Invasive Algae in the Home of Mermaids
By: Kyle Grammatica
Suck it! That’s the thought the Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park had when contemplating solutions to their algae problem.
For years, volunteers and staff at Weeki Wachee have been combatting Lyngbya, an invasive algae threatening to take over the world-famous springs. Lyngbya algae feeds on excess nutrients resulting from runoff in the spring. The algae is more than just an eye-sore, it also smothers eelgrass and other native aquatic plants, harming the whole spring ecosystem. Mats of algae form at the bottom of the spring and when they break loose, they prevent light from reaching below. This leads to diminished water quality and extreme fluctuations in dissolved oxygen levels, stressing aquatic life. Previously, algae was removed by hand bagging, which was slow, difficult, and inefficient. Volunteers had trouble keeping up and the algae threatened to clog the spring.
In October 2017, the Foundation awarded $40,000 to the Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park to purchase a large vacuum system to remove the algae. The device sucks algae up a 50-foot hose into custom-made net bags attached to a pontoon barge. Once filled, the bags are removed from the spring and emptied at ecologically appropriate locations where the algae decomposes harmlessly.
“Our aquatic team have been pulling the algae by hand in small bags for years,” said Andrew Brusso, dive safety officer for Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. “Lyngbya is a stubborn algae that will continue to invade our aquifer system. Hearing that we received this grant for our new system was a dream come true.”
The new vacuum has greatly increased the speed at which the algae can be removed; the main spring and adjacent swimming area have been eliminated. The vacuum system will continue to be used to keep the springs virtually Lyngbya-free.
“We’re excited when a newly-applied technology solves a persistent conservation problem,” said Foundation President and CEO Andy Walker. “Weeki Wachee Springs is known the world over and loved by thousands of people. We are pleased this innovative project helps ensure that future generations experience its unique beauty.”
Funding for this grant came from the Foundation’s Protect Florida Springs license plate, which contains the image of a scuba diver. Twenty-five dollars from each purchased plate supports the conservation of Florida’s unique springs. Purchase the plate at your local tax collector’s office!