Researchers now believe that should harmful algal blooms continue without treatment, the beautiful beaches and marine life of Savannah’s coast may be a thing of the past.
Last September, University of Georgia associate professor Susan Wilde addressed students as part of the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources’ Sustainable Food Systems Seminar Series. She warned students about the effects of harmful algal blooms on the ocean and the animals living within it. Algal blooms, which occur when there is a rapid increase or accumulation of algae in freshwater or marine water systems, can be dangerously harmful. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, they can result in:
- fish die-offs
- statewide fishing closings
- water being cut off from sea-side residences as the water infected by these blooms is toxic to people and pets.
Following Florida’s harmful algal blooms this summer, which resulted in a state of emergency in 4 counties and cut tourism numbers in half, according to a study by the University of Florida’s Tourism Crisis Management Initiative. The study revealed that more than half of potential visitors to the Sunshine State were concerned enough about the change of algal blooms that they considered delaying travel to Florida. A follow-up revealed that half of those who indicated that their travel plans may change dependent on blooms did postpone their travel, while 32 percent went to places in Florida that were not suffering from the blooms.
WTOC Chatham County reported that the development of toxic blooms in Savannah is definitely within the realm of possibility.
“It’s the same sort of thing if you were to go out to your Home Depot and buy fertilizer for your garden. It has all these basic ingredients, and so once that gets released into seawater, it can trigger these massive blooms, because the algae all of the sudden have more of what they need in order to grow, and it’s out of control,” Dr. Julia Diaz, Assistant Professor, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, said in an interview with WTOC.
According to Wilde, in order to prevent the loss of tourism and destruction of beaches, people must stop dumping discharge from sewage treatment plants and confined animal feeding operations into the ocean. These mistreatments may be high in nitrogen and phosphorus and can promote or cause excessive fertilization of flowing and non-flowing waters. Overgrowth caused by excessive fertilization can cloud the water and smother aquatic plants. Over time, these excessive nutrients can cause bodies of water to evolve into dry land more more quickly than they would naturally.
To Wilde, it’s all a matter of perception and choice — “If we choose to make better decisions for our planet, we will have a better planet. It’s simple.”