Tag Archives: Dr Margaret Leinen

Understanding Cyanobacteria or Toxic Algae, SLR/IRL

 

Cyanobacteria in the St Lucie River, 2013. Photo Jenny Flaugh.
Cyanobacteria in the St Lucie River, 2013. Photo Jenny Flaugh.

I prefer not to focus on negative topics in my blog, however, it is important we learn about cyanobacteria or “toxic algae” while it is a hot topic as it has it is being released into our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon by the Army Corp of Engineers, as I compose this blog post.

I am going to provide “bullet points,” as I think this will be most effective. I have provided reading material at the end of the post should you be interested in pursuing the topic.

Toxic algae bloom S-308 2015, Lake Okeechobee. (Photo JTL)
Toxic algae bloom S-308, 2015, Lake Okeechobee. (Photo JTL)

 

Here we go; as no expert, I will do my best:

CYANOBACTERIA

-Cyanobacteria has characteristics  of both bacteria and algae; it is not a “true algae”

-It is referred to as “blue-green algae”

– It is ancient, the oldest form of life on our planet, perhaps 3.5 billion years old

– It is believed to have created the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere thus defining life on Earth

-It can live in both fresh and salt water environments and in-between

-It exists worldwide in inland and coastal waters (salt and fresh)

-There are “different” cynobacteria in different water environments; they adapt

– 46 species show toxic effects (World Health Organization, 1999)

-The most common FRESHWATER species is microcystis (species found in Lake O)

-The other “most common” species is neuotoxin

-Some species contain both microcysis and neuotoxins

-The World Health Organization recommends governments recognize the “presumption” that all cyanobacteria can be toxic

-Cyanobacteria is buoyant but some can also adjust where they live in the water column to attain the right amount of sunlight

-Buoyancy leads to floating on the water’s surface where winds drive them to shore and they accumulate in a “scum” that is even more “toxic” (concentrated) (Like Lake O)

-Cyanobacteria blooms are a threat to public health and wildlife

Cyanobacteria is encouraged by heavy “nutrients” like phosphorus and nitrogen to “bloom” (grow)

-The present warming trend of the Earth, compounded with human “waste” from agricultural fertilizer, septic and sewer, and “stromwater” from roadways (how we have designed all water to run off into our rivers and lakes) is “feeding” cyanobacteria blooms

-Cyanobacteria blooms are increasing worldwide

-Cyanobacteria can be “controlled” through lessening nutrient pollution from fertilizer and other nutrient producers

Sandsprit part 2013, (Photo: Bob Voisenet.)
Sandsprit Park 2013, (Photo: Bob Voisenet.)

About four years ago, I was at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute attending a lecture on “nutrient pollution and our waterways.” At the event, I spoke to Dr Margaret Leinen who is now director of Scripps Research Institution of Oceanography in California.  In the course of conversation, she told me she testified before Congress for the National Reasearch Council’s publication, “Clean Coastal Waters, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution, 2000” of which I had just read, and had been discussed at the lecture.

I asked her, why the US Congressional committee wasn’t “stricter” in passing laws to reduce agribusiness fertilizer runoff, and other sources since the scientists “knew” why our waters including the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and especially Lake Okeechobee were experiencing these toxic blooms.

She, being a lady, just looked at me and said something to the effect of, “Jacqui they don’t always listen….”

Her words have rung in my ears for four years.

No they don’t always listen. Most politicians wait until a crisis ensues as is happening now. We will have to make them listen…all of them: US politicians, state politicians, and local politicians. It is not fun, enforcing laws on polluters, especially if they are campaign donors, but now there is no choice; it is a health issue. We, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, are a voice for all the world.

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The sample of toxic algae taken by DEP and reported from Martin County on 4-24-15 from Lake O read as follows: “Toxin analysis showed 8.4 µg of microcystin-LR per liter in the sample.” ( I do not know how to read this or how to compare it but it was “toxic.” )

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Reading Material:

Clean Coastal Waters, National Academies Press: (http://www.nap.edu/catalog/9812/clean-coastal-waters-understanding-and-reducing-the-effects-of-nutrient)

World Health Organization: Guidelines for Safe Recreational Water Environments:  (http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/bathing/srwe1-chap8.pdf)

(http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/bathing/srwe1/en/)

NOAA: (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/features/feb12/cyanobacteria.html)

The Rise of Harmful Cyanobacteria Blooms: (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1568988311001557)

Harbor Branch’s “Our Global Estuary,” World Stage, for the Indian River Lagoon

Intricate islands of central Indian River Lagoon near Vero. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch/Ed Lippisch, 2013.)
Intricate islands of the central Indian River Lagoon estuary near Vero. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch/Ed Lippisch, 2013.)

Recently, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, located in St Lucie County, (http://www.fau.edu/hboi/) released their “Our Global Estuary,” U.S. National Workshop, Draft Report.

The new program founded in 2013, is incredibly interesting. Harbor Branch, right here in “our own back yard,” has taken a world leadership role in one of the planet’s most important issues, one we all know quite well, the anthropogenic pressures that threaten the ecological benefits of estuaries. Harbor Branch is opening scientific dialogue on these pressures and the evolving technology that may help “save” them, by scientists sharing their experiences on such issues, scientists from all over the world. (http://ourglobalestuary.com)

Dr Megan Davis, Interim Director of Harbor Branch, co-chairing with Dr Antonio Baptista and Dr Margaret Leinen, along with other local and world scientists are leading this project.

It is noted in their publication that “comparing and contrasting estuaries and management  approaches worldwide is essential to capturing and a gaining from lessons learned locally.”

The report also notes and I quote that “estuaries are vital to the planet and their extraordinary productivity that supports life in and around them…Nearly 90% of the Earth’s land surface is connected to the ocean by rivers, with much of the water that drains from lands passing through wetlands and estuaries…cleaning species like mangroves and oysters are being limited by stressors caused by humans, such as water withdrawals, hydropower operation, navigation, and the release of fertilizers, contaminants, and municipal wastes. These pressures are increasing and threatening the balance of the systems.”

As one reads on, the report discusses that population growth and land-use choices not only near the estuaries but also many miles upstream can have a significant effects on estuaries. It is noted that “as farm production methods have evolved to increase yields, more nutrients have made  their way to the water causing algae overgrowth to the point of suppressing seagrass. These pressures can cause disease and death in fish, marine mammals, birds, and other animals.” Land development also impacts estuaries with its runoff and diversion or redirection of water.

The largest estuaries in the world are listed in the report are not in the United States. 1.  Ganges, Indian, Bangladesh, Nepal; 2 .Yangtze (Chang Jiang), China; 3. Indus, Indian, China, Pakistan; 4. Nile, Northeastern Africa; 5. Huang He (Yellow River), China; 6. Huai He, China; 7. Niger, West Africa; 8. Hai, China; 9. Krishna, Indian; and 10. Danube, Central and Eastern Europe.

Personally, I had only heard of half of those places and it made me think about the millions of people living around estuaries all over the world and how much I really don’t know. How small we are comparatively…

Although of course the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon is not one of the largest river basins in the world, we were listed under “Estuaries are  Receiving More Attention” along with Chesapeake Bay. The section notes water quality is compromised in part by excess nutrients and inland freshwater discharges and diversion of water that historically flowed south through the Florida Everglades. It notes seagrass die offs, manatee, pelican and dolphin mortality, septic, agriculture and lawn fertilizer issues…

About half way down the paragraph under Indian River Lagoon, it says: “Public outcry and accompanying media attention achieved critical mass in 2013, helping convince several municipalities to enact more  restrictive fertilizer ordinances and the state legislature to appropriate over 200 million in support for observation and systems remediation for the Lagoon and Everglades.”

Wow.

Once again, like the Dr Seuss children’s book, Horton Hears a Who, where the residents of Whoville together shout WE’RE HERE, WE’RE HERE, finally to be heard, the Treasure Coast is noted for its  efforts, this time in a document that will be shared around the world!

Thank you to Harbor Branch for its continued leadership and efforts in ocean and estuary research and thank you to the people of the Treasure Coast  or “Whoville” who have been heard and continue to help save the Indian River Lagoon.

 

The National Academy’s “Clean Coastal Waters” and the Irony of “More Studies” for the Indian River Lagoon

 

Toxic Algae bloom washes up  along the shoreline, St Lucie River, Riverside Drive, Stuart, Florida. (Photo Jenny Flaugh, 7-13)
Toxic Algae bloom washes up along the shoreline. St Lucie River, Riverside Drive, Stuart, Florida. (Photo Jenny Flaugh, summer 2013.)

RECENT HEADLINE: “FUNDING FOR  82 Million in NEW RESEARCH/CAUSES/CONTROL OF ALGAE BLOOMS IN US AND IRL– SPONSORED BY U.S. SENATOR BILL NELSON D-FL”

As much as I am thankful for the politicians and policy makers who have recently gotten monies allotted to fight the “toxic algae in Florida’s waterways,” I am slightly miffed. From what I understand, and have learned over the past years,  much of the research to understand these problems has already been accomplished, particularly by the National Research Council.

In 2008, when I was just beginning to really plow in and try to understand why the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon issues were happening and basically at the time being ignored publicly and politically, I was recommended to read “Clean Coastal Water, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution,” published by the National Research Council in 2000.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is a non-profit organization in the United States. Members serve pro bono as “advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine”. Election to the National Academy is one of the highest honors in U.S. science. The academy was signed into law under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in 1863. These public documents are available to all and these agencies give presentations to the US House and Senate and have done such on “algae blooms in coastal waters.”

The National Academy of Sciences is part of the National Academies, which also includes:the National Academy of Engineering (NAE); the Institute of Medicine (IOM); and the National Research Council (NRC).

It is an honor to be a member or to do research for a member and nearly 200 members have won nobel prizes. These scientists and their affilliatoins are the “best of the best.”

Locally, Dr Brian LaPoint working in St Lucie County, helped with the publication. He is from Harbor Branch/FAU. Also  Dr Margaret Leinen, the Executive Director of Harbor Branch at the time, now of Scripps Oceanography in California, was invited to speak before Congress on the subject.

Toxic algae, photo by Mary Radabaugh of St Lucie Marina, July 2013.)
Toxic algae, photo by Mary Radabaugh of St Lucie Marina, summer months of 2013.)

So, in 2000, the National Research Council’s book Clean Coastal Waters, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution, was published and it is very clear in its studies, and recommendations. I will quote from the executive summary:

“What common thread ties together such seemingly diverse coastal problems as red tides, fish kills, some marine mammal deaths,  outbreaks of shellfish poisonings, loss of seagrass habitats, coral reef destruction, and the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone? Over the past 20 years, scientists, coastal managers, and public decision makers have come to recognize that coastal ecosystems suffer a number of environmental problems that can, at times, be attributed to the introduction of excess nutrients from upstream watersheds…the driving force is the accumulation of nitrogen and phosphorus in fresh water on its way to the sea. For instance, runoff form agricultural land, animal feeding operations, and urban areas, plus discharge from water water treatment plants and atmospheric deposition of compound releases during fossil fuel combustion all add nutrients to fresh water before it reaches the sea.”

On page 34 the writers note:

” Inorganic fertilizer accounts for more than half of the human alteration of the nitrogen  cycle. Approximately half of the inorganic nitrogen fertilizer ever used on the planet has been  used in the last 15 years… The increased use of commercial fertilizer over the last 50 years has contributed to dramatic increases in per acre crop yields. But it has also brought problems, (e.g., adverse changes in soil properties and offsite environmental problems caused by runoff.)

Later in the book nutrient pollution is recognized as an enormous, complex and difficult issue but the NAS’s advice is to implement policies in a coordinated effort, locally, state and nationally to control nutrient pollution at its sources. Guidance for this is provided in chapter 9 “Source Reduction and Control.”

For me as a  Sewall’s Point commissioner, our commission fought and passed a strong  fertilizer ordinance in 2010, and since that time many others have as well along the Indian River Lagoon.  This is just a start and local governments will have to do more in the future.

NAS states nutrient pollution problems come from “agricultural land, animal feeding operations, and urban areas plus discharge from water water treatment plants and atmospheric deposition of compound releases during fossil fuel combustion all add nutrients to fresh water before it reaches the sea.” We along the coast in cities, etc..qualify as the “urban areas.” And locally that is all we have the jurisdiction to control. The rest, particularly  agriculture issues of “best management practices” and more, has to come from the state and federal governments. 

So back to Senator Bill Nelson, who I admire very much, and who grew up in the Melbourne area along the IRL, spearheaded a recent bill by the US Senate that will “fund research into the causes and control of large algae blooms.” This is terrific, but guess what? “We” basically already know the causes.

Let’s get some nerve politicians, and use this money to help and demand those who are not making fast enough efforts to lower their output of nitrogen and phosphorus. Let’s break the wall of not being allowed to implements restrictive laws on the agriculture industry that is protected by the “”right to farm act;” and let’s assist them in the funding they need to make these changes and find other ways to grow crops or different crops to grow…

Lets continue dealing, moving and helping dairies and animal operations close to waterbodies; let’s implement even stricter laws  on water treatment plants like the one along the Banana River in the Coca Beach area, in the northern central lagoon, where all the Unusual Mortality Events (UME) occurred last year of manatee, dolphin, and pelican deaths, and the majority of the 60% seagrass loss in the IRL since 2009 has occurred.

Atmospheric compounds? Perhaps require /inspire higher emission standards for cars in our Treasure Coast and continue the fight for clean air on a National/Global level through are Congressional representatives. Learn to “make money” for people from this problem rather than limiting people.  No easy task…

“Invasion of government,” you may say. “Yes it is.” And I don’t like it either, but at this point in order to to save the SLR/IRL, is their any other way?

If  we need the local data, then lets get it, but I do believe we already know where to start and I do believe we already know what to do.

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National Academies Press: (http://nap.edu)

National Academies of Science: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_National_Academy_of_Sciences)

Sunshine State News: (http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/story/bill-nelson-and-bill-posey-team-pass-bill-fighting-algae-outbreaks)