The lagoon that hugs much of Florida’s east coast and has the richest array of marine plants, fish and wildlife in North America is under attack from the worst known outbreak of harmful algae in its history.
A large portion of the Indian River Lagoon, an essential estuary for everything from manatees and sea turtles to sport fish and shrimp, now has the appearance of muddy water, as if roiled by the runoff of a flash flood.
The opaque coloring, however, is caused by microscopic algae plants thriving in the lagoon’s water. Scientists say the algae’s explosive growth, called a “bloom,” has reached the point of being a “brown tide,” an uncommon and poorly understood calamity previously blamed for ravaging coastal environments in Texas and New York.
The Indian River Lagoon, which extends 156 miles fromNew Smyrna Beachsouth to Jupiter, is at risk of a chain reaction of die-offs and disappearances of countless species. Pollution is a suspected cause of this algae invasion, but a team of 25 scientists and experts from nine organizations is investigating whether unusually cold weather the past two winters and an ongoing drought might have played a role.
update: Researcher confirms brown tide in September.