Mat algae covers bottom of Matlacha Pass
LEE COUNTY, Fla. – Another threat is lurking under the surface of the water, and it’s called mat algae. It can destroy the ecosystem by sucking all the oxygen out of the water.
Right now thick, green, mat algae is covering the bottom of Matlacha Pass.
“The root cause is nutrients,” said Richard Bartleson, Research Scientist at SCCF Marine Lab. “We have an overloading of nutrients to our system. Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus.”
Bartleson has been researching this algae and its effect on the local environment. It looks like a fuzzy green carpet, but Bartleson explained the algae’s biomass has become much too large.
“It’s decomposing and when that happens, the bacteria that decompose the algae use oxygen from the water,” he said. It sucks the oxygen out of the water.”
As early as next week, the water in Matlacha Pass could become anoxic, which means there won’t be enough oxygen in the water for the majority of sea creatures to keep living here.
Bartleson said oxygen levels tested Thursday in different parts of Matlacha Pass were lower than they should be in the middle of the day. Healthy oxygen levels should be over 100 percent.
“There is a federal rule called the Clean Water Act, he said. “Each state is supposed to enforce the clean water act and set a daily maximum load for its estuaries, Florida hasn’t been doing that.”
Water quality issues are pushing people out of the community. Karl Deigert of the Florida Rights of Nature Network is soon to be one of them.
“I fulfilled a dream of buying a little waterside motel in Matlacha and doing boat tours,” he said. “That’s all gone by the wayside now. I cannot put people in this water to enjoy it with a good conscience. I don’t see this getting better and I think as it gets worse we’re going to see an economic impact on property values and tourism.”
Last year there was a massive bloom of mat algae on Matlacha Pass.
“We’re probably stuck with this algae for quite a while,” said Bartleson.
Researchers worry without change, we’ll continue to see blooms that suffocate sea creatures and cause others to swim away.
“The peace river has hundreds of metric tons of phosphorus come down the river every year,” explained Bartleson. “That promotes tons of algae. But then, we also have anywhere where there are septic tanks around here, that water gets into the aquifer.”
As water temperatures get hotter, eventually the algae will break down and the water’s oxygen levels will return to normal but Bartleson said it could take weeks for this to happen.