Coral smothering 'green tide' seaweed spreading on Florida reefs

much area it currently covers in Florida. Lapointe and his colleagues discovered C. brachypus for the first time in Florida waters about a year ago. At that time they found it had already covered acres of reef. Florida's 2002 budget, as approved by the state legislature, had included roughly half a million dollars for Lapointe's team to study the macroalgae problem, but this funding was later eliminated by a line-item veto. Consequently, C. brachypus's spread has so far not been studied in any way.

But Lapointe has now received a grant through the Environmental Protection Agency's national Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB) initiative that will allow such work to move forward. A media press conference and dive event on Jan. 23 coincides with the first day of surveys on local reefs for this new project.

Over the next two years, Lapointe and his colleagues will complete a comprehensive study of the factors controlling the spread of Caulerpa brachypus and two other problematic seaweed, or macroalgae, species. Lapointe predicts that the spread of macroalgae on Florida reefs, sometimes referred to as a "green tide," will have devastating ecological and economic impacts unless controlled. His work should lead to forecasts for the amount of damage to expect from macroalgae in coming years as well as provide information about how best to control or prevent its spread.

Lapointe and his team will conduct quarterly surveys of these sites as well as laboratory experiments to determine how seasonal changes in light, temperature, and nutrient availability control the growth and spread of harmful macroalgae, and whether growth is seasonal or year-round, a key factor in determining how fast it spreads.

To test his hypothesis that nutrients from pollution are fueling macroalgae blooms in the area, Lapointe and his colleagues will be comparing how well each species grows when nitrogen in the form found in sewage is available ve

Contact: Mark Schrope
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution

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