If you're looking to cool off in the waters of Mississippi's Gulf Coast, think again.
A toxic algal bloom has made the waters dangerous to humans and their pets. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has shut down swimming at all of its beaches due to a blue-green harmful algal bloom, according to CNN.
Toxic algae are dangerous to touch and poisonous when swallowed. It can cause rashes, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, the state agency warned.
While the sand on the beaches is still open, the state's DEQ said beachgoers should avoid water contact or consumption of anything from the waters "until further notice," as CNN reported. The agency also advised anyone exposed to the water to wash with soap and water and to not eat fish or any other seafood taken from affected areas.
The blooms are not technically algae, but cyanobacteria — aquatic and photosynthetic bacteria. Many things, including changes in water temperature and fertilizer run-off, can trigger its bloom. Once the conditions are right for the cyanobacteria to spawn rapidly, they produce harmful toxins, as The Week reported.
"I had a feeling it was going this way. Water always flows west to east," Pascagoula resident Bill Kenan told Biloxi ABC affiliate WLOX. "It just keeps going and going and going. I don't know if it's ever going to get better. I hope it does."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that the climate crisis and increases in nutrient levels of bodies of water due to fertilizer run-off are potentially causing harmful algal blooms to occur more often and in areas not previously affected, ABC News reported. Warmer waters with a marked increase in surface temperature or a change in sea currents are particularly susceptible to the bloom. A harmful algal bloom can look like foam, scum or mats on the surface of water and can be different colors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This bloom was triggered in part by the opening of the Bonnet Carre spillway in Louisiana, which introduced an excessive amount of freshwater to the coastline, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
The spillway was opened to offset a rising Mississippi River that experienced massive swelling after an especially wet winter that caused flooding in along the river's coastlines.
The spillway is expected to close mid-July after the river's waters recede. Experts believe its closure will prompt the algae bloom to dissipate. "Once they close the structure, conditions will start to change pretty quickly," said John Lopez, of Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, a conservation organization that monitors water conditions throughout the Gulf Coast region, as reported by CBS New Orleans.
That prognosis will offer little relief to residents and tourists along the Mississippi Gulf Coast where temperatures will hover in the mid-90s all week.
- This Fourth of July, You'll See 70% More Algae Outbreaks Than Last ... ›
- Harmful Algal Blooms Are Increasing Across the U.S. - EcoWatch ›
- Harmful Algal Blooms Are Increasing Across the U.S. ›
- Water Crises Continues in Jackson, Miss. After Winter Storm - EcoWatch ›
By Grace Francese
Outbreaks of potentially toxic algae are fouling lakes, rivers and other bodies of water across the U.S. Nationally, news reports of algae outbreaks have been on the rise since 2010.
What's worse, some algae blooms produce dangerous toxins called microcystins. The Environmental Working Group just released a report showing that microcystins have been found in lakes across the U.S. – even when there's no visible toxic algae outbreak.
Here's what you should know about kids' and pets' safety around potentially dangerous water and what you can do to prevent the growth of algae blooms.
What are algae blooms?
These smelly blooms aren't actually algae at all, but photosynthetic microorganisms called cyanobacteria.
Runoff from farm fields is often polluted with phosphorous and other chemicals in manure and commercial fertilizers. When this polluted runoff gets into lakes, it feeds the growth of cyanobacteria, especially in warm weather. Increasingly heavy rains and flooding, exacerbated by the climate crisis, make the problem worse.
What are microcystins?
Many algae blooms are gross, forming a foul-smelling slime on a lake's surface, but not hazardous. But for reasons no one yet understands, some produce poisonous chemicals called cyanotoxins, including the group known as microcystins.
What are the health risks?
Microcystin-producing cyanobacteria are a hazard to anyone, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says children are especially vulnerable, since they're most likely to ingest water while swimming. Exposure can cause coughing, nausea, weakness, cramping and headaches, as well as long-term health effects such as liver failure.
Contact with skin, drinking contaminated tap water or eating contaminated fish can also cause health problems. Even breathing in microcystins can be harmful, and recent studies have shown that the toxins can become airborne, drifting a mile or more from the site of the outbreak.
How can I recognize and avoid algae blooms?
The best approach is to check with your city, county or state health departments, which may issue warnings. You can also use EWG's mapto see whether authorities have found microcystins in a particular lake in the past few years.
If you can't find information about a specific lake, get to know the warning signs. Look out for dead fish or animals in or near the water, and slime that looks like blue, blue-green, bright green or dark green spilled paint.
Only experts who test the water can determine definitively whether an algae bloom is toxic. So if you come across what looks like an algae outbreak, stay away – even if you're not sure it's toxic. Don't swim in it, and do your best to avoid breathing the air around it. Contact your health department and alert local news media.
What should I do if I think my child has been exposed to a toxic algae outbreak?
If you think your child has come into contact with toxic algae, or shows flu-like symptoms after playing in or near it, rinse them off with water. Make sure they also drink plenty of water. Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
How can we prevent algae blooms?
Farming practices like vegetative buffers along streams and rivers help minimize runoff, but these practices won't be widely implemented without regulations that require farmers to apply them.
Ideally, states would test lakes and other bodies of water for microcystins and other cyanotoxins and warn the public when there's danger. But EWG's new report found that only 20 states test regularly for microcystins and make the data public, and often only after a delay.
The Environmental Protection Agency should regulate these toxins to protect our tap water supplies. More than two-thirds of all Americans get their drinking water from utilities that rely at least in part on lakes, rivers or other surface water. Yet the EPA doesn't regulate the level of microcystins and other cyanotoxins in drinking water.
Throughout Texas, there are a number of solar power companies that can install solar panels on your roof to take advantage of the abundant sunlight. But which solar power provider should you choose? In this article, we'll provide a list of the best solar companies in the Lone Star State.
Our Picks for the Best Texas Solar Companies
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Sunpro Solar
- Longhorn Solar, Inc.
- Solartime USA
- Kosmos Solar
- Sunshine Renewable Solutions
- Alba Energy
- Circle L Solar
- South Texas Solar Systems
- Good Faith Energy
How We Chose the Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
There are a number of factors to keep in mind when comparing and contrasting different solar providers. These are some of the considerations we used to evaluate Texas solar energy companies.
Different solar companies may provide varying services. Always take the time to understand the full range of what's being offered in terms of solar panel consultation, design, installation, etc. Also consider add-ons, like EV charging stations, whenever applicable.
When meeting with a representative from one of Texas' solar power companies, we would always encourage you to ask what the installation process involves. What kind of customization can you expect? Will your solar provider use salaried installers, or outsourced contractors? These are all important questions to raise during the due diligence process.
Texas is a big place, and as you look for a good solar power provider, you want to ensure that their services are available where you live. If you live in Austin, it doesn't do you much good to have a solar company that's active only in Houston.
Pricing and Financing
Keep in mind that the initial cost of solar panel installation can be sizable. Some solar companies are certainly more affordable than others, and you can also ask about the flexible financing options that are available to you.
To guarantee that the renewable energy providers you select are reputable, and that they have both the integrity and the expertise needed, we would recommend assessing their status in the industry. The simplest way to do this is to check to see whether they are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified or belong to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other industry groups.
Types of Panels
As you research different companies, it certainly doesn't hurt to get to know the specific products they offer. Inquire about their tech portfolio, and see if they are certified to install leading brands like Tesla or Panasonic.
Rebates and Tax Credits
There are a lot of opportunities to claim clean energy rebates or federal tax credits which can help with your initial solar purchase. Ask your solar provider for guidance navigating these different savings opportunities.
Going solar is a big investment, but a warranty can help you trust that your system will work for decades. A lot of solar providers provide warranties on their technology and workmanship for 25 years or more, but you'll definitely want to ask about this on the front end.
The 10 Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the 10 best solar energy companies in TX.
SunPower is a solar energy company that makes it easy to make an informed and totally customized decision about your solar power setup. SunPower has an online design studio where you can learn more about the different options available for your home, and even a form where you can get a free online estimate. Set up a virtual consultation to speak directly with a qualified solar installer from the comfort of your own home. It's no wonder SunPower is a top solar installation company in Texas. They make the entire process easy and expedient.
Sunpro Solar is another solar power company with a solid reputation across the country. Their services are widely available to Texas homeowners, and they make the switch to solar effortless. We recommend them for their outstanding customer service, for the ease of their consultation and design process, and for their assistance to homeowners looking to claim tax credits and other incentives.
Looking for a solar contractor with true Texas roots? Longhorn Solar is an award-winning company that's frequently touted as one of the best solar providers in the state. Their services are available in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, and since 2009 they have helped more than 2,000 Texans make the switch to energy efficiency with solar. We recommend them for their technical expertise, proven track record, and solar product selection.
Solartime USA is another company based in Texas. In fact, this family-owned business is located in Richardson, which is just outside of Dallas. They have ample expertise with customized solar energy solutions in residential settings, and their portfolio of online reviews attests to their first-rate customer service. We love this company for the simplicity of their process, and for all the guidance they offer customers seeking to go solar.
Next on our list is Kosmos Solar, another Texas-based solar company. They're based in the northern part of the state, and highly recommended for homeowners in the area. They supply free estimates, high-quality products, custom solar designs, and award-winning personal service. Plus, their website has a lot of great information that may help guide you while you determine whether going solar is right for you.
Sunshine Renewable Solutions is based out of Houston, and they've developed a sterling reputation for dependable service and high-quality products. They have a lot of helpful financing options, and can show you how you can make the switch to solar in a really cost-effective way. We also like that they give free estimates, so there's certainly no harm in learning more about this great local company.
"Powered by the Texas sun." That's the official tagline of Alba Energy, a solar energy provider that's based out of Katy, TX. They have lots of great information about solar panel systems and solar solutions, including solar calculators to help you tabulate your potential energy savings. Additionally, we recommend Alba Energy because all of their work is done by a trusted, in-house team of solar professionals. They maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and they have rave reviews from satisfied customers.
Circle L Solar has a praiseworthy mission of helping homeowners slash their energy costs while participating in the green energy revolution. This is another company that provides a lot of great information, including energy savings calculators. Also note that, in addition to solar panels, Circle L Solar also showcases a number of other assets that can help you make your home more energy efficient, including windows, weatherization services, LED lighting, and more.
You can tell by the name that South Texas Solar Systems focuses its service area on the southernmost part of the Lone Star State. Their products include a wide range of commercial and residential solar panels, as well as "off the grid" panels for homeowners who want to detach from public utilities altogether. Since 2007, this company has been a trusted solar energy provider in San Antonio and beyond.
Good Faith Energy is a certified installer of Tesla solar technology for homeowners throughout Texas. This company is really committed to ecological stewardship, and they have amassed a lot of goodwill thanks to their friendly customer service and the depth of their solar expertise. In addition to Tesla solar panels, they can also install EV charging stations and storage batteries.
What are Your Solar Financing Options in Texas?
We've mentioned already that going solar requires a significant investment on the front-end. It's worth emphasizing that some of the best solar companies provide a range of financing options, allowing you to choose whether you buy your system outright, lease it, or pay for it in monthly installments.
Also keep in mind that there are a lot of rebates and state and federal tax credits available to help offset starting costs. Find a Texas solar provider who can walk you through some of the different options.
How Much Does a Solar Energy System Cost in Texas?
How much is it going to cost you to make that initial investment into solar power? It varies by customer and by home, but the median cost of solar paneling may be somewhere in the ballpark of $13,000. Note that, when you take into account federal tax incentives, this number can fall by several thousand dollars.
And of course, once you go solar, your monthly utility bills are going to shrink dramatically… so while solar systems won't pay for themselves in the first month or even the first year, they will ultimately prove more than cost-effective.
Finding the Right Solar Energy Companies in TX
Texas is a great place to pursue solar energy companies, thanks to all the natural sunlight, and there are plenty of companies out there to help you make the transition. Do your homework, compare a few options, and seek the solar provider that's right for you. We hope this guide is a helpful jumping-off point as you try to get as much information as possible about the best solar companies in Texas.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
By Anne Schechinger
Over the Fourth of July holiday, many of us love to beat the heat in a favorite lake, pond or river. But this year, vacationers from coast to coast will have to look out for a potentially record-breaking number of algae blooms.
So far this year there have been news stories about 107 algae outbreaks, compared to just 63 this time last year. That's a 70 percent increase. EWG's interactive map tracks news reports of blue-green algae blooms across the country since 2010, and this year is on track to have the most so far.
Recreating in or near water stricken by an algae bloom can lead to serious health consequences. Short-term exposure — whether through skin contact or ingestion — to the toxins sometimes produced by algae outbreaks has been linked to sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and liver damage.
These outbreaks don't just affect peoples' health, they also hurt their wallets. Algae keeps people away from businesses near affected lakes, such as marinas and restaurants.
Lake Hopatcong, in New Jersey, is currently suffering the biggest bloom ever recorded in the state. Hopatcong Mayor Mike Francis says it could have devastating impacts on the health of residents and his town's economy.
In many cases, algae outbreaks are preventable. Reducing the amount of chemicals that run off farm fields can greatly reduce the number and severity of blooms in agricultural areas.
Lake Macbride, in Iowa, is an example of a lake surrounded by farmland that has algae bloom and E. coli problems. Mandated agricultural conservation practices could go a long way toward cleaning up water bodies like Lake Macbride.
If you plan a lake outing this holiday, it's vital to know what to look for to figure out whether a toxic blue-green algae bloom is present in the water. Before your next trip to a lake, check out our new video to find out.
Pet owners around the country are seeing their beloved canines perish after letting them cool off in waters harboring toxic algae.
Dogs in North Carolina, Georgia and Texas have all died recently after swimming in waters covered in a harmful algae bloom, which is difficult to detect.
"Your typical lay person will not be able to tell one algae from another, or a good from a bad," said Dr. Mark Aubel, of Greenwater Laboratories who studies harmful algae blooms, to Atlanta's 11 Alive. "It just kind of behooves anybody that sees algae in a lake, in a pond, that they'd probably want to be cautious and just not expose themselves to it or to their pets."
Last Thursday, a couple in Wilmington, NC tried to give their three dogs some relief from the heat by letting the dogs splash around in a nearby pond. Within 15 minutes of leaving the water, one of their West Highland terriers started to suffer from seizures. When they arrived at the veterinarian's office, the other Westie started to decline, followed shortly by the couple's "doodle" mix therapy dog. By midnight, all three dogs were dead, as CNN reported.
All three died from ingesting harmful blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, in the water.
"What started out as a fun night for them has ended in the biggest loss of our lives," wrote Melissa Martin, one of the dog owners, in a Facebook post that has been shared more than 15,000 times, according to CNN.
Since she did not see any warning about the harmful algae bloom, "We are now on a mission to put signs at every body of water that can have this deadly bacteria," Martin added at the end of her Facebook post.
In Austin, TX, three dogs have died after exposure to the toxic algae at Lady Bird Lake in Red Bud Isle. While people are not allowed to swim in the water, the popular spot for an off-leash dog walk had no signs warning dog walkers to keep their dogs away from the lake.
Now, after three dogs have died, the city closed Red Bud Isle to the public after discovering that 40 percent of Lady Bird Lake's surface is covered in a harmful algae bloom.
The first dog death at Red Bud Isle happened a month ago when an Austin dog-owner's German shepherd-Rhodesian ridgeback mix lost control of his legs and struggled to breathe after swimming in the lake. The dog was brain dead shortly after arriving at the vet's office, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
The other two dogs died on Aug. 1 and 3, respectively. All three dogs had the same story: after entering the water, the dogs struggled to keep their balance and lost the ability to stand. Within an hour they were dead, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
It's not fair, and it's not okay," wrote Brittany Stanton, the owner of the last dog to die from swimming in Lady Bird Lake, in a lengthy post on Facebook. "Word needs to be spread about this incredibly devastating risk."
This weekend, a similar story happened in Georgia, when a couple took their border collie to Lake Allatoona. Shortly after splashing around, the dog began to vomit and by the time the owners reached the vet, the dog was brain dead, according to the owner's Facebook post.
This summer has seen an unusually intense wave of algae blooms that have shut down lakes in the Pacific Northwest, New Jersey and every beach on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Scientists say the climate crisis is probably a factor in the increase of cyanobacteria, which can grow in dense clusters and produce toxic substances. An increase in the frequency and intensity of rainstorms has pushed fertilizer runoff into waterways. Furthermore, hot, sunny days and the conditions are set for a harmful algae bloom, which are appearing more frequently and earlier in the season, according to The New York Times.
Dogs are particularly vulnerable to cyanobacteria because they swallow so much water when they swim, as Heavy.com reported.
The Many Hazards of Toxic Algae Outbreaks https://t.co/VDx3L4PPR0— Enviro Voter Project (@Enviro_Voter) September 18, 2018
By Arohi Sharma
Quarantining and sheltering in place from COVID-19 has a lot of us going stir-crazy — myself included. With summer in full swing, more of us are itching to get outside safely. Unfortunately, we're also right in the middle of peak harmful algal bloom (HAB) season. While state agencies are understandably redirecting resources to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the resources normally used to test recreational freshwater bodies for HAB events — including the dangerous toxins that are harmful to humans and pets — are on hold. This concerns me because, as NRDC's updated What's Lurking in Your Lake assessment shows, state agencies are already under-resourced to address HABs. Furthermore, our updated scorecards and mapping efforts show there is not enough comprehensive freshwater HAB data collection. With state budgets being redirected, it's unclear whether proactive freshwater HAB data collection will get necessary funding in coming years.
First, What Are Harmful Algal Blooms — or HABs?
While HABs along our ocean coastlines — like red tide events in Florida — garner more media attention, HAB events also occur in our nation's freshwater bodies. As I wrote last year, HABs occur when excess nutrients make their way into water ecosystems. Nutrients are food for the cyanobacteria that are normally present in freshwater ecosystems. But when excess nutrients are paired with other enabling factors like warmer weather and stagnant water, cyanobacteria proliferate. Some species of cyanobacteria leech cyanotoxins, which can be harmful to humans, especially children, as well as dogs. The increased outdoor recreation in the summer, and the fact that some states' capacities are constrained due to COVID-19 response (like in Utah and Kansas), make it all the more important to be aware of these events and how they can impact us. For states like Maine, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, which are home to tens of thousands of freshwater bodies, funding constraints could have severe impacts on efforts to prevent exposure to HABs.
Results of NRDC’s Updated Assessment
Last year, NRDC mapped freshwater HAB events across all 50 states from 2008 to 2018 because no such map exists at the federal level. This week, we updated that map to include 2019 freshwater HAB data and revised each state's freshwater HAB program scorecard. Those updated scorecards provide a baseline understanding of each state's freshwater HAB program. They also signal whether states are prepared to proactively prevent exposure to, and respond to, freshwater HAB events. As the chart below shows, there are noticeable improvements in state freshwater HAB programs from last year, but the overall outlook remains the same: State agencies don't have the resources to effectively address HABs.
Some of the improvements observed from our updated scorecards include:
- Seven more states (California, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming) scored an overall "excellent" rating compared to last year.
- Five states (Georgia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee) have created new websites that share information on freshwater HABs in their states.
- Seventeen states improved the information made available on their websites.
- Six additional states (Connecticut, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wisconsin) adopted cyanotoxin thresholds since last year.
- Nine additional states (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee) developed and/or created response protocols for how to respond to HAB outbreaks. From this list, unfortunately, only Arkansas and Michigan have made their protocols available online.
- Nine additional states claim to be leveraging relationships with NGOs and local organizations to communicate HAB information to the public compared to last year.
- We found 11 new states using social media to communicate HAB information to the public.
Some disconcerting trends from our updated analysis include:
- 36 states do not collect comprehensive HAB data.
- 34 states do not make HAB data easily available to the public.
- 29 states do not make their response protocols available online.
- 24 states do not proactively sample for cyanobacteria or cyanotoxins.
- 20 states claim they do not have the authority to issue recreational advisories.
The Role of Data in Decision-Making
The adage "you can't manage what you don't measure" plays into my work every day. The troubling trends highlighted in NRDC's assessment have common threads: lack of data collection and inaccessibility of data.
I firmly believe that comprehensive data collection is a necessary pillar of effective decision-making. Data show trends that can help address the root causes of problems, help us understand what we know and reveal what we don't know, illuminate gaps in management and program efficacy, and provide information to hold decision-makers accountable. When states don't collect comprehensive data nor make data available to the public, it's tough to accomplish any of those goals.
The Trump administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic unfortunately crystalizes what happens when decision makers politicize and withhold data. Public health decisions and emergency response become undermined by politics instead of empowered by evidence.
Double Down on Prevention
The federal government could be preventing the kind of excess nutrient runoff that contributes to HABs by enforcing the Clean Water Act, but it isn't, so states are bearing the costly burden of testing, researching, responding, monitoring, and mitigating freshwater HAB events. Now, with the health and economic crises emerging from the pandemic, state agencies responsible for responding to freshwater HAB events are being asked to do more with less.
According to NRDC's updated assessment, 62 percent of states do not dedicate financial resources to respond to or research HAB events, which means state agencies tasked with HAB response must pull funding from other environmental remediation or water quality protection funds, compete with other agencies for funding, reduce funding for one area of HAB activity to supplement another, or simply forgo proactive testing altogether. Climate change will increase the frequency and duration of HAB events nationwide so the reactive approach to freshwater HAB response will only increase states' future costs.
While we all do everything we can to keep our families and loved ones safe this summer, NRDC will continue to hold states and the federal government accountable. Prevention is the smartest and most underutilized tool in our toolbox to combat HAB events so we will continue fighting this administration's rollbacks to the Clean Water Act. We will also continue our advocacy for healthy soil stewardship because we know that building healthy soil addresses one of the root causes of freshwater HAB outbreaks — nutrient runoff.
What to Know for 2020 Summer Recreation
I understand the need to get outdoors this summer — I'm feeling the urge too. Should you seek out lakes, rivers, ponds, reservoirs, and streams, please look out for HAB indicators (e.g., blue-green colored water, a funky smell, dead fish, or caution signs, like the one below) and keep these things in mind:
- Dangerous HAB toxins that can harm your families and your pets are not visible to the naked eye. Removing blue-green algae or pond scum from the top of a freshwater body is not enough to keep your loved ones safe.
- If you see anything suspicious, stay out of the water and report the potential event to the appropriate state agency. If you need help figuring out how to report a HAB event, you can download your state's scorecard.
- Keep your eyes peeled for caution signs that inform you whether the water is safe to recreate in.
- Finally: The lack of a caution sign doesn't mean the waterbody isn't experiencing a HAB event. It's possible that your state doesn't have the resources it needs to proactively test every single freshwater body, especially with COVID-19 still surging across the United States. Call the appropriate state agency or waterbody manager to inquire whether that waterbody has been tested for cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins.
We've placed this new signage in conjunction with the Wyoming Department of Health & Wyoming Livestock Board to ensure info about #HCBs is nearby for people recreating in #Wyoming. Visit https://t.co/eXIVjPp6SU for information about advisories and further FAQs. #WDEQ pic.twitter.com/HBIDP9Flqy— Wyoming DEQ (@Wyoming_DEQ) June 15, 2020
Reposted with permission from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
The seeding effort eventually delivered more than 70 million seeds — and it paid off, creating some 9,000 acres of the underwater plants.
Now monitoring of these restored meadows reveals multiple benefits to their restoration, including substantial increases in fish and invertebrate abundance, improved water clarity, and significant trapping of carbon and nitrogen.
"Planting adult seagrass is very labor intensive, but we started looking at using seeds in the lab and found it was quite easy," said biologist Robert "JJ" Orth, lead author on a new paper about the project. "These areas have good water quality, are shallow and are near the ocean so they get bathed in cooler water — perfect conditions. It was a surprise how quickly it happened."
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0
The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.
Successful seagrass-restoration methods include transplanting shoots, mechanized planting and, more recently, biodegradable mats. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.
Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.
But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.
The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is accelerating in many regions.
The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.
All that damage comes with a cost.
The Value of Seagrass
As with ecosystems like rainforests and mangroves, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.
Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it accounts for 10% of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their high carbon burial rates. In Australia, according to research by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC
Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a paper from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.
"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."
In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly beach nourishments regularly conducted in tourism areas.
Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).
The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for roughly 20% of the world's largest fisheries — an estimated 70% of fish habitats in Florida alone.
Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread fish kill in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate
Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.
Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. Research published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and climate change.
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.
Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.
But There’s Good News, Too
Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a paper published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.
That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.
A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.
That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.
Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.
"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."
A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.
In the meantime, small actions can make a big difference — such as fertilizer ordinances, for example, Gardinali suggested.
"Nitrogen and phosphorus are the problem," he said. "It's an easy first step. We can change the way we do small things, one at a time."
Everything we do at this point will help, not only seagrass but everything that depends on it.
"These habitats are so vital," Hyman says. "Putting aside erosion control and all these benefits people might not find as important, they harbor juvenile stages of all these marine species we like to eat — blue crabs, for example. From that standpoint alone, seagrass provides countless benefits to the economy."
Those benefits have mostly gone ignored in favor of more visible, charismatic land-based habitats. That needs to change, the experts say.
"What the trees in the Amazon rainforest provide for that system is what eelgrass provides in estuarine systems," said Walter. "So many ecosystem services, beyond just being a beautiful grass."
One that, if we let it, will provide those services for hundreds of years.
Melissa Gaskill is a freelance science writer based in Austin whose work has appeared in Scientific American, Mental Floss, Newsweek, Alert Diver and many other publications. She is the co-author of A Worldwide Travel Guide to Sea Turtles and author of Pandas to Penguins: Ethical Encounters with Animals at Risk.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
- Seagrass Could Play a Major Role in Slowing Climate Change ... ›
- 3 Australian Marine Sites Store Billions of Tons of Carbon, New UNESCO Report Finds - EcoWatch ›
The last red tide in Florida lasted 15 months — pictured here at Bean Point Beach. TriggerPhoto / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Scientists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute announced Friday that samples of water taken off the shore of Collier County turned up high concentrations of the toxic algae that causes the tide, according to The Associated Press. There were also reports of dead fish and respiratory problems in the area.
"We have received reports of dead fish for several locations in Collier County including Barefoot Beach, Naples Bay near the Gordon River and by the Naples Pier," Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Kelly Richmond told the Fort Myers News-Press. "Mullet appeared to be the most affected species but other unidentified fish have also been reported dead."
The news comes only about eight months after the state's longest red tide this decade finally faded away in February, according to The Tampa Bay Times.
It's back. https://t.co/h35ce9N9s2— Tampa Bay Times News and Weather (@Tampa Bay Times News and Weather)1570286700.0
That red tide began in November 2017, killed thousands of fish, turtles and marine mammals and harmed the economy of coastal towns that rely on tourism. At its peak, it touched all three of Florida's coasts.
This red tide is currently only impacting the state's southwest coast. In addition to Collier County, Lee County also tested positive for low concentrations of the algae, The Associated Press reported.
It is not yet known how long this bloom will last or where it will spread, according to The Tampa Bay Times.
The University of South Florida's College of Marine Science predicted it would move northwest in the next few days, The Fort Myers News-Press reported.
Red tides are caused by the organism Karenia brevis. The Tampa Bay Times explained how these tiny organisms create such big problems:
Small, scattered colonies of microscopic Red Tide algae live in the Gulf of Mexico all year long. Usually their numbers are so tiny that no one notices. But every now and then, usually in the late summer or fall, the algae population 10 to 40 miles offshore explodes into something called a bloom.
During a bloom the algae multiply rapidly and spread across the water's surface, staining it a rusty color that gives the phenomenon its name. Then winds and currents carry it toward shore, where it can be fed and prolonged by pollution from fertilizer, sewage spills and leaky septic tanks.
So far, this red tide has killed hundreds of fish. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned that those in the Naples area who have chronic respiratory illnesses or are especially sensitive to red tide will face breathing irritation, The Fort Myers News-Press reported.
- What Is Causing Florida's Algae Crisis? 5 Questions Answered ... ›
- Red Tide Plagues Both of Florida's Coasts for First Time in Decades ... ›
- A Record 589 Sea Turtles Killed By Florida's Toxic Red Tide ... ›
In a troubling sign for the future of the Italian Alps, the snow and ice in a glacier is turning pink due to the growth of snow-melting algae, according to scientists studying the pink ice phenomenon, as CNN reported.
The algae will make the snow melt faster. The salmon-hue that has tinged the snow is from algae that carry carotenoid pigment, which reflects the distinctive color. While most algae thrive in warm freshwaters, these are known as cryophilic, meaning they thrive in colder temperatures, where they create the "watermelon snow" effect, according to Salon.
The concern is that the algal bloom on the snow will accelerate the effects of the climate crisis. As Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported the plant, known as Ancylonema nordenskioeldii, is often found in Greenland's so-called Dark Zone, where the ice is also melting.
Normally ice reflects more than 80 percent of the sun's radiation back into the atmosphere, but as algae appear, they darken the ice so that it absorbs the heat and melts more quickly, according to AFP.
"Everything that darkens the snow causes it to melt because it accelerates the absorption of radiation," said Biagio Di Mauro of Italy's National Research Council to AFP. "We are trying to quantify the effect of other phenomena besides the human one on the overheating of the Earth." He noted that the presence of tourists could also have an effect in weakening the snow.
Di Mauro told CNN that the spring and summer had very little snowfall high in the Alps, which has seen higher than average temperatures. "This creates the perfect environment for the algae to grow," he added.
Di Mauro emphasized that the algal bloom is particularly bad news for the glaciers, which may see a rapid melting. That would be in line with glaciers around the world that are starting to fade away as global heating continues to push up atmospheric temperatures.
"A classic reminder of how uncertainty is not our friend," said Dr. Michael E. Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, to Salon by email. "In this case, we're seeing an amplifying feedback wherein biological darkening (due to Algae growing on the surface of melting ice), leads to more solar absorption by the ice and even faster melting. We call this a 'positive feedback' but it is anything but positive. It reflects a process which is leading to faster melting of the glaciers than our simple models predict."
As CNN noted, Di Mauro has come across cold temperature algae before. He has previously studied the Morteratsch glacier in Switzerland, where an algae called Ancylonema nordenskioeldii has turned the ice purple.
Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science's Department of Global Ecology, told Salon that "photosynthetic organisms are designed to absorb sunlight. Some small fraction of the energy in sunlight goes into making carbohydrates but most of it goes into heating the organism and its local environment. If that organism is living in snow, the snow is likely to melt."
This algae has also been found in southwestern Greenland as well in as the Andes and Himalayas. Globally, glaciers are melting. A March study found an Antarctic glacier had retreated three miles and can cause five feet of sea level rise if it melts completely. A 2019 study found that Himalayan glacier melt has doubled since 2000. Additionally, conservationists and scientists have held funerals for glaciers in Iceland and the Swiss Alps.
Art by Matteo Farinella, written by Jeremy Deaton
Algal blooms are killing wildlife and making people sick. Here's how we aided their reign of terror.
Matteo Farinella is a neuroscientist-turned-cartoonist who uses comics to explain science. You can follow him @matteofarinella. Jeremy Deaton writes for Nexus Media, a nonprofit climate change news service. You can follow him @deaton_jeremy.
Reposted with permission from Nexus Media.
By Josh Bonifield
The Australian brewery Young Henrys is working to fight climate change with an unusual ingredient—algae.
The fermentation process that occurs during beer production releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), which can contribute to climate change. It takes a tree approximately two days to absorb the CO2 released from producing one six pack of beer. But, Young Henrys says their in-house cultivated algae not only absorb the CO2 released, they also produce as much oxygen as two and half acres of wilderness.
Algae, a photosynthetic organism, are often seen as a nuisance because they can cause red tide—a toxic algal bloom —or infect local water sources. But, they are also up to five times more effective at absorbing carbon than trees, according to the technology company Hypergiant.
Oscar McMahon, Young Henrys' Co-Founder, sees their potential to curb beer production emissions. McMahon tells Food Tank, "This is a unique project and the focus is not to profit. It is to create something that we can then share with other people to adapt and use."
Young Henrys signed onto this project with the University of Technology Sydney to reach carbon neutrality. To experiment with the effectiveness of its system, Young Henrys uses two bioreactors to cultivate algae. The first, a control, contains CO2, oxygen, and algae. The second contains the same three components but is connected to a fermentation tank. As the fermentation process produces additional CO2, the gas flows into the bioreactor.
According to McMahon, at the end of each day, the control bioreactor consistently contains 50 percent less algae. This demonstrates that the algae in the experimental bioreactor successfully consume the harmful greenhouse gas, McMahon tells Food Tank. The hope is that this system can not only lower CO2 emissions from beer production, but ultimately convert it into oxygen.
This specific project will continue for one more year, but McMahon hopes that algae will continue to lower Young Henrys carbon emissions as they find additional uses for the organism.
Young Henrys is currently experimenting to incorporate algae into food, pharmaceuticals, and bioplastics. Other companies around the world are also developing energy bars, dietary supplements, protein shakes, and other food and drink items using algae.
To scale up algae production and develop these new products, McMahon and Young Henrys are in consultation with engineering and beer industry groups to make this process scalable. McMahon says that both micro-breweries and national breweries will require the infrastructure and technology to easily incorporate algae in beer production.
McMahon describes the beauty of algae and the microorganisms used in beer fermentation as "ying and yang organisms, similar things that live in big tanks of liquid that conduct opposite yet correcting jobs."
Reposted with permission from Food Tank.
- Researchers Turn Algae Into a Material as Hard as Steel - EcoWatch ›
- Researchers Are Studying How Crops Adapt to Climate Change ›
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggest that much of the ocean surface will be bluer and greener due to the effect of rising global temperatures on phytoplankton, or microscopic marine algae that contain chlorophyll and need sunlight to live and grow.
For the study, published Monday in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers used computer modeling to simulate how temperature, ocean currents and ocean acidity will impact the growth of different types of phytoplankton as well how they absorb and reflect light, the Guardian reported.
Their results showed that more than half of the world's oceans will shift color if sea surface temperatures continue to rise under a "business as usual scenario" of 3°C (5.4°F) by 2100.
"There will be a noticeable difference in the color of 50 percent of the ocean by the end of the 21st century," lead author Stephanie Dutkiewicz, a principal research scientist at MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, said in a press release.
New research from MIT finds that much of the surface ocean will shift in color -- due to climate-driven changes in… https://t.co/gibiBAVKqS— MIT EAPS (@MIT EAPS)1549294398.0
When water looks especially green, it means there is a lot of phytoplankton growing near the surface. According to study, as ocean temperatures rise, greener regions such as near the poles, may turn even deeper green, as warmer temperatures lead to larger and more diverse phytoplankton blooms.
Conversely, when water looks especially blue, there is less phytoplankton. In blue regions such as the subtropics, waters are expected to become even bluer, meaning there's even less phytoplankton—as well as life in general.
The implications of the study could be "quite serious," as Dutkiewicz noted in the release.
Phytoplankton are the base of the aquatic food web, feeding everything tiny zooplankton to larger species such as whales.
"Different types of phytoplankton absorb light differently, and if climate change shifts one community of phytoplankton to another, that will also change the types of food webs they can support," she said.
The little algae are also crucial in absorbing the carbon dioxide causing climate change.
"Without them there wouldn't be any life in the ocean," Dutkiewicz also told WBUR News. "If they were to magically change—or if we were to kill them off completely—there would be a lot of carbon coming out of the ocean and back into the atmosphere, and creating more problems that we have now."
Amala Mahadevan, a physical oceanographer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who was not involved with the study, praised the MIT researchers for coming up with a novel method of measuring ocean health.
She told WBUR that current methods for monitoring phytoplankton only show information about local or regional changes, but this new research could provide a better and clearer picture on much a larger scale.
"If we were able to get a global picture, that would be very powerful," Mahadevan said.
By Karen Perry Stillerman
What's for breakfast? Maybe it's a bagel and cream cheese, or toast and coffee, or eggs (or not). For millions of Americans, though, cereal is a breakfast mainstay. There's a mind-boggling array of ready-to-eat cereal brands on offer, and everyone has their favorites.
But what really goes into your cereal of choice? What impact does that have on the planet? What can cereal-makers — and those of us who buy their products — do to lessen that impact? These are questions UCS asked in a new report, Champions of Breakfast: How Cereal-Makers Can Help Save Our Soil, Support Farmers, and Take a Bite out of Climate Change.
Breakfast cereal is mostly grain … and in many cases, a whole lot of sugar, but that's another topic. For this report, we looked at some of the top-selling cereal brands, the particular grains that go into them, the way most of those grains are grown now and the alternative ways these could be grown if farmers had different incentives. Lead author Marcia DeLonge summarizes our number-crunching (see what I did there?) and the top takeaways here.
But what does it all mean for conscientious consumers who also happen to love cereal?
- Your favorite flakes aren't always so g-r-r-r-reat for farmers and the environment. Many popular breakfast cereals have corn as their main ingredient. Not just the eponymous cornflakes (both plain and top-selling Frosted Flakes), Corn Chex and Corn Pops, but also such brands as Froot Loops, Kix and Trix. While most of it doesn't end up in your cereal, U.S. farmers grow a lot of corn: in 2017, more than 89 million acres worth, an area larger than the state of New Mexico. Most of that corn is grown in environmentally damaging ways. Much of the nitrate in Iowa's drinking water is due to corn. Toxic algae in Lake Erie is largely due to corn. Coastal "dead zones" — especially the one in the Gulf of Mexico that is forecast to be the size of Massachusetts this summer — are largely due to corn. While it wasn't part of our analysis, a recent study revealed that corn is also a major source of air pollution. Today's dominant corn production system damages our soil, pollutes our water, releases heat-trapping gases and misses the opportunity to store carbon in the soil. And lately it isn't working out so well for farmers, either. In other words, there's a lot of room for improvement.
- Those little O's could have big impact. But maybe you're like this guy, and Cheerios are your thing. Those O's, whether plain or honey-nutted, are mostly whole oats; other oat-based cereals include Honey Bunches of Oats and Lucky Charms. U.S. farmers used to grow a lot of oats, but they've been replaced by other crops (see "corn," above). Now, oats are seen as a key to diversifying Corn Belt landscapes. A long-running Iowa State University study has shown that rotating oats and other crops with corn and soybeans can dramatically reduce soil erosion and pollutant runoff while maintaining farmer profits.
- What about wheat? Our analysis didn't include a scenario for wheat cereals like Wheaties, Raisin Bran, Cinnamon Toast Crunch or my personal favorite, the oddly-named Grape-Nuts (which contain neither grapes nor nuts, but rather wheat and barley). Like corn, wheat is grown across large swaths of the country, with similar effects on the soil. But there are soil-health building practices available to these farmers, too. For example, Montana farmers have found that crop rotations that include lentils — a legume requiring little moisture — have helped build soil health and increase farm resilience in that arid region, with added economic benefits.
Consumers have power in the cereal aisle … but big companies have more.
As UCS showed with this interactive feature earlier this year, we have choices when we go to the supermarket (though public policies and corporate actions largely create and prop up those choices). To improve the impact of your cereal habit, the best option right now is probably to choose an organic brand. Grains grown organically avoid a lot of environmental damage, and while farmers can pursue sustainable practices without being certified organic, the USDA organic label is currently the best signal to consumers that packaged food ingredients are grown in better ways.
Then there's oatmeal. I wrote about its power a couple of years ago, and our new report bears out that sustainably grown whole oats have even more soil-saving, pollution-preventing potential than formulated oat-based cereals, simply because there are more oats per serving. (Although personally, I won't return to my favorite organic oatmeal until this heat breaks in the fall.)
Beyond that, clearly sustainable cereal choices are pretty limited. The biggest cereal companies could take steps to change this, however. There are four of them, and you know their names: General Mills, Kellogg Company, Post Consumer Brands and Quaker Oats (a division of PepsiCo). Together, these companies account for 86 percent of the $8.5 billion U.S. breakfast cereal market; many of their brands are household names, and they make more than just cereal. These companies have begun to take steps to improve the sourcing of their ingredients (check out some of their initiatives here and here), but there's plenty of opportunity to do more. By investing in more supply chain improvements, defining and improving sustainability standards and raising consumer awareness, these companies can play a major role in expanding opportunities for sustainable U.S. grain farmers, setting the wheels in motion for larger-scale market shifts.
In the heart of corn country, the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) are ready to work with these companies. They've been coaching farmers to grow cover crops and incorporate oats and other crops into rotations. But PepsiCo's Quaker Oats, which has a large plant in Iowa, reportedly doesn't buy oats from there. And while General Mills also uses a lot of oats, is based in the Midwest and has committed to shifting a million acres of farmland to more regenerative practices by 2030, the company hasn't — so far —committed to buying oats from diversified farms close to home. And it's precisely this lack of market certainty that is holding Iowa farmers back, according to PFI.
It's clear the big cereal companies can do more. And with our new report in hand, my colleagues and I will be thinking about how organizations like UCS — and all of us as eaters — can help make that happen.
Karen Perry Stillerman is a senior communication strategist and senior analyst in the Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.