Caroly's Notes: Ocean Connections

My life has revolved around understanding and educating the public about connections. Two weeks ago, I attended the Everglades 2019 Coalition Conference: Everglades Rescue: Send the Water South in Duck Key, FL. You may be wondering, "what does the Everglades have to do with Florida’s coral reefs and fish?" A lot! Fish abundance and diversity are tied to habitat: all other things being equal, the more available habitat, the more fish. Seagrass is an essential habitat for juvenile fish, and Florida Bay needs clean freshwater to have healthy seagrass. Droughts in 1987 and 2015 caused salinity levels in Florida Bay to increase to 60%, killing a significant amount of seagrass. Dr. Ross Boucek of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust noted that the Florida Bay is getting only half as much freshwater as it needs, and a third of the best fish habitat has been lost. A massive seagrass dieoff also occurred in Biscayne Bay in 2016, perhaps due to multiple stressors (including poor water quality) causing a tipping point. Solving the problem of nutrient inputs leading to algal blooms is equally challenging; the nitrogen pollution problem (largely from agriculture, but also from urban runoff), must also be addressed. Dr. Larry Brand of the University of Miami noted that if water is released into the Florida Bay in summer months under current water quality conditions, algal blooms are certain to occur. The sbmerged peatlands surrounding Lake Okeechobee contain large quantities of nitrogen, which stay in the peat if submerged. When these lands are drained for agriculture, the nitrogen is released, eventually ending up in waters moving downstream, and causing algal blooms. Depending on the type of algae, this can be harmful to people and marine life. There is some good news, though: there is growing recognition of the complexity and interconnectedness of land, freshwater, and the sea - which is making stakeholders more motivated to solve the problem. Please enjoy our February edition of e-News, and thank you for being a part of our ocean conservation mission! Best fishes, Caroly