Does the above photo make your stomach turn? What is it?
It is a HAB or Harmful Algae Bloom, taken four days ago, right here in Martin County.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “over the past century, alterations of land use and acceleration in the rate of cultural eutrophication have led to widespread increases in harmful algal blooms in Florida, including toxin-producing species.”
First, what is “eutrophication” and why is it “cultural”?
Eutrophication is is when a body of water becomes enriched in dissolved nutrients (such as synthetic phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizer) that stimulate the growth of aquatic plant life usually resulting in the depletion of dissolved oxygen and a “bloom.” These algae blooms can be toxic.
“Cultural means “created by humans.”
So what are we doing about this especially since “we” caused it?
In 1997 the Florida Department of Environmental Protection formed a Task Force on Harmful Algae Blooms and in 1999 they produced a scientific document, a White Paper: HARMFUL ALGAE BLOOMS, (http://myfwc.com/media/202228/HAB_whitepaper2006_UPDATE.pdf) It is extensive.
In my opinion, as usual, our state governors and legislatures did not pay significant attention to these studies, and failed to implement policies that would help overcome this crisis issue. How many of them even read the report?
Case in point, recently, it was the local governments and local residents of the towns, cities and counties along the west and east coasts of Florida who advocated and achieved strong fertilizer ordinances not allowing fertilizer use during the rainy season while the state continues to fight and support less restrictive rules.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife website there are four ongoing studies regarding HABs in Florida: (http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/research/scientific-products/)
1. Time-Series Sampling in Pinellas and Manatee Counties) Researchers conduct detailed sampling to better understand when, where and under what conditions harmful algal blooms form.
2. Tampa Bay Monitoring Program Researchers monitor 10 sites in Old Tampa Bay for the presence of, or conditions favorable to, harmful algal blooms.
3. Red Tide Offshore Monitoring Program
Encouraging people to learn about the program and learn how to become volunteers, collecting water samples around the state to help scientists monitor the Florida red tide.
4. Monitoring Toxic Algae Species and Shellfish in the Indian River Lagoon (2002-present)
Periodic testing of water samples and clams provides an early warning of bloom occurrences and shellfish toxicity and minimizes the risk of human exposure to saxitoxins.
Those are great present HAB programs, so why don’t we hear more about them and why don’t they include Lake Okeechobee, obviously the toxic algae is there as well…
Here at home, when the gates of S-308 open from Lake Okeechobee to the C-44 canal that is connected to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, the algae in the photo above goes directly into the our river system.
It is 2014. The state has been studying this problem since 1997. They do not have all the answers but we do know by now that HABs are fed by cultural eutrophication due to clearing of land that can no longer clean water on its way to estuaries, rivers and lakes; building of towns and cities that create concrete and asphalt barriers to water reabsorption; fertilizer and other runoff; oil/chemicals from thousands of miles of highway and roads; septic effluent; canals and redirection of water such as Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee; agriculture’s heavy destruction of native lands and the fertilizer and chemical runoff associated with their business, unregulated golf courses fertilizer run off and re-use of high nutrient water resources….it’s endless.
It is said that “ignorance is bliss,” well the state of Florida doesn’t have that luxury anymore.
Blue Green Algae. (Public photo.)