Causes of Algae Superbloom under Study
MELBOURNE, FLA.—Professors John H. Trefry and Ashok Pandit of Florida Institute of Technology and Professor Jonathan B. Martin of the University of Florida were awarded a contract for $865,000 from the St. Johns River Water Management District for sediment and groundwater studies in the Indian River Lagoon. The group will investigate inputs of the nutrient elements nitrogen and phosphorus to the lagoon via the sediments. Trefry and Martin will determine release rates for nutrients from muck sediments. Martin and Pandit will measure the rate of input of nitrogen and phosphorus to the lagoon from seepage of groundwater up through sandy sediments to lagoon waters.
An algae superbloom hit the lagoon in 2011 and the blooms are continuing to harm the system. In the past three years, more than 47,000 acres of seagrass— approximately 60 percent of the total seagrass area in the central and northern lagoon—has disappeared because the algae blooms block incoming sunlight. Trefry notes that “The distribution of muck has continued to increase in the lagoon and the release of nitrogen and phosphorus from muck sediments may have played an important role in fueling these algae blooms.”
The group will focus sampling along the following three transects across the lagoon: adjacent to the mouth of the Eau Gallie River, across the Indian River and Banana River lagoons from near Rockledge to Cocoa Beach, and across the Indian River and Mosquito lagoons north of Titusville and Haulover Canal.
The group will collaborate with Florida Tech’s Professor Kevin Johnson in his recently funded study of zooplankton, organisms that have the potential to graze on the nuisance algae. The two projects bring a total of $1.1 million to the newly established Indian River Lagoon Research Institute (IRLRI). The institute is a collaboration of the university’s scientists, engineers, coastal resource managers and educators, working independently and with community organizations to improve and sustain the health of the Indian River Lagoon.