Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Pros and Cons of Aquatic Weed Spraying

I recently weighed in on the contentious issue of herbicide spraying in Florida’s waterways. The issue was highlighted in a social media post by central Florida pastor and bass fishing guide Scott Wilson. The post summarized Wilson’s years of observations of the relationship between aquatic weed spraying, water clarity, and harmful algae blooms in central Florida lakes, including Lake Okeechobee. Most of the spraying in that area is done by contractors under the direction of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Wilson noted that the weed spraying had increased over the years, becoming pervasive, and that the more the weeds were sprayed, the more water quality and clarity declined. I read Wilson’s post and commented on it because it resonated strongly with my own concerns about the underappreciated roles of aquatic vegetation in absorbing nutrient pollution and preventing algae blooms. I commented on and shared the post. Wilson then contacted me and hooked me up with nature documentarian Jim Abernethy and his crew. They were seeking scientific perspectives on the issue, and I was happy to contribute my thoughts with an interview on campus at FGCU, where I work as an associate professor in the department of marine and ecological sciences. Abernethy’s documentary is not out yet, but parts of my interview have been aired on a West Palm Beach television news station.

I’m pleased with how the news story came out, although I will admit to some nervousness about publically opining on the complex issues behind Florida’s water problems. I knew that by glossing over some of the nuanced pros and cons of spraying I might raise hackles among my colleagues in the fields of environmental science and management. I was confident that my core message was sound, but I was prepared to receive feedback and to edit or clarify the message if I learned important new information about the issue. Since the interview aired I have had some interesting and helpful conversations with a science colleague at the FWC, and with Dr. Jason Ferrell, director the University of Florida IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Both my FWC pal and Dr. Ferrell validated the basic ecological concern that I had shared on TV- that excessive spraying could release nutrients from decaying plant matter, fueling algae blooms. However, they added that there could also be negative ecological consequences of failing to control invasive aquatic plants, particularly floating aquatic plants like water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes) and water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes). In some situations, they said, spraying was the lesser evil. We also discussed other things, like balancing multiple ecological goals in management. In the rest of this post I will explain some of the issues involved in aquatic ecosystems management in a way that I hope will help reconcile weed control and algae bloom concerns.

Two, general goals of ecosystem management are:

1. The BIODIVERSITY goal: To protect native species, eliminate non-native species, and keep habitats in their historic, natural states.

2. The ECOSYSTEM FUNCTION goal: To ensure that the managed ecosystem is able to do what it needs to do, including providing services like food production, water purification, erosion prevention, flood control, and processing of chemicals.

Sometimes these two goals are complementary. For example, we have learned that diverse ecosystems (those with a variety of different species) usually function better than ecosystems that have a reduced number of species. This demonstrated link between biodiversity and the functionality of ecosystems is now one of the main justifications for protecting species from going extinct. Things get complicated when considering the effects of non-native species, though, and that’s where the two ecosystem management goals are often at odds. From the ecosystem function perspective, it doesn’t matter if a species is native or invasive as long as it contributes to a desired function of the environment. Some non-native species contribute quite a bit. However, non-native species run amok can eliminate multiple native species, reducing overall diversity and ecosystem functioning, or changing the types of ecosystem functioning performed.

Early in the history of ecosystem management we emphasized the ecosystem function goal, at the expense of native biodiversity. We intentionally introduced non-native species as crops, farm animals, game animals, decorative plants, and plants intended for windbreaks or erosion control. Some of these species introductions served us well, but many others caused problems, and native species declined. Thus, our priorities shifted to protecting native ecosystems from the invaders and other threats. This led to the classic, “protect and preserve,” type of ecosystem management, where we set aside certain areas like National Parks to keep as pristine as possible, with only native species allowed. In this mode of thinking, areas already modified by humans and non-native species were less valued and received less attention. But some ecosystem managers are realizing that protecting only the pristine areas, while the rest of the landscape goes to heck, will not be enough to provide the ecosystem functions that humans and other species need to survive. Attention is turning again to what can be done with the already-modified-and-messed-up areas that humans inhabit. In some cases, relaxing our crusade against non-native species might lead to improved ecosystem functioning.

That brings us to Florida’s issues with non-native species. For various reasons including subtropical climate, man-made damage to ecosystems (which creates opportunities for invaders), and a history of species introductions by foolish humans, Florida now has TONS of invasive plant and animal species. Florida’s universities and state agencies keep good track of the invaders and have useful field guides online, so I won’t waste space here describing each non-native species. I will say that the problem of non-native invaders is particularly apparent with aquatic plants. The non-natives that cause the most trouble seem to be the ones that have lifestyles and structures very different from any of the natives. Their differences allow them to exploit what we call “empty niches” in the ecosystem. For example, Florida originally didn’t have any big plants that were free-floating on the surface of the water. All it had in the way of free-floating plants was tiny stuff like duckweed, until it was invaded by water hyacinth and water lettuce. Those “big floaters” spread to fill whole rivers and lakes, shading out other plants, dying and mucking up the bottom, clogging navigation and drainage canals, etc. Dr. Ferrell and my FWC pal both cited an ill-fated 1980s moratorium on weed spraying in Lake Okeechobee as a reason to keep suppressing the hyacinths with herbicide. (Spraying Moratorium case study) In addition to the big floaters, another disruptive, non-native aquatic plant is Hydrilla verticillata. Hydrilla roots to the bottom, but its bushy stalks quickly grow to drape along the surface, and it can have some of the same negative impacts as the floaters. However, by absorbing nutrients from the water and creating hiding places for algae-eating plankton, Hydrilla can transform algae and nutrient-filled lakes into clear but weed-filled lakes, for better or worse. Hydrilla may also increase populations of fish and invertebrates, so some fishermen don’t mind it.

Anyway, the primary stated goal of herbicide spraying by Florida ecosystem managers is to protect native biodiversity by keeping the non-natives at bay. (Goal #1.) It’s a noble goal. Some good scientists like Dr. Ferrell at UF have been working for a long time to find efficient ways to accomplish that goal with minimum side effects. But nature is big, complicated, and constantly changing, and even our best tool for understanding it (science) isn’t perfect. As my FGCU colleague Dr. Darren Rumbold said recently, “We need to continuously re-evaluate what constitutes best management practices [for the environment]”. I think we also need to be realistic about how well or how poorly our idealized practices are being implemented. There are many links in the chain from science to policy and practice, and good intentions can go off track. In practice, herbicide spraying may miss the ecological optimum. Here are five ways I think that could be happening in Florida:

1. The state’s process for deciding what, where, when, how much, and how often to spray involves public stakeholders, as well as the scientists and managers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can easily go bad. It introduces management goals that benefit neither biodiversity nor ecosystem function. For example, stakeholders might say, “Make the weeds go away so they don’t tickle our feet while we’re waterskiing,” “Make the weeds go away because our tenants don’t like to look at them,” “Make the weeds go away because we’re afraid snakes and bugs could be hiding in them,” “Make the weeds go away because our aesthetic preference is for a simple and tidy looking landscape,” “Keep spraying because our boat drivers need the work,” or “Keep spraying so we can continue to sell you mega-gallons of our company’s herbicide.” Depending on how much pressure the stakeholders exert, and how much resistance the managers are willing or able to give, the actual weed-spraying plan could be far removed from the science-based optimum. Florida’s current political leaders tend to give science and environmental concerns low weight in many decision-making processes. Given the underfunding and understaffing of Florida environmental management agencies, the inexpensiveness of spraying relative to other forms of plant management may be another factor leading to over spraying.

2. There is a tendency for aquatic herbicide spraying to be used as a cosmetic “solution” without addressing underlying environmental problems that may have contributed to the growth of the undesired vegetation in the first place. Instead of fixing water quality, water levels, and water flow in ways that will foster the desired aquatic plants, we force the ecosystem to look right by spraying anything we don’t like. Cycles of weed spraying, the dead weeds releasing nutrients, and the nutrients fueling growth of new weeds or algae, could contribute to an unsustainable “death spiral” of declining water quality. I think the best example of weed spraying as a superficial cover-up is the strange practice of poisoning NATIVE plants like cattails and reeds in areas where they have displaced other plants because of high nutrient levels. Picking off a scab doesn’t make a wound go away, nor does killing cattails make a nutrient pollution problem go away. In fact, both those things make the underlying problem (wound / pollution) worse.

3. In the process of balancing the biodiversity goal and the ecosystem functioning goal, I think managers in Florida have often failed to give sufficient weight to ecosystem functioning. Some key ecosystem functions of aquatic plants are: controlling runoff and erosion, providing food and habitat for wildlife, sequestering and processing nutrient pollution, and inhibiting harmful algal growth through multiple mechanisms. Ideally you’d have native plants doing all those things, but I think having non-native plants perform the functions is better than having a dysfunctional system with few plants at all. One reason I think the current weed-spraying paradigm may underweight ecosystem functions is because the benefits of those ecosystem functions are largely felt “downstream” of the area managed; out of sight, out of mind. For example, a decision to spray weeds in a Lake near Orlando might lead to a nutrient pulse running down the Kissimmee River, contributing to algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee, seeding further algae blooms as Lake Okeechobee is purged into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers, and even contributing to seaweed blooms in the estuaries and red tides along the coast. Of course, that nutrient pulse would largely be absorbed and its effects attenuated along that journey, but the same process repeated thousands of times in thousands of lakes and wetlands over the years could make quite an impact. I don’t think we’re accounting for that properly.

4. The balance point between the “biodiversity” and “ecosystem functioning” goals of ecosystem management also depends on whether you’re in a relatively “intact” environment, or in a heavily human-modified environment like Southwest Florida. In the nearly-intact environment there are enough native species to take care of the ecosystem functions when small patches of non-natives are removed. But in the messed up environment, non-native species may provide a large share of whatever ecosystem functioning is left. Getting rid of them could significantly degrade functionality, unless you were simultaneously doing a major restoration of the native species and environmental conditions, which isn’t always feasible. In heavily modified environments we should be pragmatic about accounting for the functions of native and non-native species alike, rather than having a simple zero tolerance policy on non-natives.

5. Florida’s philosophies, laws, and practices regarding aquatic weeds are developed at state agencies and public universities, and are applied most directly to wetlands, lakes, and rivers on publically-managed lands. The process is not perfect, but at least there is a system and some accountability. For example, the amounts and types of herbicides that the state uses in each body of water are recorded in publically available reports. However, 71% of Florida is private land, including ever-increasing amounts of urban and suburban development. What happens on private land is subject to regulations, but only barely, it seems. Nobody has a good handle on who is spraying what on private lands, why they’re spraying, how much they’re spraying, etc. This is a big problem, because we absolutely depend on the ecosystem functions of private land. Lee County alone has something like 8000 “wet detention ponds,” largely on private lands. These are small, artificial lakes, which are created to catch runoff and restore some of the surface water storage and purification functions lost when forests and wetlands are destroyed by development. The ponds are better than nothing but they generally don’t function as well as real wetlands. That’s in part because “Lake Management” contractors poison them like crazy with endless cocktails of herbicides and algicides, and property managers mow and poison away almost all the vegetation around their perimeters, leaving only close-cropped, heavily fertilized lawn grass surrounding a pickled stew of nutrients, microbes, and residual poison. Neither the “native biodiversity” goal nor the “ecosystem functioning” goal seem to get much consideration in how these water bodies are managed. We do have toothless “guidelines” for private pond management, but they’re no substitute for well-enforced regulations. For example, many local governments have a guideline for preserving a 10’ “riparian buffer” (no-mow area with wetland vegetation) around the edge of ponds and waterways. But the vast majority of ponds that I see are mowed right down to the edge, or nearly to the edge. Why do we persist in “whacking” and “nuking” our privately managed waterways? I think it’s: A) Because the weedless, manicured look is what property owners want and ask for; they don’t know or don’t care that it’s bad for the environment. B) Because herbicide is the cheapest way for landscape and lake management contractors to provide that look. And C) Because laws and regulations are too weak or too weakly enforced to stop them from doing it. We can address “A” with education and advocacy, but we need better laws and enforcement to address “B” and “C”.

Ok. This post has ended up a lot longer than I originally intended, so it’s probably best that I wrap it up with a nice “take home message.” The message is- weeds can do a lot for us, less can be more when it comes to mowing and spraying, and even-non-native plant species can be better than nothing. So if you see aquatic plant management that looks out-of-whack, learn about it, voice your concerns about it, and work to change it if necessary.

PS- I also wanted to share this series of slides that I made to demonstrate the problem of repeatedly chemically treating ponds to maintain a “neat” aesthetic.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Edisto Island Windsurfing & New Surfski

I started the summer of 2018 with a trip to my folks' beach house in Edisto Island, South Carolina, and I'm pleased to be ending my summer with another Edisto trip. This time it's extra special because my sister and nieces are here, along with my science and nature loving aunt and uncle.

I arrived here Sunday with my minivan loaded with water toys: my windsurf stuff, plus a new surfski kayak. The surfski kayak is a Stellar SR, 584 cm long x 48 cm wide. It replaces a 640 x 43 cm Epic v12 surfski that I decided was too advanced for me and not shaped right for my bum. The Stellar SR is a bit slower in flat water, but faster (for me) in rough water by virtue of I'm not wobbling and capsizing it all the time.

I've found the Stellar SR really enjoyable to paddle in the choppy Atlantic ocean here. Today I convinced my dad to drop me off on the other side of the island so I could paddle out into the ocean with the ebb tide current pushing me, then turn and paddle downwind with the swells to the beach in front of our house. It worked really well and I was able to get the fastest average speed I've ever gotten for a paddling session of any kind. Woo hoo!

After paddling I played on the beach with my nieces for a while, then swapped out the surfski for my windsurf. A 6.8 sail and 106 liter Exocet Cross with a 32 cm MUFin NoSpin fin were perfect for blasting around in the steady 15+ kt conditions. The track below is from a similar session on the same gear on Monday night.

I'm not going to want to go back to work after this.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Exile's Throne: Final book in Rhonda Mason's Empress Game Trilogy

My wife Rhonda Mason is a writer. She has published a romance novel with a small publishing house under the name "Katherine Ivy," and more recently she has published a Science Fiction trilogy with the major publisher Titan Books. She completed the third installment in the trilogy just this year, and it's now in print! I haven't read it yet, but I expect "Exile's Throne" to be even better than "The Empress Game," and "Cloak of War," which preceded it. I know what I'll be doing on my end-of-summer vacation in South Carolina next week!

If you want to read Rhonda's books, you can find them at Barnes and Noble or on Amazon.

PS- Rhonda is currently working on a new project in a new genre, but it's top-secret for now.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Dr. Damien Lin's Lee County Republican Primary Eco-Voting Guide

This was written by my paddleboarding friend, veterinarian Dr. Damien Lin

As a follow-up to James Douglass’s voting guide for the Democratic primary in Lee County, I am following up with a Republican primary voting guide. The main issue guiding my opinions is local water quality. Environmental protection becomes the larger umbrella from which to address our catastrophic coastal water problems. I am a registered Republican. I have been for over 30 years. The reason I am a Republican is that I want to be able to participate in local elections at the county and city level. Being that the Republican party is the dominant political party here, almost all local elections are decided in the primaries. Since our primaries are closed I need to remain a Republican.

The only race in the Republican Primary where there is a discernible difference between candidates is at the Governor level. Ron DeSantis has not taken any money from big sugar. The organization Bull Sugar does not endorse DeSantis. They do list him as a better alternative to his opponent Adam Putnam.

In the general election it is my intention to support the Democrats running for office at every level. This party has clearly shown more intent to protect our environment. The Republican party at a local and state wide level has consistently shown efforts to eviscerate any sensible regulations to repair the water situation.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Lee County Democratic Primary 2018- Eco-focused voting guide

Note 1: This is not a journalistic quality ballot guide. It’s more of a stream-of-consciousness look at what my pre-voting thought process was. (I voted early, by mail. If you're not voting by mail, the actual voting day is August 28th.)

Note 2: A sample ballot, including options for both the democratic and the republican primary, can be found here:

Note 3: I'm posting this in installments so I can get it online faster. The first installment is about the candidates for governor, then I 'll add the other stuff asap.

Candidates for Governor: Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene, Chris King, Phillip Levine, Alex “Lundy” Lundmark, John Wetherbee

Picking a gubernatorial candidate took longest of all my decisions on this ballot. I tried to base on it on who I thought would be the best “antidote” to the Big Development / Big Sugar / Big Oil / Big Pharma corruption that I think plagues Florida politics. But a competing thought was, “which one of these candidates has the political savvy and resources to win the general election?” That second thought made it easy to rule out “Lundy” Lundmark, who doesn’t even have a campaign website. John Wetherbee is the other “amateur” contender- a slightly awkward engineer with no prior political experience. However, he at least has a nice website, where he comes across as having genuine good intentions and thoughtful stances on Florida issues. I ruled him out only because he didn’t quite seem in “fighting shape” for winning the general election.

Two of the remaining candidates are millionaire businessmen from Miami: Chris King and Phillip Levine. Levine is also the current mayor of Miami Beach, and seems to be doing a pretty good job addressing climate change and sea level rise and such in his vulnerable city. Chris King is to the left of Levine politically, and was the first of the gubernatorial candidates to refuse to take any money from the Big Sugar lobby. (The other candidates followed suit, though it was too late for Gwen Graham who had already taken money from Big Sugar [but promised to give the money to a good environmental organization].) Chris King is relatively young (just 39 years old), handsome, and Harvard-educated. I was a little uncomfortable to read that he made his fortune largely in real estate development, because I associate that with cutting down the forests and creating more suburban sprawl. But apparently he does the kind of "redevelopment" within cities that doesn’t destroy nature, so that's good. There was some bad press about Chris King offending farmers when he was speaking strongly about the harmful effects of sugarcane farming in the Everglades Agricultural Area. However, at the democratic gubernatorial debate at FGCU he was careful to articulate his concern for and plans to bring economic benefits to the people around the EAA as it’s converted more from farmland to water storage and filter-wetland areas. I dug that, and decided I favor King over Levine.

One of the candidates, Jeff Greene, is a billionaire from Palm Beach. You know who else is a billionaire from Palm Beach? Donald Trump. Greene is positioning himself like he’s the only one big and strong enough to take on Trump, like we better vote for King Kong to fight off Godzilla. To be honest, I didn’t even look that much into Jeff Greene. The Palm Beach Billionaire thing just turned me off, especially with him barging into the race at the last minute and throwing more money at ads and stuff than anyone else. Too much hubris, not enough humility and humanity. Also, he used to be a republican, and might secretly still be. No thanks.

Gwen Graham is the most politically experienced and accomplished of the candidates, having been a US Senator. That also means that she has a big voting record we can review to see how environmental she is. She got 89% and 69% scores from the League of Conservation Voters for her votes in 2015 and 2016. For reference, Bill Nelson got 100% and 84%, respectively, for those years, and Marco Rubio got 6% and 0% (FAIL!). So Graham is obviously way better on the environment than Marco Rubio. However, there is the sketchy business about her taking Big Sugar campaign contributions, and there’s some more sketchy business about her family financial ties to a mega mall development proposed for a wetland area on the edge of the everglades. She has been dodgy in her comments about that. For that reason, I’ve ruled out Gwen Graham for the primary, although she's obviously still much greener than the republican competition, so I'll wholeheartedly support her if she is the one who wins the democratic primary.

The only candidate among the five serious contenders who is not a millionaire is Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee. Gillum seems to be a very active and popular mayor, pushing lots of programs to improve all aspects of the community, from law enforcement to early-childhood education. His statements on the environment seem to be “correct” but fairly standard- he believes the scientists on climate change and sea level rise, he will address Florida’s water management and algae bloom problems, etc. Some of the info we have on Gillum’s environmental views is from his criticisms of Gwen Graham, who I think he sees as his #1 opponent in the primary. E.g., he criticized her “yes” vote on the Keystone XL US-Canada oil pipeline deal. Something that might come up if Gillum makes it to the general election is racial and religious prejudice. That’s because Gillum is black, and his main campaign donor is a Jewish billionaire holocaust survivor named George Soros, who right-wing conspiracy theorists have been trained to view as some kind of godfather of evil. I thought for a little while, “Maybe I shouldn’t vote for Gillum, because his republican opposition will surely capitalize on the racist and anti-Semitic fears of some of their base to tear him apart with ugly, Trump-style campaign rally tactics.” But then I realized that if I went down that path of thinking, the racists and right-wing conspiracy theorists would have already won. Also, the more I thought about Gillum and his campaign, the more I decided he offered something really unique and important. That was coming from the lower class (son of a construction worker and a bus driver), attending public schools and universities in our state, and working for years in un-glamorous local government roles where the emphasis is on actually handling problems and bringing the community together. Gillum’s progressive policies, like support for Bernie Sanders style medicare-for-all healthcare, seem to fit with an overall theme of making sure everybody in the state, not just millionaires and billionaires, can have a good life. I voted for Gillum.

Candidates for Attorney General: Sean Shaw, Ryan Torrens

Attorney General is a really important office for Florida. Our current one Pam Bondi is awful on environmental and social justice issues, and has made some nakedly partisan rulings, like protecting Trump’s scam “Trump University” when it stole money from a bunch of poor, duped people. Sean Shaw seems to be the most ethical of this pair, with Ryan Torrens already having gotten himself into trouble for breaking campaign finance laws. I voted Sean Shaw. Shaw is very experienced and endorsed by respectable non-partisan organizations like the Tampa Bay Times newspaper.

Candidates for Commissioner of Agriculture: Nicole “Nikki” Fried, Jeffrey Duane Porter, Roy David Walker

Roy Walker is the only scientist and environmentalist in the bunch. He got my vote easily.

Candidates for US House of Representatives, FL Congressional District 19: David Holden, Todd James Truax

David Holden is the stronger candidate in this pair, with a fancy Harvard education, well-funded and well-organized campaign, and good environmental and social justice values. I’ve seen him and his family campaigning at all the local environmental meetings and stuff I’ve been to lately, so the issue is obviously on his radar, and he’s working hard to get the green vote. The only thing that gave me some pause about Holden is that he’s a millionaire who made his fortune working for the corrupt bank Wells Fargo. That doesn’t mean that Holden was personally responsible for Wells Fargo’s corruption, but still, it’s a thing. In comparison, Todd Truax is much less funded, less organized, and less environmentally focused, but seems to be strongly ethically motivated by senior issues and healthcare issues, which I admire. He talks about getting out the “grey” vote as opposed to strictly the blue or red vote, and I reckon that could work well in this area. I actually voted for Truax, although my trusted Sierra Club president friend told me later that Holden is really best bet for beating horribly anti-environment GOP candidate Francis Rooney the general election. Probably Holden will win the primary, and I’ll vote for him in the general election without reservations.

Florida State Representative District 76: Neilson Croll Ayers, David Bogner

I liked David Bogner because my friend shared his page on facebook and he seemed to be deeply concerned about our state’s algae bloom problems. In contrast, I couldn’t find ANYTHING online about the other guy. So I voted for Bogner. Later, though, I heard that Bogner is a swell guy, but terrible at public speaking and likely to have trouble against slick republican incumbent Ray Rodrigues in the general election. My trusted Sierra Club president friend said I probably should have voted for Ayers. Oh, well. Maybe Bogner will rise to the occasion and find the strong voice to challenge Rodriguez before the general election.

This next batch were nonpartisan races that can be on the democratic primary ballot as well as the republican primary ballot, depending on where you are in the county. I only commented on the ones that were on my ballot for Bonita Springs.

Candidates for Circuit Judge 20th Judicial Circuit Group 8: James Wesley Chandler, John Owen McGowan

I voted for Chandler, but I now I can’t remember why.

Candidates for County Judge Group 7: Maria E. Gonzalez, David McElrath

Gonzalez is a lot better organized with more of a web presence, and seems to be active and involved in the community and kids and young people’s issues in particular. I voted for her.

Candidates for School Board Member District 6: Nicholas Alexander, Lori Fayhee, Betsy Vaughn, Karen Putnam Watson

Betsy Vaughn really seemed to be very qualified, organized, and “on it,” with an active campaign including personal engagement on social media. She was a highschool teacher for decades before getting into politics. She seems to have a strong motivation to provide equal educational opportunities for all, including poor and minority students, and special needs students. I voted for her.

City of Bonita Springs Proposed Charter Amendment on term limits:

I voted yes on this amendment to have a limit of two, four-year terms on positions in the Bonita Springs mayor and city council, with no exceptions for discontinuous terms. I know term limits are a two-edged sword. Y’all can make your own decisions about this.

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.

UPDATE 11 Sept 2018- I added a description of two more types of algae bloom that have been in the news lately, both called "brown tide," yet very different from each other.

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?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Race Report: 2018 CGT Summer Race 1

Startline action.

Race: The first race in the 2018 CGT Summer Series.

Date it happened: 24 June 2018

Host: CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, which you can become a groupie of by joining the CGT Tribe facebook page. This particular race was also associated with an ECS Boards demo event, with ECS vendors Travis Kindt and Leisa Kilbreth.

Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.

Course / Distance: For this series there are two courses: a short one that goes downriver to a buoy and back (2.9 km), and a longer one that goes downriver to the US 41 bridge and back (6.5 km). The hosts had originally planned to make the long race in this series be a double lap of the short course, but the participants torpedoed that, mainly because a lot of us are paddling long kayaks and outrigger canoes that can't turn around in the narrow part of the river.

Conditions: Aside from intense, mid-summer heat, conditions were good for a fast race. The wind was light, and the tide was high and flowing upriver at 0.45 kph.

Participants, Results and Gear: There were 14 racers, including the usual locals, plus Travis Kindt and Packet Casey from the East Coast. Four people did the short course, with the rest of us egging each other on to do the long course. Interestingly, nobody raced a 12'6 SUP; the shorter, slower SUP class having fallen out of favor since a number of races worldwide have shifted the focus to 14' boards for both men and women. Here are the results, and what people were paddling.

Racer ** Class ** Model ** Course ** Time
Justin DiGiorgio ** Surfski Kayak ** Nelo 550 ** 6.5 km ** 0:36:28
Jennifer Peters ** Outrigger Canoe ** ?? ** 6.5 km ** 0:40:43
James Douglass ** 14' SUP ** 23-wide Riviera RP ** 6.5 km ** 0:40:45
John Weinberg ** Surfski Kayak ** Nelo 520 ** 6.5 km ** 0:40:46
Mark Athanacio ** 14' SUP ** 23-wide custom ** 6.5 km ** 0:41:03
Travis Kindt ** 14' SUP ** 25-wide ECS Stealth ** 6.5 km ** 0:44:20
Matt Kearney ** 14' SUP ** 25.5-wide 404 Ltd ** 6.5 km ** 0:45:42
Bill Mussenden ** 14' SUP ** 24-wide custom ** 6.5 km ** 0:45:46
Cindy Gibson ** 14' SUP ** 23-wide ECS Speed ** 6.5 km ** 0:46:47
Steve Fleming ** 14' SUP ** 24-wide Naish Maliko ** 6.5 km ** 0:49:54

Packet Casey ** 14' SUP ** 25-wide JP Flatwater ** 2.9 km ** 0:18:37
Meg Bosi ** 14' SUP ** 23.5-wide Bark custom ** 2.9 km ** 0:20:40
Donna Catron ** 14' SUP ** 24-wide Flying Fish custom ** 2.9 km ** 0:23:24
Damien Lin ** 14' SUP ** 23-wide Hovie GTO ** 2.9 km ** 0:23:54

Play by play: Before the race there was some discussion of which folks were doing the long vs. the short race. I paid close attention to what my three fastest competitors were choosing- Packet chose the short race, but Travis and Athanacio chose the long race, so I did, as well. I lined up in the first starting group with Packet, Travis, and Matt Kearney. Athanacio opted to start in the second wave so he could do his wolf-chasing-the-rabbits thing. I sprinted hard at the start. I didn't necessarily want to lead, but I wanted to get a good, forward position in the draft train so I wouldn't be struggling with wakes. I ended up getting on Packet's side-wake for a bit, then into a drafting position directly behind him. Travis was vying for the same position, so we bumped rails a bit and I kind of squeezed him toward the mangroves. There were a few times that I deliberately left the draft to avoid shallow water (which increases drag), and to briefly draft Justin DiGiorgio when he passed me on his surfski. I was in a good position right behind Packet when he reached his short race turn-around point at 1500 m, and we had lost Travis and Matt.

Continuing on my own, I tried to paddle hard but efficiently with good reach and a clean "catch". When I looked back, though, Travis and Matt weren't far behind. More ominously, Athanacio had caught up with them and seemed to have his full afterburners on. I really did my best to keep a hard pace and pick a good line, hoping to keep Athanacio from getting any closer. At the US 41 bridge where I turned around, I saw that Athanacio was about the same distance behind me that he'd been when I first saw him, which was good, and that Travis and Matt had fallen back further, which was also good. To keep myself focused and motivated on the way upriver I watched my speedcoach GPS and tried to stay in the middle parts of the river with the strongest assistance from the incoming tidal current. Because of the incoming tide, I was able to average about 10 kph going upriver, which was a delight. There were times that I felt my "engine" overheating and had to cool down the pace a bit, focusing on form, but as I got to the landmarks of 1600, 800, 400, and 200 m from the finish I notched up my effort and suffering level to make sure all my energy was spent by the end. I was really happy to get a sub-41 minute time, which I never managed to do in the last series. I'll admit I was also happy when they called Athanacio's time and I knew I'd beaten him by a few seconds. Cooling off in the water beyond the finish line felt so nice I mostly forgot that just two days prior, Matt, Cindy, and myself had been charged by a decent sized alligator about one km down the river.

Here's my GPS track from the course:

The women did great in this race, with Meg Bosi improving her time on the short course by almost 2 minutes, aided by her slick 14' Bark. Cindy was also about 30 seconds faster on the 14' ECS Speed than she was in the last CGT race on her 12'6 board. She wasn't far behind Bill, and might give all the guys a good challenge if she finds a 14' board that suits her.

After the race there was a lot of board and boat swapping. John Weinberg let me try his Nelo 520, which is a shorter and more stable surfski than the tippy Epic v12 that I have. It felt nice- a bit slower in flatwater than mine, but I think it would be a lot more comfortable in rough water and downwind conditions, where I struggle on the Epic. I also paddled the 14x25 ECS Stealth, which is a very smooth and well-balanced board that has a nice way of cutting through the water. Packet Casey hopped on Athanacio's custom board and remarked at how well it sprinted. Watching him sprint past, almost a meter of the nose of the board was hovering above the water. It seems to be the style of the modern board designs that they "release" from the water when paddled in high gear, whereas the older designs don't do that as much, for better or worse.

Next race on the calendar is Mark Athanacio's "No Name Race" around Lover's Key on June 30th, which I'll probably do on my surfski.