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Algae Pollution a Worldwide Problem Affecting Marine Life Posted by Karthi on Mon January 10 2011 02:04:29 AM 31

"That green algae floating in the water, it?s dead right?" David Ochs asked. David is an officer of the National Association of Diving Instructors (NAUI) and a veteran diver. He saw the green algae floating in mid-water off Delray Beach, Florida, during a dive with his students.

The algae drifted northward in the flow of current. Some clumps were small, others were long and filamentous. The entire water column contained algae. Underwater, reefs in the Atlantic Ocean off South Florida have been plagued with algae. I've studied environmental issues off the same reefs from Palm Beach to Boca Raton over the last 25 years. It is easy enough to identify the major source of ocean pollution: people. Too many people living on swamp and sand.

Algae Proliferation

Issues that arise from over-population include development, agriculture, and waste. In Florida everything that goes upon the land ends up in the ocean. The complex systems of run-off during frequent rains in the tropics, evaporation, and direct ocean dumping create nourishment for algae. Waste containing nitrogen and phosphorus creates an environment favoring algal growth in the marine environment.

Once that concept is understood, everything else is simple. Political machinations led to off-shore oil drilling despite dire predictions of crisis caused by massive spills. Pollution by algae is an even greater peril since it is a quiet menace.

Only a handful of scuba divers even notice the problem. Reefs are dead. Entire reef structures are overgrown with thick mats of algae. Sea fans, sponges, and hard corals are all covered with heavy mats of algae. When I take my fingers and touch a sea fan branch in contaminated areas, it breaks off, brittle and dead.

What NAUI instructor David Ochs observed in the water column was green algae growing in suspension. It will settle as soon as the current stops. Frequently there is no current in the area of the reefs depending on the meandering of the Gulf Stream. The algae will settle and grow on the reef. Algae proliferate quickly in warm water nourished by sunshine filtering down from above. It is a plant. Given the advantage of increased nitrogen in sea water it thrives.

I have identified two major species of algae in what is an underwater cocktail: Lyngbya, a blue green algae, and Geramium, a red algae. The Geramium gives a red-brown color to tufts clinging to corals underwater. My findings have been confirmed by specialists at the Smithsonian Institution.

This is no revelation. Algae have contaminated and killed reefs around the world. When I studied the problem off the Island of Corsica in the Mediterranean, it was clear that a village with a year around population of 5,000 that swelled to 55,000 in summer with the influx of tourism could not handle the increased load of sewage. The result of additional effluent into the sea was algal growth. Algae contaminated corals underwater and killed them.

The same instances of algae proliferation have been seen around the world. The biology of it is simple. Feed one species nutrients and it is favored in nature. It grows out of control and subsequently kills other forms of life

Pollution control

Captain Craig Smart volunteered his dive boat, Starfish Enterprise, out of Boynton Beach, to take a group of volunteers attached to Reef Rescue to the site of the Delray Beach sewage outfall pipe. The conduit is a huge 4-foot diameter pipe that was built a mile out into the ocean. The Reef Rescue group dove on it with television news cameramen.

I tied a float off to the pipe so that the divers could descend with their cameras and document the event. It was a landmark. Government ordered the sewage outfall pipe, one of nine in Palm Beach County, shut down. At the same time, on land, news cameras taped a worker closing a valve. In the water the cameras recorded the diminishing flow and eventual halt to the effluent.

The sewage outfall pipe that for years spewed sewage, treated and at times untreated, into the ocean was closed but not abandoned. The catch was that the city of Delray Beach could use the pipe when it rained and more effluent backed up in their holding systems than could be contained. More than could be deep well injected to get rid of it.

Captain Smart had divers in the vicinity of the Delray Beach sewage outfall pipe a month later, and it was clear that it was back on line. Swirls of water appeared on the surface above the outfall pipe indicating it was open and being used. This after mandated closure.

Agricultural Causes

It is not only sewage that contains nitrogen. Everywhere in coastal Florida storm drains gather rain water. Everything on the land is washed into these storm drains. Those little warning signs that lawns have been sprayed and are dangerous to people and animals for 24 hours or more, mean that when it rains those chemicals go right into storm drains. Everything on roadways, golf courses, lawns flows with the rain into pipes and is immediately and without any treatment of any kind sent into the Intracoastal Waterway and thence at tide change into the ocean. Some cities are trying to stem the flow by starting settling ponds near the Intracoastal. These still do not remove nitrogen.

Florida's agriculture is likewise nurtured with fertilizers and chemical sprays. No agriculture could take place in sand without artificial means of nurturing it. Sugar cane and other crops as well as animals require feed. Feed contains nitrogen. Animal waste contains nitrogen.

Florida is the largest beef producer in the United States. Animal feed lots raise beef and other animals for slaughter. Beef, hogs and other animals are sold by weight. They are fed up with various products as well as chemical additives. They produce waste that must be disposed of. On land that waste adds to the nitrogen load that reaches massive canals that criss-cross Florida.

The canals lead to the Intracoastal Waterway and are controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and water management districts. When it rains and water levels rise, engineers open gates and dump water from canals. This contaminated water reaches the ocean through cuts in the Intracoastal at tide change.

Liquid from animal waste evaporates. We know from common experience that any spill evaporates. Spill liquid, be it gasoline, chemicals, or urine, and it evaporates. It doesn't disappear?it just evaporates. It enters the atmosphere. It still doesn?t disappear somewhere into the galaxies of outer space as some might be deluded into thinking. Minute particles hang around and are gathered in clouds and returned to earth in rain. Contamination goes up and it comes down exactly in the same structure. Another peril to the marine environment.

There is nothing as startling as massive oil spills coming ashore. Those produce a wail of lament, lawsuits, and demands by law makers for fixing blame and responsibility. The quiet menace of algae contamination of ocean resources goes on without notice. Reefs are killed and their ability to support life diminished more certainly but less dramatically than from oil spills.

How to Help

There is no easy solution. Development should have been strictly limited. Agriculture using fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides prohibited. Feed lots controlled. Population settled not on fragile Everglades or beach fronts but in areas that already had adequate sewage treatment as well as a nitrogen and heavy metal contaminant removal processes in place before the first house was built. Landscapes and recreational pursuits like golf courses should have been contained to prevent run off. Great and massive canals that throw away precious fresh water in drought crisis should be changed from flood control to water conservation systems.

Billions of dollars later, only an imperfect system can be predicted if it is ever implemented or effective. An oil spill is a minor annoyance by comparison. What David Ochs and his divers observed, what Captain Craig Smart sees every day, what goes on underwater is everybody?s responsibility. It is easy to dismiss since so very few observe the silent killer at work destroying what required nature millions of years to create. We are quickly destroying the very thing that makes life viable in Florida.

Without offshore reefs, hurricanes would have swept Florida?s few feet of sand into the ocean eons ago. Without reefs, no marine life would find homes and no recreational pursuits available. Without reefs, life as we know it cannot exist around the world.

Do something, anything, even if it is to restrict use of nitrogen based fertilizers on your plants. Use organic products instead of chemicals. Insure that detergents are environment safe. A little bit by many goes a long way toward solving massive issues. When gasoline tops $3 per gallon, it is wise to turn off excess electric lights when not needed. One bulb a day will make a difference. Power plants spew out contaminants despite tighter regulations on use of fossil fuels.

Old hat but sound solutions that require no government regulation. The quiet menace of algae pollution has seen government regulation to attempt to control it. Since government is often the flagrant violator of the laws, it goes unpunished. Has any attention been paid to the issue of algae contamination of the offshore reefs? Compare it to the recent oil spill that reaches the attention of people everywhere, every day. Consider this worse and in far greater proportion. It is a silent killer, requiem to the reefs.

Dr. John Christopher Fine is a marine biologist and Master Scuba Instructor and Instructor Trainer. He has authored 24 books. His research and studies have created awareness for ocean conservation worldwide

Source - http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/38228/