Water-Related News

Treating nutrients with algae blooms

By Betty Staugler, Charlotte County extension agent for the Florida Sea Grant Program

No, there’s not a typo in my headline. In fact, this technology is so cool, you really should continue to read. With all the bad press about algae, we often forget that it really can be beneficial. In fact, algae are responsible for much of the air we breathe, and they form the base of the food web upon which all life depends.

I suspect most readers are aware that algal blooms often occur when too many nutrients enter our waterbodies. With this understanding, a novel approach to remove nutrients from a waterway was developed and patented in 1980s by Dr. Walter Adey at the National Museum of History: The algae turf scrubber, or ATS.

The basic idea: Run the water across a shallow trough or raceway, upon which attached filamentous algae are allowed to grow. The algae treat the water by taking up nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, as they grow.

Where does the algae come from? Provide the right conditions — sunlight, water and nutrients — and algae will establish naturally. What grows is the same green filamentous algae we often see attached to rocks and seagrass in shallow areas. Only in this case, instead of being a nuisance, it’s beneficial.

Report: Red tide and aftermath killed 174 dolphins

Scores of dolphins have died along Florida’s southwest coast due to the red tide bloom in the past year, federal researchers said.

Figures released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed 174 dolphins were stranded in a mass die-off between last July and last week.

Fish, sea turtles and manatees also have died from the red tide bloom, which plagued the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast from November 2017 through January of this year.

While red tide has diminished and the rate of dolphin deaths off Florida’s southwest coast has slowed down, researchers in recent months have seen deaths from the secondary effects of red tide.

Those include dolphins consuming fishing gear because the red tide fish kill reduced the supply of the dolphin’s usual diet of mullet and trout, forcing them to search for food in atypical places, Blair Mase, NOAA’s stranding response program coordinator, said July 5.

Researchers in recent months also have found unusual food in the dolphins’ stomachs, such as crabs and eels.

“We’re also seeing underweight animals,” Mase said.

Red tides happen naturally and have appeared sporadically off the state’s coast for ages, but many believe humans have made the problem worse. This past year’s bloom caused respiratory irritations in people near Southwest Florida beaches.

Scientists discover the biggest seaweed bloom in the world

The record-breaking belt of brown algae stretches from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico—and it’s likely here to stay, says a team led by the USF College of Marine Science.

ST. PETERSBURG – Scientists led by the USF College of Marine Science used NASA satellite observations to discover the largest bloom of macroalgae in the world called the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt (GASB), as reported in Science.

They confirmed that the belt of brown macroalgae called Sargassum forms its shape in response to ocean currents, based on numerical simulations. It can grow so large that it blankets the surface of the tropical Atlantic Ocean from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico. This happened last year when more than 20 million tons of it – heavier than 200 fully loaded aircraft carriers – floated in surface waters and some of which wreaked havoc on shorelines lining the tropical Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and east coast of Florida.

The team also used environmental and field data to suggest that the belt forms seasonally in response to two key nutrient inputs: one human-derived, and one natural.

In the spring and summer, Amazon River discharge adds nutrients to the ocean, and such discharged nutrients may have increased in recent years due to increased deforestation and fertilizer use. In the winter, upwelling off the West African coast delivers nutrients from deep waters to the ocean surface where the Sargassum grows.

“The evidence for nutrient enrichment is preliminary and based on limited field data and other environmental data, and we need more research to confirm this hypothesis,” said Dr. Chuanmin Hu of the USF College of Marine Science, who led the study and has studied Sargassum using satellites since 2006. “On the other hand, based on the last 20 years of data, I can say that the belt is very likely to be a new normal,” said Hu.

Hu spearheaded the work with first author Dr. Mengqiu Wang, a postdoctoral scholar in his Optical Oceanography Lab at USF. The team included others from USF, Florida Atlantic University, and Georgia Institute of Technology. The data they analyzed from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) between 2000-2018 indicates a possible regime shift in Sargassum blooms since 2011.

Scientists go microscopic to find answer to prevent blue-green algae

Scientists with U.S. Geological Survey’s southeast region and Caribbean Florida Water Science Center believe they can make a positive impact on the Southwest Florida water crisis and find an answer to prevent blue-green algae from returning.

Scientists will look at water in Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River and the life cycle of the algae that lives in that water.

“Scientists are collecting different water samples, some of which they’ll leave untreated,” said Dr. Barry Rosen with the scientific agency. “But others, they’ll add nutrients to, to see if any of those nutrients will have an impact on the life cycle of harmful algal blooms.”

It takes more than one mind to make this experiment a success.

“This definitely requires many different types of scientists and their expertise,” said Dr. Joe Lopez at Nova Southeastern University.

Inland flooding passes storm surge as #1 killer during hurricanes

If you live in Florida long enough, you learn storm surge is generally the number-one danger when it comes to hurricanes.

"We've seen a very large public outreach campaign over the past few years to educate people on the dangers of storm surge and people are responding. They're getting out of the way of these storms,” said Bryan Moraska, National Weather Service Meteorologist.

Now, the biggest killer related to water during hurricanes is inland flooding.

One devastating example -- Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

"We have seen a shift,” said Moraska.

From 2016 to 2018, out of all water-related hurricane fatalities, only 4 percent were blamed on storm surge. The rest, the large majority, are from drenching rainfall and flooding.

Florida may adopt limits on amount of toxins from blue-green algae blooms allowed in waterways

Blue-green algae is popping up all over Florida this summer.

It's in the canals of Gulfport and the Intracoastal Waterway in Treasure Island. In Bradenton, the Manatee River has turned green from the stuff, which the mayor of Holmes Beach calls "gumbo." In Lake Okeechobee, toxins have hit a level three times what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems safe. Meanwhile state officials have convened a Blue-Green Algae Task Force to figure out how to prevent such blooms in the future. So far they have concluded only that the state's current regulations, which rely largely on voluntary anti-pollution measures, don't work very well.

Amid fears of another summer of toxic algae afflicting the state and hurting its economy, officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection say they are considering new regulations on how much of the natural toxins are allowed in the state's waterways.

Five things to know about blue-green algae. (Yeah, it’s bad. And it’s getting worse.)

Three years ago, a foul-smelling blue-green algae bloom so thick it looked like guacamole shut down the beaches of Martin County over the Fourth of July. Last year, blue-green algae blooms again popped up in Lake Okeechobee and the rivers connected to it. This year, there are small blue-green algae blooms appearing in the waters of Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

It could be worse. A blue-green algae bloom in the northern Gulf of Mexico spurred Mississippi authorities to close all 21 of their beaches over the weekend. In 2014, a blue-green algae bloom in Lake Erie meant 500,000 people were without a source of drinking water.

What is blue-green algae, why does it keep appearing and what does that mean for your health? Here are some answers.

Southwest Florida blue crab trap closure starts July 10, followed by Big Bend trap closure

Recreational and commercial blue crab traps in state waters from the Palm Beach-Broward county line to the Pasco-Hernando county line must be removed from the water before July 10, the first day of a 10-day trap closure. This closure will give groups authorized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) the opportunity to identify and retrieve lost and abandoned blue crab traps from the water.

Traps may be placed back in the water in this area starting on July 20. Until then, blue crabs may be harvested with other gear, such as dip nets and fold-up traps. Blue crab harvesters may also use standard blue crab traps during the closure if the traps are attached to a dock or other private property.

Lost and abandoned blue crab traps are a problem in the blue crab fishery because they can continue to trap crabs and fish when left in the water. They can also be unsightly in the marine environment, damage sensitive habitats and pose navigational hazards to boaters on the water.

DEP announces support to help communities prepare for sea level rise

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Resilient Coastlines Program announces that nearly $1.6 million in grant funding has been awarded for fiscal year 2019-20 to strengthen resilience initiatives for 30 coastal communities in 17 coastal counties in Florida.

“These grants are incredibly important to the sustainability and protection of our natural resources and Florida’s coastal communities,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “I am proud of the work we are doing around the state to prepare for the impacts of sea level rise, and I know we will continue to protect Florida together.”

Grants are provided through the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection’s Florida Resilient Coastlines Program, and are specifically designed to assist local governments with resilience planning and funding assistance to implement those plans. Resilience Planning Grants (RPG) provide financial assistance to aid Florida communities in promoting resilience planning; developing vulnerability assessments, adaptation plans, comprehensive plan goals, objectives and policies; and regional coordination.

Volunteers Create Vertical Oyster Gardens for Gulfport

A new effort is working to help clean the salt water that surrounds Gulfport and raise environmental awareness about the Tampa Bay estuary.

On the morning of Saturday, June 29, about a dozen Gulfport residents joined scores of other volunteers at Tampa Bay Watch (TBW), a non-profit located in Tierra Verde, to create vertical oyster gardens (VOGs).

TBW was recently awarded a $5,000 mini grant from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program to create a year-long VOG monitoring program, said Environmental Specialist Erick Plage.

That’s where Gulfport comes in.

As part of a grassroots effort led by Vice Mayor Paul Ray and Gecko Queen Jon Ziegler, 500 of the 1,150 free VOGs made during the workshop will be installed at the municipal marina. Ziegler also works for TBW.

Water quality measurements will be taken just before installation then also by trained citizen volunteers at the 6- and 12-month milestone points, said Plage.

The project’s goals are to train volunteers to be long-term “stewards of the bay” and to help clean the water, he said.

Each three-foot long VOG encourages from 50 to 100 juvenile oysters to attach where they can grow to adulthood. When each oyster matures to a maximum of about 70 to 80 millimeters in size, it can filter from one to five gallons of salt water per hour, said Plage.

Oysters are filter feeders, he said. While filtering water for food like algae, they also filter out contaminants such as storm drain runoff along with pesticides, fertilizers, nutrients and the algae that feed red tide blooms.

All aspects of Florida water quality discussed at task force meeting

The people working to keep nuisance, green muck out of our waterways are digging into every aspect of what leads to it and how to prevent it from coming back. And they brought the conversation to Southwest Florida.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Blue-Green Algae Task Force met at the Lee County School Board chambers in Fort Myers Monday to discuss the water crisis centered around Lake Okeechobee.

“The focus of the task force here isn’t on what pot of money we have to spend,” said Dr. Tom Frazer, Florida’s chief science officer. “It’s can we identify solutions.”

Discussions focused on the technology and agricultural aspects involved in Florida’s water quality as well as laying out a road map for improving the quality of water on our coast and statewide.

“Today, we hit pretty hard on agricultural [best management practices],” Frazer said. “But next time, we’re going to deal with septic systems, right? We’re going to talk more about these innovative technologies after we talk about some of the criteria we want to develop to evaluate them today.”

During discussions, Frazer explained the role agriculture plays in our water quality.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis signs bill to change environmental enforcement

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Tuesday a measure that will shift 19 law enforcement officers focused on environmental crimes from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to the Department of Environmental Protection.

The bill (HB 5401) is part of a series of environmental proposals DeSantis rolled out in January, including increased funding for Everglades restoration and water projects.

DeSantis said during a bill-signing ceremony Tuesday at the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center in Stuart that shifting the law-enforcement officers should make enforcement of environmental laws more effective.

The creation of the Division of Law Enforcement within the Department of Environmental Protection will take effect Monday.

DeSantis noted that it was pitched by his transition team as he took office in January.

Tampa withdraws request for 'Toilet to Tap' funding

The city of Tampa has withdrawn its request for $1.6 million to pay for a study of injecting reclaimed wastewater into the underground aquifer - so it could be used again. The city took the request off the table at a recent meeting of Tampa Bay Water, the area's regional water supply authority.

Tampa City Councilman Charlie Miranda, who sits on the board, said they need an extra year to do a study of TAP, the Tampa Augmentation Project.

Miranda told the board the city will do the study itself, and come back for the board's input when it is 60% completed.

The agreement was intitially approved by the board, but the City of Tampa was not amenable to the terms. The city then withdrew the Tampa Augmentation Project Memorandum of Understanding and Agreement that was supposed to be considered by the board in June, 2020.

People love riding horses in Tampa Bay waters. But what about all the poop?

You can spot the horses from far away, little dots out in the water of Tampa Bay. Drive south on Interstate 275 toward Sarasota on a weekday morning or a pleasant Saturday and they’re probably there, splashing around in a single file line off the North Skyway Bridge Park.

Up close, it’s easy to see why this is one of the most popular attractions on the local Trip Advisor page. Perched on their saddles, tourists ooh and ahh at the view of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge looming along the horizon. If they’re lucky, they might spot a sting ray gliding below or a dolphin’s fin slice through the waves.

The main event comes when it’s time for the horses to swim. The riders kick their heels against their mares and click their tongues. Submerged up to their necks, the horses paddle through the waters. They whinny and snort, furiously bobbing their heads and kicking their hooves.

But back at the shoreline, the water lapping against the sand is dotted with greenish brown lumps the size of softballs.

Horse poop.

2019 State of the Bay report: Water quality in Tampa Bay continues to improve

Seagrass Chart

The state of Tampa Bay report comes out every three years, and the latest one shows the water body is in pretty good shape. It wasn't too long ago that pollution killed a lot of life in the bay.

The report says the bay is continuing its upswing, both in the clarity of the water and its numbers of fish and oysters. Ed Sherwood, executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, says sea grasses are nearly double the amount found in the 1970s.

"But the issues from last year related to the red tide and some of the ongoing algal bloom we have still in Old Tampa Bay," he said, "keeps us cognizant of the fact that we still need to do our best to reduce nutrient loads coming from a variety of different sources in our watershed and going into our water bodies."

Sherwood says the area's burgeoning human population remains a challenge, as well as rising seas nipping away at mangroves and coastal marshes.

He says they have been successful in reducing emissions from point sources, such as sewage outfalls, and from power plants. Summertime fertilizer bans have helped, but runoff from creeks and streams remains a problem.

"We're actively pursuing a lot of shellfish oyster restoration projects, particularly in Old Tampa Bay, because we think that will have a dual benefit of not only enhancing those habitats, but potentially improving water quality," Sherwood said. "There's an algal bloom that occurs every summer there called paradinium that blooms there basically because there's poor tidal circulation in Old Tampa Bay. And we think that restoring oysters in that part of the bay will help water qualit

Local leaders join federal coalition to tackle Tampa Bay area flooding

Communities across Tampa Bay are fed up with the growing problem of neighborhood streets turning into rivers and threatening thousands of homes.

Now, two local congressmen are joining federal leaders to find solutions to better protect your home and neighborhood. Congressmen Gus Bilirakis and Charlie Crist have joined the American Flood Coalition, a nonpartisan alliance to address the growing threat of flooding and sea level rise.

Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican, and Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat, represent portions of Florida’s Gulf Coast, including all of Pinellas County.

It comes at a crucial time. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, coastal communities in Tampa Bay are projected to experience roughly 4-5 inches of sea level rise over the next 15 years.

Pinellas Warns About Blue-Green Algae; Beaches Still Open

Pinellas County officials are urging residents and visitors to stay away from some blue-green algae blooms that have popped up in the last week.

Lyngbya, which is actually a bacteria, has been reported in the canals west of the Gulfport Casino, and in the Intracoastal Waterway by Treasure Island.

The algae can be harmful to the health of animals and people.

"What we want to advise the public is to avoid contact with it and keep your pets away. Lyngbya, in particular, is toxic to pets, and especially if it gets in their fur,” said Tony Fabrizio, Public Information Officer for Pinellas County. ”And in humans, it can cause sore throats and watery eyes."

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:

Common in most of Florida's aquatic environments, many cyanobacteria species are capable of producing harmful toxins (cyanotoxins). Cyanobacteria can cause unsightly blooms; cause taste and odor problems in public water supplies and can kill domestic animals, pets, and fish and wildlife that drink or are otherwise exposed to untreated contaminated water or toxic biota.

Cyanobacterial blooms are common in Florida lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds. Approximately 20 cyanobacteria species in Florida's waters are capable of producing toxins, including bloom-forming species of Microcystis, Cylindrospermopsis, Anabaena, Aphanizomenon, Lyngbya, and Planktothrix.

Fabrizio said higher water temperatures cause these blooms.

Florida oceans and coasts strategic plan to be developed

A half-million dollar state grant will be used to develop a strategic plan for the Sunshine State’s oceans and coasts, the Florida Ocean Alliance announced Wednesday.

The alliance, a nonprofit, nonpartisan partnership of private industry, trade, academic, and environmental organizations, aims to bring awareness to the ocean’s importance to the economy and environment of Florida.

“The project addresses both legislative and public concerns over Florida’s recent water crisis,” Stan Payne, chair of the Florida Ocean Alliance and director of the Seaport and Airport in St. Lucie County, stated in a news release issued by the alliance. “We will offer resilience solutions to these problems as the state strives to cope with these issues.”

The effort originally was outlined in legislation pushed by state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Melbourne Republican, and state Rep. Chris Latvala, a Clearwater Republican. Eventually, the key language of their bills was rolled into the state budget bill.

The alliance intends to host public hearings across the state before drafting a strategic plan to address conservation and management of the state’s estuaries, bays and oceans.

Report: Rising seas could cost Florida $75 billion over 20 years

A new national study concludes that rising sea levels could cost U.S. states more than $400 billion over the next 20 years. And Florida has the highest price tag.

The report is by the environmental advocacy group Center for Climate Integrity. It says Florida would have to pay around $75 billion to build new seawalls to defend against a two-foot sea level rise by 2040.

The report uses seawalls as a common metric that can be used nationwide. But seawalls aren't environmentally friendly, and they are impractical for places like the Florida Keys, which are islands. The report says there are other ways to protect coastlines, including beach renourishment, raising roads and infrastructure and improving drainage.

Center director Richard Wiles says in an era of exploding federal debt, getting funding help from Washington is more difficult. He says so-called "polluters" should pay for rising seas, similar to the way tobacco companies were sued for health risks.

"The entirety of the fossil fuel community, if you will, industry, needs to be responsible for literally bailing out those communities and making sure they have a future where people can live where they've always lived," he said.

NASA helps warn of harmful algal blooms in lakes, reservoirs

Harmful algal blooms can cause big problems in coastal areas and lakes across the United States. When toxin-containing aquatic organisms multiply and form a bloom, it can sicken people and pets, contaminate drinking water, and force closures at boating and swimming sites.

With limited resources to monitor these often-unpredictable blooms, water managers are turning to new technologies from NASA and its partners to detect and keep track of potential hazards. This is particularly critical in lakes and reservoirs that people use for both recreation and water supply.

A new app for Android mobile devices, from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and now available on Google play, will alert officials and members of the public when a harmful algal bloom could be forming, depending on specific changes in the color of the water observed by satellites. The app is a product of the multi-agency Cyanobacteria Assessment Network, or CyAN.

“The interest is to use remote sensing as an eye-in-the-sky, early warning system to get a picture of harmful cyanobacteria in U.S. inland lakes,” said Jeremy Werdell, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center lead for CyAN, which also includes the EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Living shoreline replaces old seawall in Safety Harbor

A group of kids, adults and researchers helped plant and put the finishing touches on a living shoreline.

The more than 200-foot-long living shoreline is located at the Safety Harbor Waterfront Park. It replaced a crumbling seawall.

"[The Living Shoreline] is better for the environment, cleaner for the water, and better for the fish and birds. You don't have to replace it," said Ries, Vice President and SE Biological Services and Restoration Director at Environmental Science Associates.

Ries is part of the team that worked with the City of Safety Harbor. He explains the seawall disrupted a natural process that the living shoreline will help bring back.

Gov. DeSantis signs bill giving Sarasota’s Mote $18 million to fight red tide

The laboratory will develop technologies that can fight the toxic algae.

SARASOTA — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Thursday that will put Mote Marine Laboratory at the forefront of efforts to combat red tide in Florida.

The bill, which was championed by Senate President Bill Galvano, allocates $18 million over six years for Mote to develop technologies that can fight red tide blooms.

Lawmakers crafted the measure in response to last year’s devastating bloom that killed sea life in Southwest Florida, fouled the air and water and hurt the region’s tourism industry.

“If we don’t do all that we can to maintain our natural resources, you will see our economy suffer,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis and legislative leaders are touting the measure as a major step toward reducing the harmful effects of red tide, even as some environmental advocates argue lawmakers have not done enough to tackle nutrient pollution that can feed the toxic algae blooms.

Red tide blooms start offshore and are naturally occurring. But when the blooms move near shore they can feed on nutrients that leach into the water from sources such as fertilizer runoff, leaky septic tanks and sewage spills.

Senate Bill 1552 — dubbed the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative — does not address the problem of excessive nutrients in coastal waterways. Instead of trying to cut off the algae’s food source, the legislation - which was sponsored by State Sen. Joe Gruters and state Rep. Michael Grant - seeks to fight the blooms through technology.

June 23-29 is Mosquito Awareness Week

mosquito image

Next week is Mosquito Control Awareness Week! Now that it’s mosquito season, it is the perfect time to look in and around your home for ways to control mosquitoes that can carry viruses like Zika and West Nile.

Here are some simple steps that citizens can take to help control mosquito populations:

  • Empty water from any item that can hold water.
    Examples: flower pots, garbage cans, recycling containers, wheelbarrows, aluminum cans, boat tarps, old tires and buckets.
  • Flush birdbaths and wading pools weekly.
  • Flush ornamental bromeliads or treat with BTI, a biological larvicide available at home stores.
  • Clean roof gutters, which can become clogged and hold water.
  • Change the water in outdoor pet dishes regularly.
  • Keep pools and spas chlorinated and filtered.
  • Stock ornamental ponds with mosquito-eating fish.
  • Cover rain barrels with screening.
  • Check for standing water under houses, near plumbing drains, under air conditioning unit drip areas, around septic tanks and heat pumps.
  • Take steps to eliminate standing water, improve drainage and prevent future puddling.

“It’s important for residents to remember the three Ds of mosquito prevention,” said Brian Lawton, program manager for Pinellas County Vegetation Management and Mosquito Control. “Dress wisely, defend with a good mosquito repellent, and drain standing water.”