Black Water crisis in Florida Keys

Ron Gatrelle gatrelle at
Wed Mar 27 12:32:05 EST 2002

The following has nothing to do with butterflies - except for those who see
butterflies as but a part of the biotic and environmental Whole.   So those
with a broader interest - read on.  Those not interested in non leps stuff
delete/exit now.

OK.  For those who are continuing this is forwarded from the naturepotpurri
Yahoo group (288 members).
For more information: Mail TO: naturepotpurri-owner at
Post message: naturepotpourri at
Subscribe:  naturepotpourri-subscribe at
Unsubscribe:  naturepotpourri-unsubscribe at
List owner:  naturepotpourri-owner at


From:  "Bob Parcelles,Jr." <rjparcelles at y...>
Date:  Wed Mar 27, 2002  8:19 am
Subject:  Dying sponges offer clues about the `blob'

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Miami Herald,

Posted on Wed, Mar. 27, 2002

Dying sponges offer clues about the `blob'

cmorgan at h...

A zone of dying sponges and coral off Key West has suddenly elevated the
formation dubbed ''black water'' from scientific mystery to major
environmental concern.  In the first reliable underwater assessment of
impact on marine life, a commercial diver documented enough damage to raise
alarms that the baffling blob may have left a swath of unseen destruction
in its wake as it slowly drifted from the Gulf of Mexico across Florida Bay
over the last few months.  ''This certainly sounds like it's the effects of
something very nasty going on,'' Billy Causey, superintendent of the
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, said Tuesday.  The devastated
sponges were observed over the weekend in the northwest channel off Key
West by Ken Nedimyer, a member of the sanctuary's advisory council who
collects specimens for the aquarium trade.

''The water was a creepy green at the surface and by the time I got to the
bottom, it was really creepy and dark,'' wrote Nedimyer in an e-mail sent
to the sanctuary and several of scientists studying the curious
discoloration.  He noted six species of rope sponge as the hardest hit,
with 50 to 75 percent wiped out, as well as a number of other sponges dead
or  dying. Brain coral and starfish also seemed to be suffering. Fish in
the area seemed healthy, though curiously unhungry.  ''There's a real
meltdown occuring down there right now,''
Nedimyer wrote.  Before Nedimyer's report, scientists had not confirmed any
toxic effects from the black water but Nedimyer's observations were serious
enough that the sanctuary planned to dispatch its own divers to survey for
more widespread damage. While the mass described as the color of sewer
water is breaking up and shrinking, at one point it spanned several hundred
miles.   While scientists were still sorting through water samples,
satellite images, weather reports and historical studies and observations,
the sponge dieoff is another strong indicator that the culprit is an
explosion of some sort of microscopic plankton, said Brian Keller, the
sanctuary's science coordinator.  During a series of algae blooms that
plagued Florida Bay in the mid-1990s, sponges, which feed by filtering
water, were among the first organisms to go, in vast acres, followed by
seagrass beds. Those blooms did not kill fish, like red tide does, but fish
do avoid the areas during outbreaks and lose forage and shelter until the
areas recover, which can take years.

''The fact that it appears to be a fairly selective mortality indicates to
me that it's not like some general toxin in the water column that would
kill everything,'' Keller said.  But Keller agreed it would take more study
to issue a definitive word. A loose-knit team of state, federal and private
scientists studying the patch
plans to discuss the data and issue a list of probable causes, perhaps by
week's end.  As of now, ''it's a phenomenon about which we are uncertain,''
said Beverly
Roberts, research administrator at the Florida Marine Research Institute in
St. Petersburg. It could be caused by anything from pollution to some sort
decaying plant material, perhaps flushed to sea from land.  Scientists at
the institute, the Mote Marine Laboratory in the Keys and Sarasota, and the
University of South Florida were all analyzing data. Water samples have
shown medium to high levels of two types of phytoplanktons, tiny plants so
essential to the marine food chain that they're called ''the grass of the
sea,'' Roberts said.
''It's eaten by a lot of smaller stages of the fishes,'' she said. They're
normal in sea water but plankton or a variety of them can cause problems in
high concentrations.  The samples also detected low concentrations of
another bottom plankton that produces ciguatera, a toxic that can sicken
people who eat
fish with high levels. But Roberts said it unlikely it played a major

Florida Keys Keynoter,

Publication Date: Saturday, March 23, 2002


Bob Parcelles, Jr
Pinellas Park, FL
RJP Associates, C2M-BWPTi
rjparcelles at y...
"Change your thoughts and you change your world."
- Norman Vincent Peale


   For subscription and related information about LEPS-L visit: 

More information about the Leps-l mailing list