In previous blog posts I’ve talked about the problems of blue-green algae and red tide that are plaguing parts of Florida, a popular holiday destination for many of us wanting to escape the frigid winters of Canada. Now I’m becoming more aware of similar challenges affecting the sea life around the Hawaiian paradise of Maui.
In recent years, we have been blessed with the opportunity to spend a few weeks in Maui each winter. One of our favourite pastimes is to splash in the ocean right in front of our condo and we’re often joined by sea turtles that seem to favour that location. Every day that the turtles appear and often decide to climb onto the beach for some rest, there are dozens of people who watch in awe that we can see these ancient animals in their natural surroundings. A few days ago I saw reports linking Fibropapillomatosis, a disease that causes tumours in sea turtles, to excess run-off of nutrients from the land. The Duke University report as stated in the EcoWatch news says “Excess nitrogen is stored in seaweed in the form of arginine, an amino acid. The scientists found high levels of arginine in both polluted waters and sea turtle tumors, and also found higher levels of arginine in an invasive red-algae species that can comprise 90 percent of some sea turtle diets. Because the sea turtles are herbivorous, they must consume twice as much of the invasive algae to get the same caloric intake they would from native algae.”
In Hawaii the focus is on the nutrient, nitrogen, and the problems it is causing. Here in North America the problem nutrient causing blue-green algae in freshwater lakes is phosphorus. Both phosphorus and nitrogen are in human waste, animal waste and fertilizers. However the reasons for these nutrients running off and polluting our waters are the same – urban development and the resultant run-off from our human sewage treatment and agricultural practices and the run-off from fertilizer applications.
The good news from all of this is that we do have at least some of the solutions required to decrease this problem. We do know how to achieve much more thorough sewage treatment and how to decrease agricultural inputs of nutrients. The main thing required now is the leadership and the investment to put these solutions into practice. I hope we can do this very soon because I know how wrong it is for our human actions to be causing such devastation amongst the other animals with whom we share the world.