FCE LTER Journal Articles


Florida Bay: Water quality status and trends, historic and emerging algal bloom problems


Florida Bay is a unique subtropical estuary that while historically oligotrophic, has been subjected to both natural and anthropogenic stressors, including hurricanes, coastal eutrophication and other impacts. These stressors have resulted in degradation of water quality in the past several decades, most evidenced by reoccurring blooms of the picocyanobacterium Synechococcus spp. Major nutrient inputs consist of freshwater flows to the eastern region from runoff and regulated canal releases, inputs from the Everglades to the central region via Taylor Slough, exchanges with the Gulf of Mexico, which include intermittent Shark River inputs to the western region, stormwater and wastewater from the Florida Keys, and atmospheric deposition. These nutrient inputs have resulted in a transition from strong phosphorus (P) limitation of phytoplankton in the eastern bay to nitrogen (N) limitation in the western bay. Large blooms of Synechococcus were most pronounced in the central bay region, in the area of transition between P and N limitation, in the mid-1990s. Although non-toxic, these blooms, which have continued intermittently through the early 2000s, resulted in significant sea-grass and benthic organism mortalities. A new suite of stressors in 2005, including the passages of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, additional canal releases, and the initiation of road construction to widen the main roadway leading to the Keys, were correlated with a large Synechococcus bloom in the previously clear, strongly P- limited, northeastern region of the bay. Sustained for 3 years, this bloom was accompanied by a shift from P limitation to N limitation during its course. Nutrient bioassay experiments suggest that this bloom persisted due to the ability of Synechococcus to access organic N and P sources, microbial and geochemical cycling of organic and inorganic nutrients in the water column and between the water column and sediments (both suspended particles and benthos), and decreased grazing by benthic fauna due to their die-off.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under Cooperative Agreements #DBI-0620409 and #DEB-9910514. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.