ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Water quality issues have become a very visible problem in Florida in recent years with toxic algae clogging waterways and killing shocking amounts of wildlife.
The problem on Florida’s east coast reached a new high in 2021. An algae bloom in canals and rivers has killed large amounts of seagrass. Some areas, like the Indian River, have lost about 95 percent of the grasses in important manatee habitats, according to Save the Manatee Club. This death led to a record famine. Last year 1,101 manatees died, almost double the number recorded the year before.
Manatees have no natural predators. Beyond the cold, human behavior is responsible for premature death. Nutrients from septic tank leaks and fertilizer runoff are fueling toxic algal blooms, and many are taking a closer look at how their daily actions affect the problem.
Organic fertilizers have become increasingly popular as growers and gardeners seek more sustainable alternatives, but there is no consensus among experts as to whether they can help solve our algae problem. .
While scientists and environmental groups seem to agree that turning to organic materials, like compost or manure, is better than fertilizers extracted or made for the environment, many researchers say organic fertilizers are still contributing to the problem. Algae.
“Turning our waste stream into a resource is good for the environment, but unfortunately pollution is pollution when it comes to water quality,” said Kim Dinkins, senior partner at the conservation for Save the Manatee Club. “Anything that has the capacity to enter groundwater or surface water has the capacity to pollute and, therefore,e lead to water quality issues that affect manatees. ”
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Catherine Kling, professor of environmental and agricultural economics at Cornell Tisch University, agrees: Algae feed and thrive on both organic and inorganic sources of nutrients.
“Short answer: it’s the same thing. Whether you are using a chemically produced fertilizer or manure that you have picked up from your local farm straight out of an animal, it is exactly the same as it is the nutrient in it that is causing the problem. , ”Kling explains.
But not all environmental scientists agree. Jim Ivey, professor of sustainability at the University of South Florida, says there is a hierarchy when it comes to our gardening and farming habits.
“Organics would be better than inorganics, like your Miracle-Gro type products. Organics are much better than these, take longer to break down and they can improve soil health,” he said. explained Ivey.
Inorganic fertilizers are synthesized to deliver nutrients, in the form of nitrates, to plants in a shorter time. They are quick and easy for plants to consume and in turn trigger rapid growth, but can also have unforeseen consequences.
“The irony here is that these fertilizers are incredibly effective and that’s one of the reasons we’ve been so successful in producing food in the United States, but they have this really unfortunate side effect of they leak into the environment and cause things to grow, like they’re supposed to, that we don’t want to grow and they can damage habitat, ”Kling commented.
The best way to avoid making the algae problem worse is to keep their food sources out of our waterways:
- If you use fertilizers, use them only where needed and apply them directly to the plant instead of indiscriminately spraying or spreading
- Build a buffer zone around the area where fertilizers are used to prevent them from washing away or draining into nearby gutters, storm drains, or streams
- Pick up pets, especially when walking near waterways
- Opt for native plant species and practice xero-landscaping – a style of landscaping or gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for irrigation
“It’s not really the fertilizers, it’s the plants that we grow in Tampa Bay,” commented Ivey. “The grass is not native to this region. Bahiagrass and Centipedegrass are not native to this region. Go with your native plants and xeriscap your garden.”
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