Sunday, February 21, 2010

Red Tides, fertilizers and ocean death zones, a commentary in the newspaper "Sarasota Herald Tribune"

Beware red-tide remedies

(El vinculo entre la marea roja, los fertilizantes en Estados Unidos y las zonas muertas de El Golfo de Mexico y el Mar Caribe es expuesto en este solido comentario del periodico "Sarasota Herald Tribune" donde se muestra la alta preocupacion al respecto del gobierno y las instituciones cientificas de Sarasota, Florida por el medio ambiente, la perdida de 32 millones de dolares anuales, solo en un area reducida: Florida, y la necesidad de aplicar regulaciones en el uso de fertilizantes, entre otros aspectos que trata el comentario donde se muestra la necesidad de una responsabilidad de area ante un tema multilateral que esta afectando no solamente a Estados Unidos)
Treatments should be explored, but prevention is a better approach
Published: Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.
A red tide outbreak can kill fish and manatees, can sicken people with respiratory ailments, and is estimated to have cost Florida as much as $32 million a year in lost tourism.(We may considered, too, the impact in the rest of  our neighbors, Mexico and the poor caribbean island surviving mostly in tourist based economy. Note of the blogger to this article)
Those are reasons enough to welcome research into the use of chemical and biological agents to combat red tide algae.
Such treatments, cited in an article Monday by the Herald-Tribune's Kate Spinner, are still two to three years from being tested in a red tide bloom in the Gulf of Mexico.
And that's good, because state and local authorities should be extremely cautious about introducing foreign elements -- whether man-made or natural -- into the fragile Gulf environment.
A better approach for now is to encourage local, state and federal controls on fertilizer use and stormwaterunoff, both of which have been shown to fuel the growth of red tide blooms.
Red tide is made up of naturally occurring algae that in small clusters cause little harm. In massive blooms, however, they can be deadly.
When the algae die, their cell walls burst, releasing toxins that can kill sea life, including fish and manatees, an endangered species. The toxins, borne by the wind, can cause humans to cough and wheeze -- and avoid coastal areas.
Saved by the drought?
Red tides were frequent along Florida's Gulf Coast in the late 1990s and from 2004 to 2006. A combination of drought, wind patterns, ocean currents and water temperatures has prevented major outbreaks in recent years, according to the state Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
The drought reduced storm-water runoff, which many scientists say can feed red tide by carrying nutrients -- such as the nitrogen and phosphorus in lawn fertilizer -- into streams, bays and eventually the Gulf.
That potential impact on red tide was one of the reasons why Sarasota County in 2007 enacted some of the strictest rules in the state on the use of fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus. The cities of Sarasota and North Port and the town of Longboat Key adopted similar rules.
Restrictions on fertilizer use should be applied statewide and nationally. Many scientists cite the heavy use of fertilizer on Midwest farms -- and the subsequent runoff into the Mississippi River -- as a cause of a vast "dead zone" in the northern Gulf.
While treatments of harmful red tide blooms should be explored, state and local governments should be cautious about their applications out of concern that they could do more harm than good.
Clay model
One such method -- the spraying of a clay solution that can neutralize red tide toxins and carry the algae to the sea bottom -- has been tested in the Gulf.
"The work was successful," Spinner noted in her article, "but the clay's source -- as a slightly radioactive byproduct of phosphate mining -- proved publicly unpopular and potentially damaging to the ocean floor. The clay also contains phosphorus, which feeds algae."
Clay also has been used to fight red tide in South Korea, but another harmful algal species has begun to bloom in place of the red tide -- and it resists the clay.
Science can work wonders, and may someday come up with an effective and environmentally safe way to treat red tide. Until then, an ounce of prevention -- through controls on fertilizer use and storm-water runoff -- is still worth a pound of cure.
This story appeared in print on page A8
Copyright © 2010 — All rights reserved. Restricted use only.

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