A large reservoir at an abandoned fertilizer plant near Tampa Bay became unstable last week, and Florida officials are now pumping millions of gallons of contaminated water into the bay to prevent the reservoir’s walls from bursting. The plan protects downstream homes, but it comes with an extraordinary risk: The water contains phosphorus and nitrogen – ingredients in fertilizer that can fuel massive algae blooms. Those blooms have the potential to devastate marine ecosystems. Toxic red tide would be a worst-case scenario, and a red tide outbreak is already underway just down the coast.

Marine biologist Larry Brand of the University of Miami explains the risks and how agriculture across South Florida is increasingly putting the state’s fragile marine ecosystems at risk.

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Stacy Morford

General Assignments Editor

Tampa Bay’s sea grass meadows need sunlight to thrive. Algae blooms block that light and can be toxic to marine life. Joe Whalen Caulerpa/Tampa Bay Estuary Program via Unsplash

Water being pumped into Tampa Bay could cause a massive algae bloom, putting fragile manatee and fish habitats at risk

Larry Brand, University of Miami

Harmful algae blooms are an increasing problem in Florida. Once nutrients are in the water to fuel them, little can be done to stop the growth, and the results can be devastating for marine life.



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