First Coast Connect: Latest St. Johns River Study A Mixed Bag

Sep 12, 2016

The good news about the St. Johns River is that nitrogen levels are down and there is a drop in overall emissions of toxic chemicals in the region but algae blooms are still a major concern.

Those are some of the findings of the ninth annual St. Johns River Report.

The report is a collaboration between Jacksonville University, the University of North Florida, Florida Southern College and Valdosta State.        

Appearing on Monday’s First Coast Connect, J.U. research scientist Dr. Gerard Pinto said the excess of nutrients running off into the river continues to be a problem and leads to dangerous algae blooms in the river and its tributaries.    

“Nitrogen and phosphorus are basically food sources for those nutrients and the high temperatures and the amount of rain that we’ve had, that sort of really kicks off these algae blooms and some of them are deadly,” he said.

St. Johns Riverkeeper executive director Jimmy Orth said, while he is pleased to see the nitrogen levels are down, the river is still not in compliance of state water quality standards.

“Our river is what they call ‘impaired.’ It’s still polluted with too many nutrients,” he said. “So what can see as the result of that is these algae blooms.”        

The algae blooms have been shown to be a health hazard to humans as well as deadly to fish and other aquatic life.

UNF Department of Chemistry Chair Dr. Radha Pyati said there are some dangers in the river that despite a concerted effort haven’t seen a lot of change.  

“One of the particularly important one of those is fecal coliform levels in the tributaries,” she said. “Fecal coliform levels tell us about bacteria in the water body that we don’t want. They’re indicative not only of the presence of fecal coliform but of other bacteria and viruses that are not removed by wastewater treatment.”

One bright spot in the study was the highest highest manatee count in 22 years. The number of manatees counted in aerial surveys rose 15-percent to 217.

Pinto said the increase can be attributed to stronger state regulations, more boating speed zones and raising awareness and educational outreach to protect the manatee.    

 

Producer Kevin Meerschaert can be reached at kmeerschaert@wjct.org, 904-358-6334 or on Twitter at @KMeerschaertJax