Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Adventures in a Changing World-Del Ray to Vero Beach

We are currently at our mooring buoy in Vero Beach, Florida, after having made our way up from Del Ray through the Intracoastal Waterway.  Yesterday we were at the Harbor Branch of the Florida Atlantic University, meeting with scientists and learning about the threats that climate change is bringing to Florida. 
Our anchorage at Vero Beach last night.

The team sailing with watermelon.

The author meeting with researcher Nicki Desjardin, who is studying Loggerhead and Leather-back turtles on the Atlantic beach in front of Nettles Island.

Never a good idea...

Dr. Brian Lapointe getting interviewd by the team at Florida Atlantic University

Sailing away from Harbor Branch, Florida Atlantic University
The kite camera above the Florida Barrier islands

There are many serious issues, including the loss of fresh water lenses on the Keys of Florida.  These little islands poke southwards form the state, and bring thousands of tourists a year to this low lying coastal area. They are surrounded by coral reefs.  The islands themselves, like many coral islands in the world, have a "lense" of fresh clean water that "floats" on the sea water around it in the porous island coral.  Researchers like Dr. Brian Lapointe are studying how these fresh water lenses are disappearing, mostly due to inundation by rising sea levels caused by Climate Change.  He suggests that sea levels have already risen by as much as a foot (roughly 15 cm) around Florida.

But this is not the most dire of issues.  In Florida, the politically powerful farms that lie just above the world famous Everglades pump millions of tons of fertilizer into their crops, mostly sugarcane.  With Climate Change comes greater rainfall and these increasing flood events cause more runoff into the fragile marine ecosystems around the Florida Keys.  Greater runoff forces these unsustainable farms to pump even more fertilizer onto their land.  In this runoff into the ocean are huge amounts of fertilizers, and these cause algae blooms and over-oxygenation of the water. 

(this post has been corrected on May 25th, 2012): This is not true as my brother John Michael Barbee, who has a masters degree in environmental engineering, points out:  "I noticed in your recent blog that you posted a comment about the fertilizer loading on land that drains into the ocean, causing algal blooms and, eventually, "over-oxygenation".  You seem to imply that over-oxygenation is the problem but it is not--it is the depletion of oxygen that comes from the cycle of algal bloom life and death where bacteria demand oxygen for their own survival when they "eat" the detritus from the algae blooms.  this leads to dead zones where there is not enough dissolved oxygen for life, especially fish, which are the most sensitive, usually hope that clarification is helpful."

My apologies for the confusion and my huge thanks to Mike for pointing this out.
-Jeff Barbee

Dr. Lapointe told us yesterday that maybe only 7% of all the coral in the keys is still clean and healthy.  This has had terrible financial repercussions for the state, local communities and fisherman, who all rely on this valuable resource to provide a living for themselves and their families.

Today we are headed up to Indian River Lagoon, to meet with the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program scientists.  They are working at restoring the ecosystems that help clean some of the runoff from the large scale farming in the state before it enters the sea.

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