I moved to Florida thirteen years ago and instantly hated it. It was flat, hot and humid with few redeeming qualities. It took about five years and a departure from the urban areas for the beauty to really sink in. The green swamps with hidden orchids, mangrove islands resplendent with birds, dolphins in the bay, sunsets on a sailboat, diving in crystal clear spring waters, exploring the vast expanses of the Everglades, ancient cypress trees, slow moving tea colored rivers, Spanish moss draping magnificent live oaks……now there is plenty for me to marvel at. As I explore the bounty of nature that Florida has to offer I begin to see a common thread moving throughout these ecosystems: many of these sights and places that fill me with a sense of wonder rely on healthy water quality to exist and thrive. Even if the sights that fill you with wonder are the summer beach, a delicious fish sandwich, snorkeling on a reef in the keys, or boating with friends, you are relying on water quality for your enjoyment.
As a student of the environment it is obvious that there is a certain fragility to Florida’s natural beauty. Water quality can be determined by a variety of factors; turbidity, dissolved oxygen, chemical pollution and nutrient load. Nutrients are most often sources of Nitrogen and Phosphorous which provide food for algal growth. As algae grow they pull Oxygen from the water, shade out the lower water column and slow down the flow of water. This green slime monster in the water can create a problem referred to as ‘eutrophication’ where there is too little Oxygen in the water for other organisms to survive. Many algal blooms have resulted in fish kills and some species of algae, red tide for example, can cause massive fish kills and human respiratory complications. Nutrients come from several locations and activities; most end up in Florida’s waters as non-point source pollution; where there are numerous locations of infiltration rather than a single point of entry. In Florida one of the greatest sources of non-point source nutrient pollution comes from our managed landscapes. Everything from grass clippings to dog waste to chemical fertilizer manage to find their way into our storm-water system then out to our coastal waters.
lawns->stormwater->bay->algae->fish kill->closed beach->loss of tourist dollars->less local money
It is in our best interest as a state that relies on our water resources, not only for beauty, recreation, ecosystem services, wildlife habitat and agriculture but for tourist dollars to protect that water and maintain its quality. Due to this intrinsic connection between our lawn management and the tourism economy, several counties within the state have begun implementing fertilizer ‘black out periods’. Here in Sarasota County ours is from June 1st through September 30th. If you are a fan of examining county ordinances here is the official ordinance language: Fertilizer Ordinance Text Check this more distilled version for information regarding the Sarasota County fertilizer ordinance. If you are dying to green up your lawn try these steps from UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions or contact the plant clinic (email@example.com ) for more hints on preventing the ‘green slime monster’ from growing in our local water ways.
Check these links to learn more about the impact of nutrient pollution in our state’s waters: