The Shameful Truth Behind Florida’s Algae Blooms
If you’re someone with at least two of your five senses, you’ve likely been made aware of Florida’s algae bloom crises. Along both coasts of our state, marine ecosystems are being laid to waste by toxic algae. The algae is so prolific this year because it is fed by nutrient-rich runoff from our agricultural industries, golf courses and even from the fertilizers we put on our lawns at home.
In June, thousands of tons worth of dead sea life, including manatees, goliath grouper and even one whale shark, floated ashore in southwest Florida. The ensuing stinky mess is still in the clean-up phase.
Here in NSB, we’ve largely escaped the most visceral destruction, but we are no strangers to environmental disasters. Two years ago, our section of the Indian River Lagoon was besieged by runoff-driven algae. The resulting bloom created a state of emergency for the vital fisheries in the lagoon, and an expensive cleanup improved conditions, at least for now.
I could get all scientific here and explain the nuances of Florida’s complex hydrologic cycle. I could bore you with facts about the organism, which causes “red tide,” (Karenia brevis) and I could explain the dichotomy between Florida’s agronomy and its ecosystem.
But, figuring out who the culprit is, who perpetrated this disaster, is as easy as looking into a mirror. The habits of Florida’s populace, the goods we consume, the stupid little things we all do every day have contributed to this crisis more than anything else. The good news is that you can curb the crisis just as easy as you helped create it.
Do you apply egregious amounts of fertilizer or pesticides to your lawn? STOP IT NOW. Well-managed landscapes don’t need all of that nastiness in order to look their best. Agricultural enterprises can change their evil ways, too, by controlling their irrigation runoff thus ensuring that fewer nutrients end up in our waterways.
Unfortunately, inspiring changes to the political status quo is a bit more difficult. Politicians, like our own avaricious governor, stared this problem right in the face and made a conscious choice to do nothing.
What can we do to fix the problem?
The science is there, and we know how to curb nutrient runoff, but Florida’s political hotshots decided that making a little more cheddar off of lucrative agricultural industries was worth leaving our state’s precious natural resources to rot on the vine, and that painful truth stinks more than a mountain of rotting fish.
Going forward, I’ve made some small changes. I don’t fertilize my lawn and I use native plants in my landscape. When I stop for a cold beverage on a sweltering afternoon, I forego the straw and lid. I don’t use plastic bags in the grocery store. I’ve heard a few people declare that it’s their right to use a plastic straw, and they’ll be darned before that sacred right is infringed.
These people deserve to be on dead fish clean-up duty. One plastic straw will float in the ocean for 500 years before it degrades, unless it’s eaten by a sea turtle first.
If we care about having the Florida we know and love present for future generations, then we might need to endure minor inconveniences like drinking from the rim of a glass like in olden times. We might need to tolerate a dollar weed or two. I know you can figuratively, but not literally, suck it up because changes start at home with us and our families.
Kurt Vonnegut said, “We could have saved the Earth, but we were too damned cheap.” Countless philosophers, authors and sages have foretold the demise of man – smited by his own hand. But, I’m not a doomy-gloomy type of prognosticator. I think it’s still early enough in the game to achieve meaningful solutions.
I think this state can still be left off better than it was when I was born here in the 1980s, but we’ve got to start taking stock in what we do and how our activities affect the world around us.
Be that conscious consumer. Be the weirdo like me with no straw in their drink. But for the sake of this place, which we all love, DO SOMETHING.
By Bryon White