Brown algae threatens fishing, may be killing wildlife in lagoons

Fishing guide Dave Brown, seated at left, and a couple of clients fish in the coffee-colored water from a brown tide bloom in Mosquito Lagoon Thursday June 13, 2013.
News-Journal / David Tucker

Published: Sunday, June 16, 2013 at 5:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 16, 2013 at 11:15 a.m.

OAK HILL – On a good day, Dave Brown used to skim his boat over the water in Mosquito Lagoon watching sunlight play over the sand and sea grass beds below and easily catch the limit of redfish and trout during his guided trips.

Lately, Brown and his fishing clients don’t see many good days. Instead, his boat motors through water the color of split-pea soup, clouded by a harmful brown algae bloom. In some areas, he’s lucky to see the bottom.
Fish are harder to find. Sea grass beds are shrinking. Manatees, dolphins, pelicans and other animals are dying of unexplained causes. So far the death toll since late last summer has reached 111 manatees, 38 dolphins and more than 250 pelicans.
Dozens of guides and fishermen that make their living in Mosquito Lagoon and larger, neighboring Indian River Lagoon can still fish, said Brown, a guide for more than 30 years. “But it’s not like it used to be.”
The fishermen fear for the lagoons, their own livelihoods and the local economy.
“It’s very worrisome,” said Brown. “The largest estuary on the East Coast is dying and there seems to be no emergency action.”
In April, just about the same time the latest bloom appeared, the St. Johns River Water Management District committed up to $3.7 million to research a bloom of the same algae species that occurred last year and a toxic algal bloom that occurred in 2011. Working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several universities and independent research organizations, district officials say they are preparing to launch a major research project within the next month or so to look at the troubling issues in the lagoons.

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