By Chris Fish
BREVARD - A portion of the Indian River Lagoon is being attacked by brown tide algae, turning the water into a muddy, brown color, and making it the worst algae outbreak the lagoon has ever experienced.
"The brown tide started in early July in Mosquito Lagoon and started to spread south," said Troy Rice, Indian River Lagoon program director at St. Johns River Water Management District in Melbourne. "We are not sure the impact it could have in the long run on wildlife (in the lagoon)."
Mr. Rice said he believes the brown tide algae is caused by the blue-green algae blooms experienced during 2011, which led to 30,000 acres of sea grass being destroyed, due to the lack of sunlight reaching the grass through the algae.
Currently, every acre of sea grass smothered by the algae costs the regions economy anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000.
Despite the reports of the effects on the sea grass by the brown tide algae, it is not believed to be harmful to humans.
"The super bloom blue-green algae took nutrients out of our system," he said. "This allowed the brown tide to come into the system."
While little is actually known about the brown tide algae, it is believed to grow in areas of high salinity and often occurs after other algae draws nutrients to lower levels.
John Royal, environmental section supervisor at Brevard County Stormwater, said there are numerous ways the algae may have been created.
"We're still trying to figure out why this particular species of algae is here," he said. "It could be due to cold winters or it could be from the bloom experienced last year. It's the worst (algae outbreak we) have seen."
The initial identification of the algae was performed by Dr. Edward Phillips of the University of Florida's Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Program. Since the identification by Dr. Phillips, a sample has been sent to Dr. Christopher Gobler of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University in New York.
Dr. Gobler recently published an article entitled "Harmful Algae Have the Right Genetic Stuff" in the Spring 2012 issue of "Oceanus" magazine, a publication that explores the ocean in depth.
Mr. Rice said he feels Dr. Gobler may have the best expertise in terms of the rare brown tide algae.
"We are fairly certain we are dealing with the same species they have dealt with," Mr. Rice said. "We haven't heard back from (Dr. Gobler) yet, but they won't see any results for a few weeks."