An algae bloom in Florida's Santa Fe River.
Residents and tourists alike love Florida’s beautiful beaches and waterways. It's one of the best reasons to visit the Sunshine State. Yet there's a gross menace lurking in many of the state's waterways.
Sierra Club Florida is asking residents statewide — has your favorite watering hole been slimed?"When we say 'slime,' we mean the ugly harmful and nuisance algae that can literally kill water bodies and the tourist economies that depend on them," says Maria Bolton-Joubert, chair of the Central Florida Sierra Club.
"Our 'Slime Crimes Campaign' — also known as the Water Sentinels - Protecting Florida's Waters Campaign — deals with the issue of Florida's waterways being plagued by slime caused by fertilizer, sewage and animal manure."
It's happening all over Florida. Rivers, streams, springs, and lakes are contaminated by excess nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorous) pollution entering waterways. This pollution fuels harmful algae blooms, sliming up the waterways and sending tourists running from beaches -- sometimes to emergency rooms.
The Slime Crimes Campaign educates Floridians about how these three toxic substances are affecting the state’s waterways and how people can help stop it. The campaign is also demanding strong protective nutrient pollution limits for Florida's waterways.
"Floridians should get involved since so much of our state depends on tourism, and enjoying the outdoors — both of which have a direct connection to water," says Maria. "No one likes a slimy, green body of water near them, let alone the fact that it harms wildlife and humans. If you swim in, boat in, fish in, or just plain drink water in Florida, this campaign affects you."
Tens of thousands of Floridians have already gotten involved in the campaign merely by checking out the Florida Slime Crime Tracker, a Google map using photos to showcase where all the slime is within the state.
"The photos were contributed by numerous clean water activists and advocacy organizations from across Florida and compiled into map form by the Sierra Club. It is a real eye-opener for folks who may not believe that this is a real issue for our state right now. Everyone needs to become aware of the situation, and a visual like this definitely helps."
(Florida residents, if you know of a body of water by you affected by slime, take a pic, and send it to the tracker with your name, and location of the slime: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Beyond the map, Sierra Club Florida is working to reduce the amount of nutrient pollution entering our waterways and fueling toxic algae outbreaks like Red Tide by:
- Protecting existing local urban fertilizer ordinances.
- Promoting strong fertilizer ordinances that include a summer rainy season ban on nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer application across Florida to reduce the amount of fertilizer runoff into waterways.
- Supporting the Environmental Protection Agency’s numeric nutrient criteria - the enforceable pollution limits we need to clean up Florida's waters.
A toxic algae outbreak in the St. John's River.
"Nutrient pollution in Florida is a controversial issue," Maria says. "For example, in 2010 we concurrently experienced a 100-mile-long toxic algae outbreak and accompanying fish kill in the St. John's River, and a full court press from the state's largest polluters to delay and defeat efforts to meet the Clean Water Act provisions that would prevent such an environmental and economic disaster."
She says this press from polluters continues today even though some of the slime crime fixes would be simple to enact.
"Strong urban fertilizer management is the least costly of possible alternatives and can be instituted and effective immediately. It is far more cost-effective to prevent nutrient pollution than it is to utilize hundreds of thousands or millions of tax dollars in restoration efforts for impaired waters."
Yet the cost of meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed numeric nutrient criteria has been the rallying point for the utilities, agriculture and industry who oppose the new standards.
Still, over 50 local governments have adopted strong urban fertilizer ordinances to reduce nutrient pollution at little or no cost since 2007.
"And the truth is, cleaning up waterways will only get more expensive so it makes tax-dollar sense to do it now," Maria says.
Algae slime takes over a waterway in Cape Coral, Florida.
"Floridians should get involved since so much of our state depends on tourism, and enjoying the outdoors -- both of which have a direct connection to water. No one likes a slimy, green body of water near them, let alone the fact that it harms wildlife and humans. If you swim in, boat in, fish in, or just plain drink water in Florida, this campaign affects you."
And for non-Floridians, it’s still just as important an issue. Waterways nationwide are seeing similar slimy-algae situations.
"The vast algae blooms have also produced massive dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Erie, the Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound, and off the coasts of Oregon and Washington, too," Maria says.
"Everyone should care about water. No one wants to live by something contaminated -- especially when it can be prevented."
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to make its final decision on numeric nutrient criteria before the end of this year.