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Earth Science

Toxic Algae Threatens Florida's Gulf Coast 99

Posted by timothy
from the bigger-than-rhode-island-and-providence-plantations dept.
As reported by Discovery News, After Toledo had to temporarily ban residents from using tap water last weekend because of a toxic algae bloom on Lake Erie, you probably figured that we’d filled the quota of bad algae-related news for the summer. No such luck, unfortunately. Off the Gulf Coast of Florida, the biggest red tide bloom seen in Florida in nearly a decade already has killed thousands of fish. The bloom, which contains the microorganism Karenia brevis, may pose a public health threat to Floridians if it washes ashore, which is expected to happen in the next two weeks, according to Reuters. NBC News says this is the largest such bloom seen since 2006 — approximately 50 x 80 miles.
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Toxic Algae Threatens Florida's Gulf Coast

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  • by thieh (3654731)
    Does it have anything to do with the BP oil spill?
    • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kuroji (990107) <kuroji@gmail.com> on Sunday August 10, 2014 @08:17PM (#47644341)

      Unlikely. Fertilizer runoff from farms being dumped in a body of water will help algae growth, that's a very large part of what happened in Ohio, because apparently farmers in Ohio are fucking retards who think dumping manure on fields that are FROZEN OVER is a good idea and that it won't just all wash out into the lake there.

      Petroleum isn't going to have the same effect by a long shot. There is no algae that eats oil.

      • Spoiler Alert: FTA (Score:5, Informative)

        by rmdingler (1955220) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @08:59PM (#47644503)

        Red Tide, which happens in other coastal areas as well, is a phenomenon that's been occurring for centuries.

        Undoubtedly, there are anthropogenic influences on this and every facet of the environment. Rightfully so, restrictions on fertilizer use are already in place, or pending in, affected areas.

        Though it is inconvenient and unprofitable in the short term, the collective conscience of the governed requires the governors to care about and remedy shit like this.

        • by penguinoid (724646) <spambait001@yahoo.com> on Sunday August 10, 2014 @11:37PM (#47644937) Homepage Journal

          shit like this.

          He means "fertilizer".

          • Phosphate fertilizer is not that soluble to wash off like that, compared to old school phosphate detergents. I think it's more like somebody deliberately dumping soluble sodium phosphate and salicyl chelated iron fertilizers to create algal booms on purpose, to entice people into some carbon-neutral biofuel future (as nobody really likes the nuclear proliferation alternative), as in ocean farming or something, inside a big plastic bag of water floating on top of the ocean. But they say I'm just paranoid, no

            • by Immerman (2627577)

              What if the proliferation of conspiracy theories is actually the result of a disinformation-spreading conspiracy to divide and sidetrack those who might otherwise organize to resist an otherwise relatively mundane agenda?

        • by mspohr (589790)

          The Cleveland toxic algae bloom was due to farm phosphorous runoff. It seems that the restrictions on phosphorous in laundry detergent worked for a while but the farmers found a way around the regulations and dumped too much shit (literally) into the lake.
          Clearly a need for more government regulation. I don't think the "free market" can take care of this...

        • Out here on the West Coast, all it takes to get a good dinoflagellate bloom going is ocean water temperature a bit higher than normal. A variety of factors can contribute to this, including El Nino, lower than normal winter rainfall, increased air temperature, weakening of the longshore current. Of course in the Southeast, consideration of climate change is illegal in many states. In Florida, it's probably easiest to blame it on Cuban Communists.
      • by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @09:09PM (#47644533) Journal
        And when it is a red tide... red tinged algal bloom... it is almost always very harmful [wikipedia.org] and contaminates all the shell fish in the affected area making them toxic to humans [wikipedia.org]... highly toxic [wikipedia.org]. And the effect can last for years. Being sea water people are not likely to drink it, so that is one difference from Ohio.
      • Re:So... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Mashiki (184564) <[mashiki] [at] [gmail.com]> on Monday August 11, 2014 @02:20AM (#47645269) Homepage

        There is no algae that eats oil.

        Maybe no algae, but plenty of bacteria do.

        Anyway, don't discount the number of farmers in Canada who've done the same thing with manure, and screw up the lakes too. There was a farmer upstream of Pittock Dam [wikipedia.org], who used to do the same thing. Took the ministry of environment(MoE) in Ontario nearly 25 years to "get around" to finally fine the dumb bastard. Or as many people put it, "the dumb french bastard." Since dumping manure on frozen ground is very common in Quebec as well.

        • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by TapeCutter (624760) on Monday August 11, 2014 @05:10AM (#47645537) Journal
          There's no ice in Queensland, the prevailing ocean currents go south and are replenished by clean water from the coal sea. However fertilizer runoff has been the barrier reef's #1 enemy for decades. We don't get red-tides so much but the runoff triggers the regular crown of thorns plagues [aims.gov.au] whose larvae eat the algae, then as adults eat the coral. The plagues can and do occur naturally, usually after floods from cyclones. The fertilizer both amplifies and increases the frequency of the plagues to the point were the reef does not have enough time between plagues to fully recover.

          The reef's in the Caribbean and mediterranean were already heavily damaged when Jack Cousteau was swimming around taking notes in the 60's. Since then Science has discovered that a healthy reef actually has the majority of its biomass stored in large fish such as sharks, a severely degraded reef has the majority of its biomass stored in small fast growing invertebrates and weeds. The only reason the filthy Ganges river has not destroyed the Seychelles and other pristine reefs nearby is that it's mouth is clogged with thousands of acres of mangroves that act as a natural (and extremely efficient) water filter.

          Nearly all marine biologists will tell you the answer to the serious problem of collapsing fisheries is to set aside marine parks in specific locations that would cover approximately 5% of the world's coastline and some specific deep sea ridges, virtually everyone else will say there's "plenty of fish in the sea".
          • The point about filtering is well made, but to believe that 2500 miles of ocean is not enough to disperse the gunk seems pessimistic!
          • by torsmo (1301691)

            only reason the filthy Ganges river has not destroyed the Seychelles & other pristine reefs nearby/quote The Ganges-Brahmaputra delta is over 5000 kms away from Seychelles. The only "nearby" reefs are in the Andaman islands (still a distance of over 1200 kms).

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        There is no algae that eats oil.

        It's unfortunate, mostly for you, that you cannot imagine second-order effects. For example, what if the oil (or dispersant) is killing off something which normally retards the algae? Farmers, landscapers, and homeowners use too much fertilizer every year, but there isn't a toxic bloom of this scope every year.

      • Or not [mentally handicapped] but simply responding to perverse incentives provided by our omniscient, all-wise legislative and regulatory overlords.

        One such example -- right down to the manure on frozen ground detail -- is given in a book on organic farming, "Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal". Well-meaning environmental activists got the law (or regulation, I forget which) they'd asked for. But there were unintended consequences, bad ones. Repealing the law (or rescinding the regulation) would have m

    • These red tide problems have been going on for decades, long before the oil spill. The oil spill has been devastating but I dont think its causing this.

      • These red tide problems have been going on for decades, long before the oil spill. The oil spill has been devastating but I dont think its causing this.

        To the best of my knowledge, there have been red tides there since before the Spaniards hit the beaches.

        The question here, as in so many other cases, isn't whether it's something new, but whether people have been doing things that make it more intense and/or more frequent.

        And since it's not a simply provable binary condition, people will argue about it.

    • by azav (469988)
      Red tide blooms are an over reproduction of a type of phytoplankton. This is a world wide phenomenon and though there are many ideas why this happens, we don't have conclusive indicators why yet.
  • by turkeydance (1266624) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @08:21PM (#47644355)
    nope....Gators come to Tuscaloosa next month.
    • Roll Tide
      • by Rotag_FU (2039670)

        Either we will actually field an offense this year and make games against powerhouse teams like 'Bama competitive (not saying we will win, but at least won't be embarrassed) or we will continue to get stomped and get a new coach next year. Either way, win-win for the Gators. :)

    • It's remnants of the Red Weed from when the martians attacked.
    • Are they planning to retire in Montana too?
  • by Fear the Clam (230933) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @08:21PM (#47644359)

    And those are just the Yankee fans from Queens.

  • by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @08:21PM (#47644361)

    The smell from this can be horrendous and is bad for tourism. Several counties on the West coast of Florida have issued restrictions on the use of fertilizers. The fertilizers used on lawns is blamed for the red tide outbreaks by feeding the organisms, it is believed. The effect on the environment can be harmful in depleting and causing population loss of fish and other species. A large portion of the runoff of fertilizer is from entirely ornamental landscape applications, a complete waste of resources, especially considering the issue of Phosphate depletion. I would like to see a broad restrictions on such fertilizers except for production of food crops. That some people would waste the resource nd threaten the ecosystem, for the vanity of a perfect green yard is outrageous. In Florida, they often use grass species which are pretty much impossible to keep going without these massive applications, such as St. Augustine. When you stop throwing the chemicals on the yard, the St. Augustine will mostly go away.

    • Phosphates (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 10, 2014 @08:49PM (#47644465)

      Let's not forget phosphate mines, or leaks: e.g., Piney Point, Jeb Bush & Friends

      http://www.thebradentontimes.com/news/2011/06/22/environment/piney_point_1966_2011_a_retrospective/#.U-gRnviGTgA

      http://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/huge-red-tide-algae-bloom-could-move-ashore-florida-n175506

      • by Anonymous Coward

        posted wrong link: http://www.sptimes.com/2003/07/06/Tampabay/A_140_million_mess.shtml

        http://baysoundings.com/legacy-archives/sum02/pineypt.html

    • One reason I turfed my backyard with artificial turf.
      I was sick of weeds, animals digging in it, mowing it, fertilizing it, the kids trampoline killing it.

      Synthetic grass can now look as good as the real deal. It can get hot in summer, but otherwise its nice having an always perfect looking lawn.

      • It would be interesting to calculate the relative use of petroleum products in a synthetic lawn (made primarily out of plastics which are made primarily out of fossil fuels) with a 'natural' lawn (grown primarily with added fertilizer which is primarily made out of fossil fuels). The astroturf would be a one time event while the natural lawn requires input on a regular basis.

        • Be even more interesting to find out how many people don't bother fertilizing their lawns.

          Me for instance.

          I can think of one of my neighbors who fertilize their flower beds (not their whole lawns), but the rest of us might toss in some weedkiller every few years (or not), and otherwise let it grow...

        • by operagost (62405)
          One time event? I don't think artificial turf is exempt from the laws of physics. It's going to need repair, cleaning, and eventual replacement.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I don't get artificial turf as a "green" alternative. If you just stop applying chemicals, and keep applying water you still have a lawn. It's just not a monoculture lawn. One place I lived in my college years did this out of sheer laziness, not a desire to be "green". This was in Virginia. Result? A lawn with some residual turf grass, but visually dominated by flowering clover, dandelion, some purple flowers I never learned the name of the whole time I grew up there, and a smattering of less common w

        • Sheesh. I never did get that. Dandelion is actually useful. It's edible for cryin' out loud. Clover fixed nitrogen. Turf grass? I'm hard pressed to think of a use.

          It makes a lot more sense if you think of ornamental landscaping (and much of fashion in general) in terms of competitive display rather than pursuit of some specific aesthetic ideal. It is precisely because something is pointless and relatively resource intensive that it is a good competitive display. If it were purely utilitarian, or if it were trivial, everyone would have one. Lawns are also good for this because deficiencies in maintenance become publicly visible, in the form of various 'weeds' and irre

        • Aussie turf grass (mainly cooch) good at stopping sandy soil from eroding and is kind to bare feet (but may contain funnel web spiders). The worst weed to have in an aussie lawn is the bindi, it has a large seed that no matter which way it lands has a thorn pointing upwards. Still, most (not all) people here in Oz fall into the "lazy" camp, we just mow whatever grows and maybe throw a box of seed mix around after a severe drought has turned it to dust. During a drought there are severe restrictions on wate
        • by operagost (62405)

          some purple flowers I never learned the name of the whole time I grew up there

          Probably chicory (which is more of a lavender color) or creeping charlie. I guess you could steep the roots and see if it tastes like camp coffee. :-P

      • by aXis100 (690904)

        I've never understood why synthetic turf owners down throw a splash of water over their yards in summer - the evaporating water will keep the heat down.

        Yes, it does waste a little water, but far less than regular lawn and you can do it just on the days you want a cooling effect.

      • I don't think artificial turf is the answer. Its planting a drought resistant fiolage, some xeriscaping, etc. There are plenty of things you can plant in the yard. And why not let the weeds take over? Whats wrong with having a yard full of globesedge and matchweed. Nothing in my view.

        • Believe it or not, in some towns in the USA, the local leaders consider xeriscaping just slightly less communistic than not allowing pub patrons to carry loaded guns. Until the days when water becomes too expensive to use in anything other than a drinking cup, my local leaders will insist all residents have lush, weed-free, green lawns. And they enforce that green grass / no weeds ordinance with tickets. Just try changing their minds to allow xeriscaping? Been down that road and got weed tickets 3 strai
    • by NoKaOi (1415755) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @08:57PM (#47644493)

      The fertilizers used on lawns is blamed for the red tide outbreaks by feeding the organisms, it is believed.

      Not to mention that most people (pro landscapers included) dump a lot more phosphorus than is necessary. A mature lawn needs very little phosphorus fertilizer, and in most areas none at all because the soil has enough. Using a phosphorus free fertilizer, which still contains the nutrients the plant needs such as nitrogen and potassium, is sufficient in most areas. And yet, general purpose fertilizer is often used (flowers and fruit needs phosphorus), and even fertilizer marketed for lawns usually unnecessarily contains fertilizer. And that's all about marketing and distribution. The fertilizer companies want to produce stuff they can market everywhere. Additionally, what are most people who don't know anybody going to buy, the fertilizer that says "27-3-10" or the one that says "27-0-10." The former of course, because 3 is better than 0! And lots of "lawn food" products contain plenty just for good measure without even having the N-P-K ratio on the label.

      Education in this area would go a loooong way. Educate the public, the professional landscapers, and the fertilizer suppliers. There are even some municipalities where it's illegal to dump phosphorus containing fertilizer on lawns. Yes, it's easy to get away with breaking that ordinance (especially with the pretty labels at Home Depot), but what having the ordnance does in particular is educate the landscapers who will then buy phosphorus free fertilizer, which will in turn educate (to some degree) the public, and make phosphorus free fertilizer more available and the de facto standard.

    • St. Augustine has not been very popular in Florida for a couple of decades. It used to be about the only grass planted here. Bitter Blue and other, better grasses are now popular. Watering restrictions alone would have limited the use of St. Augustine but the big factor seemed to be runners and also insect vulnerabilities. St. Augustine also grows way too quickly if rain and summer sun are just right. Mowing a lawn every three days is tiresome and expensive. My county has limited residential ferti
    • by silfen (3720385)

      It's inconvenient. It's not a "disaster". And although humans clearly are causing many algal blooms, they are also a natural phenomenon; you can't eliminate them.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        The fact that you seem to think you can't have a natural phenomenon be a disaster is mind boggling.

        Also, Red Tide is 10 times stronger then they where 50 years ago specifically due to human activities.

        • by silfen (3720385)

          The fact that you seem to think you can't have a natural phenomenon be a disaster is mind boggling.

          Where the hell did you get that idea? Something is a "disaster" if it unexpectedly and unpredictably destroys a lot of infrastructure and/or kills a lot of people; earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, tornadoes, and hurricanes can all do that. An algal bloom does none of those things.

          This knee-jerk reflex to call inconveniences "disasters" is as stupid as the knee-jerk reflex to call crimes "terrorism".

    • by Rotag_FU (2039670)

      In Florida, they often use grass species which are pretty much impossible to keep going without these massive applications, such as St. Augustine. When you stop throwing the chemicals on the yard, the St. Augustine will mostly go away.

      This might vary depending upon the area of Florida that you lived in. I lived in the Tampa Bay area when growing up and never had to fertilize our St. Augustine, nor did I have to water it. It rained almost daily during the summers at ~3 PM and the grass seemed to grow too quickly to mow. Even when there was some drought and Xeriscaping was touted as the solution, this was supposed to be to address high water consumption ornamentals rather than St. Augustine grass. There were many times mowing the grass

  • We can feed it to homeless, we can call it "soylent green", it's made nutritious for people!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    St. Albans Bay and Missisquoi Bay on Lake Champlain are on high alert for blue green algae blooms and associated cyanobacteria.

    Communities up and down Lake Champlain in New York and Vermont have been dealing with this for years.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sumdumass (711423)

      We used to tackle blue green algae with copper sulfate in the 400 acre pond where i grew up. We just put about 2 lbs in a burlap sack, tied a rope around it and trolled it around the algae areas once or twice a week for three to four weeks in a row durring the heat of summer. It took about 2-3 hours to hit the blooms

      Do they not do this any more? Or is there something different about in your area that makes it impractical or inneffective or something?

      • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @09:59PM (#47644691) Homepage

        With the price of recycled copper these days, people don't do this often because the low lifes will steal the pond.

      • A pond is a little bit different than the ocean. Copper is fairly toxic to marine invertebrates. With it already being a given that the invertebrates in the area of the bloom are going to die; the question becomes how many will die from a large amount of copper drifting out of that area. And will it even be all that effective with the kinds of currents that are in the ocean. You can saturate a pond, even 400 acres. It will take some time for the copper concentration to wash out. In the ocean it could wash o
      • by MrL0G1C (867445)

        in the 400 acre pond where i grew up

        You grew up in a pond, are you a frog?

        In the UK a pond is 10ft, 400 acres is a big lake.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why don't these farms have filtration systems that filter the waste water *before* it goes out to sea?

  • They just don't want you to drink the water because the toxin gives you a good buzz.
  • We were there for the last red tide back in 2006 and one thing we noticed is it makes you cough similar to pepper spray (yes I have experience pepper spray).

  • So what you're saying is this may be a good time to invest in companies that make bottled water or purification systems.
  • Are the bloom moving closer to Orlando?

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