commercial and residential landscape management. Can't the amounts of fertilizers used for agricultural purposes be significantly reduced without major effect on production?

Unknown said...

Solutions that aren't BANS on human activity usually work better...

MeliG said...

Great explanation and solution(s)! Thank you and I'm sharing.

Dezi Karcutiepie said...

Well articulated. Thank you for the educational information you provided. It really is time to start making a change. Good luck with your endeavors.

Unknown said...

Thank you, James Douglass, for this article.

Susan Barrett said...

This sounds like a good immediate solution to start the process but is there a time line here? Like until the Everglades are restored or when? I don't think people will go with a total ban of these products unless they know it is a temporary event.

Unknown said...

Clearly written,well researched but most importantly solutions offered.

Ric Skinner said...

I support your proposal. What I don't understand is that if SWFL has a disaster declaration why money isn't being released immediately to bulldoze and clean up the beaches. I live a mile inland of Manasota Beach and yesterday the dead fish stench was enough to prevent going outside.

Unknown said...

I think the title was "modest". Getting control of agricultural use of fertilizers, etc, would be a larger scale project. However, it is very important. The Great Lakes states and Canada did succeed in a major effort to reduce nutrient loading into the Great Lakes. This included a ban on detergents with phosphates, and control of ag runoff to some degree.

Rosty Caryk said...

The Great lakes and Canada has a huge eutrophication problem in Lakes Erie. It resulted in a multi-state and Canada agreement to control runoff, phosphate loading etc. It worked. Unfortunately, there is a relatively new problem in Lake Eire near Toledo, but again, the State of Ohio is working to further control fertilizer runoff to help fix this. If this multi-state and international effort can be done, there is no reason a single state can't do the same thing. You just need politicians willing to pass the legislation in the face of some opposing special interest groups. Represent the people.

Unknown said...

https://captainsforcleanwater.org/take-action/eaa-reservoir/

https://www.bullsugar.org/declaration

check out those 2 sites above and sign the petitions!!!

Leslie said...

Great article, but as much as I think bans would help somewhat, it's more like a band aid on the real problem; Mosaic and their destruction of Florida one county at a time, with their phosphate mining.

Robert Sween said...

Great article but should include agriculture in the center of FL. in the ban.

Unknown said...

this should be something that starts immediately

Unknown said...

Yes, I would indeed support such a proposal. It is something that we all can do, and we can start immediately.......Henry

Unknown said...

Yes! We need to do something immediately! Anything that will help, I would agree to. How do we make this happen?

todd thomas said...

That makes more sense than playing the political name calling game.

Judy said...

Yes, I would support such a proposal.

Judy said...

Yes, I would support such a proposal.

Jason Motz said...

What about adding bioreactors to remove the nitrite and phosphates.... They're efficient and cheap. The water needs to be filtered too. We're never going to stop all the nutrients.

Unknown said...

Great detailed explanation. Whatever it takes to stop this mess to be done asap. Utilize the Everglades and stop the causes of internal pollution, that supports the politicians who are selling u.s. out for their personal benefit.

James Douglass said...

Great comments, guys. In terms of science and management it would be very helpful if we kept better track of how much nutrient pollution came from all the various sources, and made those data easily available to the public and comparable from year to year so we could track our progress in cleaning things up. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation does a "State of the Bay" report that breaks it down every year, but I don't know of anything equivalent for Florida. There's data and reports out there now, but they're a confusing mess, and I can't decipher exactly what percent of the nutrient pollution is coming from agriculture vs. urban areas. I know agricultural sources are a big part of the problem, but the reason I suggested that the immediate ban focus on non-agricultural sources was because I think the drawbacks to urban/suburban landowners of stopping fertilizer use and bad pond management would be relatively minor in comparison with the losses farmers might face if suddenly forced to go totally organic. Also I think that scientists, farmers, and the government are already working in a fairly regulated and rational way to implement nutrient reduction BMPs (best management practices), whereas what homeowners, HOAs, golf courses, and pond and landscape management companies are doing in the urban/suburban environment is currently an unregulated mess with all kinds of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides being splashed around with no rhyme or reason or accountability.

Unknown said...

I agree with every word, including the proposals. As stated by other comments it neglect doing something about agriculture and sewage. If the proposals included those (such as building the already approved cleansing reservoir south of the lake) it would be perfect

Unknown said...

Your solution sounds good, but how and who will enforce it?

Unknown said...

Given that much of the problem stems from the sugar industry I agree; why the exclusion of agriculture?

lugufelo said...

Totally Agreed!

C Masotta said...

I agree that this should absolutely include an effort on the part of agriculture. They are the real problem and they should also be working toward a solution, together, with us and not be left alone to simply proceed with "business as usual".

Unknown said...

I live 5.5 miles from Venice Beach and it was putrid. Really sad.

Pinky's Fingers & Toes said...

Yes! I agree. This is going to take years to correct, they need to act soon!!
I'm 1.5 miles to the gulf and work on the island. My eyes and nose are still burning and I'm in my home!

david lindahl said...

I love the beauty of SWFL landscaping, but we must change our methods of landscaping! These Blooms must STOP!

Christi Layne Hill - Huddleston said...

Totally support!

rigirl60 said...

Yes! I support this moratorium!

Chechako said...

I agree... agriculture should make sacrifices along with everyone else. Usually, corporations that cause environmental damage are required to pay for remediation...should be the same for agriculture, including Big Sugar.

Rick said...

I somehow have the impression that the Everglades was being returned to its former state. Recent events seem to indicate that this has not been done or is not being done fast enough. James your great article does not mention this solution or any of the proposals for greater storage in Lake Okeechobee. Please update us. Thanks.

People should understand that Red Tide has been with us on the West Coast since at least the 1950's and probably can not be totally eradicated/prevented. But the number of occurrences, length of blooms and seriousness of it have increased greatly.

Unknown said...

YES, and thank you

Unknown said...

Yes, I have lived on the bay for 25 years now and will not let anyone use a pesticide, fertilizer, etc. on my lawn! Thank you for the information - you have done a terrific job in enlightening us!

Unknown said...

yes I totally agree!

Unknown said...

This is verry well said thank you soo much for this professional explanation. Verry Clear and overall most precious point you sugest good solutions. Thanks again.

Unknown said...

Did share thank you soo much fr Canada .

Alicia Pritchard said...

Yes

Unknown said...

yes, I defenitely support that proposal

Unknown said...

Yes, I support the proposal.

Todd Dunnican said...

Only 3% of lake water comes from back pumping from the EAA - “Farms to the south” .... that’s like pissing in a swimming pool ... 7 of the top 15 cattle ranches in the US are in the Kissimmee River Basin ... Every Farm, Ranch and Citrus Grove from Polk Co south drains into the Kissimmee River Basin .... 10 massive Dairy farms drain right into the Kissimmeee River Basin .... then there is the storm water drain off from every roof, driveway and street in 1/3 if florida drains into the Kissimmee River Basin .... Sugar Ag is like a sore on a sick hogs ass .... thinking big sugar is the problem is part of the problem

CoachEd said...

Here is thr peer reviewed published science linking green slime slg blooms and red tide blooms https://appprecautionaryprinciple.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/red-tide-blooms-influenced-by-urea-nitrogen-run-off-into-gulf-of-mexico-waters/

Sam Copeland said...

YES, I WOULD ABSOLUTELY SUPPORT THIS RESOLUTION !!!!

Unknown said...

YES, I would fully support your proposal.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this, and thank you everyone else that really cares!!!

Unknown said...

Excellent explanation James. It's all just horrendous! I would support this resolution.

Unknown said...

Yes I would support this. Thank you for your article . Its very informative

Unknown said...

Great article, Re-store wetlands all across the U.S., Pay farmers to restore wetlands instead of draining them.
When poor water quality effects people on a larger basis it will be too late to fix the damage.

Unknown said...

Would definitely support this..great article!!

Carol Jacobus said...

Yes! I would support this proposal. Thanks for the article!

Unknown said...

Yes, I support this common sense solution.
May I share this?

Unknown said...

This needs to be sent to Governor Rick Scott. He has already declared this as a State of emergency. He could get this rolling, IF he cares at all for the people of Florida. It remains to be seen.

Sandy Bruce said...

This video also explains in a easy to understand way.
https://www.facebook.com/evergladestrust/videos/992157914320767/?hc_location=ufi

Melissa Lackey said...

I absolutely would support this proposal. Please respond here and let me know how to help. Thanks

Melissa Lackey said...

James, what is your educational background? Biology? Oceanography? Love that you explain in layman’s terms

Larry Staudt said...

There are fertilizers that don't contain phosphates and nitrates, are there not. In this case, why not ban the bad fertilizers from use by industry also, in particular the sugar industry whose sugar cane growth near the Caloosahatche River is a major source of nutrients?

Sally Leach said...

You have our vote!
Several years ago my husband disconnected the irrigation and stopped fertilzing the property surrounding our home in Pine Ridge Estates.

gal_on_the_deck said...

Rick Scott is part of the problem. He is in bed with Big Sugar and lets them fill the Lake O with their toxic fertilizer spill from their plantation fields. The green type algae is also part of the cause for the red algae because the green algae has been spilling into the ocean via the waterways east and west from Lake O for a long time. Over time these nutrients feed the organism of red tide and have increased the frequency and volume of the red tide. There is alot written about this. So Rick Scott is part of the problem. You need to read more about this - Rick Scott and his relationship with Big Sugar. Best thing you could do for the health of Florida environment is DO NOT VOTE FOR RICK SCOTT FOR SENATOR. You do know that he is now running for a senate position?

Stephanie Eller said...

please add a 4th water problem for the Southwest Florida, Lee County area. I live in the Northern portion, and nearly every Creek and Waterway inland has e-coli fecal bacteria. We have a County government that is approving developer requests to change the land use plans that were put in effect decades ago to prevent this, so Florida as we once knew it, will never be the same again.

Yahtze said...

Thank you for your concise summary of a complicated problem. Several suggestions / comments:
1. Audubon Florida has been researching this problem for some time, coordinate with them and other groups interested in supporting science and finding solutions.

2. Scientific evidence, while sometimes tiresome to read, is important. Here is one study that helps to prove that landbased nutrient run-off does, in fact, support the growth of Red Tide (Kerina Brevis).

3.FL Fish & Wildlife provides a fairly detailed status report of Red Tide incursions:
http://myfwc.com/redtidestatus

4. The Everglades Land Trust has created videos and other documents:
https://www.facebook.com/evergladestrust/videos/992157914320767/?hc_location=ufi
http://www.evergladestrust.org/anybody_but_putnam

5. Investigation: Human waste (sludge) fertilizes farms, but fuels toxic algae blooms
http://www.evergladestrust.org/anybody_but_putnam

6. If you want to create public pressure on political individuals (local, State, Federal) you need to do more than ask for comments. Your solutions require regulations, enforcement. They, in turn, require laws and regulations and enforcement (including of the many that already exist but are not being enforced.) Check with Politico.com and other activist groups (i.e. League of Woman Voters), Sierra Club, etc. how to set up a site that enables people to both join/sign up and, via the site, to automatically send emails to their elected officials.

7. In addition to reducing the cause of Red Tide, etc.proactive measures similar to those used in the Gulf Coast Oil cleanup are needed ... Machines that scoop up red tide organisms, biofilters and absorption materials, booms to keep the blooms off shore, etc. I am also researching the use of Water Hyacinths and other plants that absorb toxins sometimes so efficiently that they can then be harvested and used for fertilizer. Florida needs to stop treating the WH as an invasive plant and utilizing it for toxic cleanups.

Steve Crosby said...

Well written and imformative article.

I live in Matlacha and have seen the fishing decline first hand over the years.
Florida coastal and river waters are in a terrible way. Friends keep sending pictures of thousands of dead fish, sea turtles manatees etc. and all in my backyard. Biggest question is can our eco
system every return to normal?

This has been an ongoing problem even before I arrived in Florida but lately has been getting much worse. There is enough blame to go around for both parties. Governor Rick Scott tried to put the blame on Obama saying Florida needed help from federal government. We do need help from Army Corps of Engineers although that is not the real truth . Now Rick is running against Senator Nelson and has blamed him too for not doing enough while in office..
I guess forgetting he was governor for 8 years with a Republican house. He gutted Florida Water Management and put his friends in office. Along with supporting big business and pro growth, sound familiar?

This is what we end up with following that type of governing philosophy shocking photos of dying wildlife. Trump is doing the exact same thing on a larger scale. I fear for following generations.