Phytoplankton bloom status: Chlorophyll a biomass as an indicator of water quality condition in the southern estuaries of Florida, USA
Altered freshwater inflows have affected circulation, salinity, and water quality patterns of Florida Bay, in turn altering the structure and function of this estuary. Changes in water quality and salinity and associated loss of dense turtle grass and other submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) in Florida Bay have created a condition in the bay where sediments and nutrients have been regularly disturbed, frequently causing large and dense phytoplankton blooms. These algal and cyanobacterial blooms in turn often cause further loss of more recently established SAV, exacerbating the conditions causing the blooms. Chlorophyll a (CHLA) was selected as an indicator of water quality because it is an indicator of phytoplankton biomass, with concentrations reflecting the integrated effect of many of the water quality factors that may be altered by restoration activities. Overall, we assessed the CHLA indicator as being (1) relevant and reflecting the state of the Florida Bay ecosystem, (2) sensitive to ecosystem drivers (stressors, especially nutrient loading), (3) feasible to monitor, and (4) scientifically defensible. Distinct zones within the bay were defined according to statistical and consensual information. Threshold levels of CHLA for each zone were defined using historical data and scientific consensus. A presentation template of condition of the bay using these thresholds is shown as an example of an outreach product.
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