FORT LAUDERDALE/DAVIE, Fla. – Turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper or scroll through various social media threads and there are bound to be stories about blue-green algae (also known as cyanobacteria) blooms plaguing communities across Florida.
Now scientists are teaming up to study this phenomenon.
“The time has come for us to research what factors contribute to these blue-green algae blooms, what we can do to mitigate them when they happen and, more importantly, what can we do proactively to stop them from happening or lessen their impact,” said Jose Lopez, Ph.D., the primary investigator on the genetic analysis portion of the project. Lopez is also a research scientist and professor at Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography.
This study is being funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the United States Geological Survey (USG) and the Caribbean Cooperative Ecosystems Studies Unit (CESU), and includes researchers from Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) and the USGS Caribbean-Florida Water Science Center. NSU’s Halmos College Ocean Campus will be the home base for the research, with Lopez co-leading the project along with Barry Rosen, staff scientist for the USGS Southeastern Region.
Lopez said the research could run up to three years with a focus on how water quality, nutrients and harmful algae blooms interact in Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River, looking at the factors that come into play when these blooms occur. Given the importance these blooms have garnered the past few years, including Florida’s Governor creating a “Blue-Green Algae Task Force,” it’s clear this research can go a long way in helping address this issue.
We have all seen the photos and video footage of large blooms. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) happen when some types of cyanobacteria grow out of control. Harmful algal blooms, or HABs, are not always toxic, but some cyanobacteria produce toxic compounds that can harm people, fish, marine mammals, and birds.
“There are many species of cyanobateria, so we need to characterize the diversity and better understand which ones contribute to the blooms and what their normal function is in the ecosystem when there is no harmful algae bloom. This project will have a strong genomics basis [reading DNA and RNA sequences] at the molecular level,” Lopez said.