Rice Creek Algal Bloom – Photo by Karen Ahlers

As we have mentioned in previous posts, scientists still have not definitively determined the cause of the mysterious foam and the massive fish kills on the St. Johns River but do suspect a link to algal blooms. While it is important that we diligently attempt to identify the source of the foam and fish fish kills, let's not allow these incidents to distract us from the big picture. Here is what we do know:

  • Our river is sick from nutrient pollution. 
  • Too many nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) can stimulate toxic algal blooms.
  • Toxic blooms are harmful to fisheries, people, pets, the river, and our economy. 
  • Algae and algal toxins are likely contributing factors to the foam and fish kills.
  • We must reduce nutrient pollution that is entering our river from commercial and utility wastewater, fertilizer runoff, failing septic tanks, and leaking sewage pipes.
  • One of the most important first steps to reducing nutrient pollution is to establish specific limits, or numeric nutrient standards.

Here is a recent letter to the editor about this issue from St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon. The letter ran on August 15th in the Florida Times-Union:

This has been a bad summer for the St. Johns River. First, it was algae blooms, some of them toxic. Next, the river suffered one of the largest fish kills in its history. Now, media reports are filled with accounts of mystery foam adding to the river's woes. As regulators and academics ponder what's causing the latest river malady, I suggest we take a step back and focus on what we do know about the river.

First, we know the St. Johns is sick. Algae blooms, massive fish kills and strange foam do not indicate healthy water quality. Scientists believe the fish kill is due to, in part, the algal blooms. Also, theories are linking the foam with the algal blooms or fish kills. It is imperative to find the cause of the tragic fish kill – for both an economic and ecologic standpoint. Because of the community interest, we would also like to see some final call on the foam's source. While causation is important, the majority of time and resources are best spent focusing on the ultimate cause of the river's problems: Nutrient pollution and how to reduce it.