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5 things to know about the environmental threats facing Tampa Bay
An aerial view of Tampa Bay from Manatee County, Fla.

5 things to know about the environmental threats facing Tampa Bay

April 7, 2021 at 4:16pm

While the threat to life and property from a leaky reservoir near Tampa Bay has diminished, the environmental toll won’t be known for a while, according to experts from FIU’s Institute of Environment.

Here are five things to know about the situation unfolding near Piney Point, Fla.

1. What’s going on?

Authorities are pumping more than 100 million gallons of nitrogen- and phosphorous-rich water into Tampa Bay in a bid to avoid a catastrophic collapse of a leaky reservoir holding the wastewater byproduct of a phosphate mine on Florida’s west coast.

2. What does that mean for Tampa Bay?

It’s too soon to tell. Todd Crowl, Executive Director of FIU’s Institute of Environment, said it may take at least 20 days before we start to see the effects of this polluted water in Tampa Bay.

3. What could happen in those 20 days?

If the phosphorus and phosphate entering Tampa Bay overwhelms the system, green or blue-green algae may bloom in the bay. If too much algae blooms, people could see a thick layer of slime form over the water. That algae could continue to grow and consume the available oxygen in the bay. Researchers at FIU’s Institute of Environment are monitoring the conditions of Tampa Bay using satellite data to determine whether algae has started to bloom and how wide spread the bloom becomes.

4. Can the weather affect what happens?

It depends. Temperatures are cool at the moment, and if winds pick up, it’s less likely we’ll see an algal outbreak in Tampa Bay. Warmer temperatures and calm winds, however, could make conditions more favorable for an algal bloom.

5. Didn’t something similar happen in Biscayne Bay?

In August 2020, too much algae formed in Biscayne Bay and it consumed so much oxygen overnight, there wasn’t enough for fish and other marine life to survive. The result was a fish kill in the northern part of the bay. FIU Institute of Environment researchers responded immediately with other partners to help determine the source of the problem and provide data to authorities who manage the bay.

The next 20 days will be crucial for the health of Tampa Bay. Researchers will keep an eye on what happens next.

FIU Institute of Environment researchers are available for the media.

Media Contacts:
Christine Calvo

Chrystian Tejedor