Cloud coverage and algae blooms in the Indian River Lagoon pose an elevated risk for fish kills, but Mother Nature could generate winds and rain this weekend that could help offset a potential crisis similar to one the County experienced in 2016 and 2018, according to Brevard County Natural Resources Management officials.
A cloudy weekend on tap could significantly increase potential for a large fish kill, a situation that is being closely monitored by multiple local, County and state agencies that have responded in past years to major fish kills on the lagoon. There currently are several types of algae blooming in the lagoon, which is evident in areas of the lagoon that have turned the color of pea soup.
“Now that we are in the warm and wet hurricane season, each heavy rain carries excess nutrients from fertilizer and grass clippings off peoples’ lawns and into the lagoon,” said Virginia Barker, director of Brevard County natural Resources Management. “Rain that soaks into the ground picks up pollution from the septic drain fields and broken sewer pipes and also migrates sideways underground to the lagoon. These extra nutrients from our yards overfeed the algae that is naturally living in the water.”
A large food source combined with warm temperatures leads to algae blooms, and they are typical this time of year, Barker said. She said excess nutrient pollution can make the blooms larger, thicker and last longer than natural, and that’ s bad for seagrass, can lead to fish kills and are bad for the health of the lagoon.
While the County, working in tandem with other agencies, is prepared to respond to a major fish kill, Barker said the hope is that the weekend’s weather, with a forecast of rain and hopefully some winds, could stir things up and offset the cloud cover.
“We’ve been similarly poised a number of times in the last few years without mortality events, so we could get lucky,” she said. “The fabulously clear water we experienced from December to July is proof that the lagoon can recover quickly if we stop feeding it too much pollution.”
In 2011, Brevard County voters approved a 10-year Save Our Indian River Lagoon half-cent sales tax that will generate more than $400 million for restoration of the lagoon. So far, the County has completed 30 pollution reduction projects and has another 83 under contract.
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We are making headway but we aren’t there yet,” Barker said. “Blooms like the current one are fairly likely during this season every year until we complete about 200 pollution reduction projects. The current bloom doesn’t mean the lagoon tax isn’t working, it means we aren’t done yet.”
Everyone can help restore the Indian River Lagoon by reducing pollution inputs, such as fertilizer, grass clippings, excess irrigation (especially with reclaimed water) car wash water, failing septic tanks and leaky sewer pipes.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission administers a toll-free Fish Kill Hotline (1-800-636-0511) for reporting the locations of fish kills and/or deceased or abnormal fish. Reports can also be submitted on the FWC website: https://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/health/fish-kills-hotline/