28 August 2007

On the Use of Water - Or the Creation of Dead Zones

Red tides, or more accurately harmful algal blooms (HABs) are produced by abusing the world waterways as a garbage dump (eutrophication). The resulting 'murking' up of the liquid of life is toxic for most living beings. Ancient, toxic bacteria thrive in these human produced conditions. Finally, the degraded environment collapses into a dead zone.

The Mash-up in Australia:
The water bodies of the Earth are being used as a cost-effective way to dump the unwanted. The picture for Australia in 2006 reads:

“The discharge of sewage and stormwater, land runoff, groundwater and river inputs of nutrients and sediments to estuaries and the coastal waters...
All capital cities discharge sewage and stormwater to estuarine and marine waters, and much of this receives only minimal treatment—stripped only of solids and rubbish, but not of nutrients, hormones, disinfectant breakdown products, nor of a range of resistant viruses. Stormwater from urban areas is discharged after minimal treatment to reduce large solids (such as plastics and industrial rubbish), but otherwise contains untreated road and garden runoff, with oils, rubber particles, fertiliser, nutrients and sediments. River catchments are major sources of nutrients, sediments and a range of agricultural and veterinary chemicals, all of which affect estuarine flora and fauna; where river inputs are large, coastal ecosystems are adversely affected.”

Runoff from agriculture and development, pollution from septic systems and sewers, and other human-related activities increase the flux of both inorganic nutrients and organic substances into terrestrial, aquatic, and coastal marine ecosystems (including coral reefs).” (Wikipedia)

This process of eutrophication is Australia-wide (14.7 million square kilometres of ocean and about 36 000 kilometres of mainland coastline.)

The Liquid of Life is lost, toxic organisms grow:
These human activities create favourable conditions for micro organisms, they changes the aquatic ecology. Water loses its translucent quality.

See, smell, use your senses:

A walk at the beach might reveal red-brown patches and a pungent hazardous smell ( HAB-laden aerosols) mingled in the salt spray. At night the sea is aglow in neon-blue surf. The drinking water smells.
Image by msauder at Flickr, CC "Bioluminescent dinoflagellates (Lingulodinium polyedrum) lighting a breaking wave at midnight. The blue light is a result of a luciferase enzyme ... Under the right conditions, the dinoflagellates become so numerous that the water takes on a muddy reddish color (hence the name "Red Tide"). The bioluminescence is only visible at night."

Dead Zones - No Life here:
The dumping of nutrients, solar irradiance and warmer temperatures are a sure recipe to increase the biomass of toxic phytoplankton.
There are 146 dead zones in the world already. The ecosystems have collapsed due to lack of oxygen and no life can take place in them.

The "Cost":
Most of these fossil bacteria are a toxic to humans and animals.
They affect the drinking water, food and yes beaches are closing. “... HAB events adversely affect commercial and recreational fishing, tourism, and valued habitats, creating a significant impact on local economies and the livelihood of coastal residents. “ It is not beneficial for the human economy.

Sydney's Drinking Water:
The recent find of blue-green algal bloom ('Microcystis aeruginosa' (image))in the Sydney region poses 'no public health risk ', but you might 'notice a change in taste and odour.' Elsewhere they are treated as a neurotoxin. In developing countries this harmful algal bloom causes the death of fish (pdf).

Keeping an eye on it:
The Australian 'state of the environment ' report of 2006 claims:
There is no systematic monitoring and reporting of algal blooms in Australia’s estuaries and coastal waters, so there is no way of knowing if eutrophication is increasing or decreasing as a national problem.

International bodies, such as UNESCO and The International Society for the Study of Harmful Algae aim to manage the problem.

The citizen-based group Red Tide Florida is not just combating red tides but also a 'government in denial'.

Keep an eye on that living water-body...

Drinking Water and Healthy Water Bodies Pt II
Video: Bioluminescent Bacteria in Oceans
NSW Algal Information

Update 210907 " We are dumping industrial waste in the ocean. Changes in ocean chemistry within the ranges predicted for the next decades and centuries present significant risks to marine biota. A large team of scientists state that human-induced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will alter ocean chemistry to the point where it will violate U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Quality Criteria [1976] by mid-century if emissions are not dramatically curtailed now."

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