What do nutrients do to reefs? Well, when nutrients are introduced in a reef environment with the right amount of light and Ocean temperature will provide perfect condition for the very fast growth of algae. Algae growth is normal for many parts of the Ocean and can provide habitats for a diverse set of micro habitats ideal for bacteria, microbes, and small animals; however, algae can grow faster than coral reefs. The growth of algae often occurs on corals covering them from light, which is required by the corals to grow. Prolonged coverage of algae over corals will kill the corals and destroy a perfectly good reef, which in turn, will produce a habitat that is not hospitable for reef dwelling fish. This process produces a former reef habitat that provides protection for a beach, fish for local communities, and tourism opportunities through diving and snorkelling. So why is this important?
It’s important because the process described above is happening all over the world where corals live and we are losing our coral reefs at a phenomenal rate. Often times nutrients are introduced via the discharge pipe located in the shallow water zone in the Ocean from a wastewater treatment plant. The plants take water from surrounding areas and “cleans” the water so it meets regulatory limits, but the problem is that, in many countries, the regulations do not require the plants to meet low nutrient limits. So the discharge from the plant is high enough to spawn the growth of algae on reefs. Until the limits are changed in many countries, reefs will suffer from algae overgrowth for a long time.
The good news is something can be done, which is often fuelled by pressure from the public on the government agencies responsible for making policy changes. Below is a letter I received from Surfrider Florida viaReef Relief to encourage the South Florida community to call their Senators to voice their opinions. If the community does not say anything, they could lose many coral reefs due to algae overgrowth. The letter from Reef Relief and Surfrider
Dear Reef Relief Supporters:
We all saw the success of working together get HB457 under control, we could use the same help on SB 796 which will undo group efforts made 2 years ago to close the outfalls in South Florida. Please call you Senators while they are home on break.These Bills include some troubling provisions that could detrimentally impact the treatment and reuse of water in some of our largest counties, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.
The legislation delays the requirement for compliance with a state mandate to eliminate ocean outfall, improve wastewater treatment and beneficially reuse a portion of that wastewater by five years. Unfortunately, as is too often the case during our 60-day legislative session, some troubling provisions of this legislation appear to have been overlooked.
Of key relevance is the grave concern that injecting this into the aquifer would increase nutrients in our aquifers since drinking water standards do not limit nutrients enough. The studies have shown that due to our limestone this can easily come back through upwellings onto our reefs and into our sensitive bay areas.
Our main target is the upcoming Senate Budget Committee as this is where it goes first thing next week, but all Senators need to be aware if this gets pushed through.
Ericka (Davanzo) Canales
Florida Regional Manager