Article courtesy of Joby Warrick & Darryl Fears | October 26, 2014 | The Washington Post | Shared as educational material
COCOA, Fla. — Karen McLaughlin normally carries a flashlight for her nighttime kayak trips along Florida’s Banana River to spot any alligators resting on the banks. But these days, it’s the river itself that glows in the dark.
“It’s beautiful!” McLaughlin, an eco-tour guide, said as her boat’s wake set off an eerie light show on a moonless October night. Each dip of her paddle stirred up bioluminescent plankton that have invaded this eastern Florida waterway in record numbers since late summer. Like millions of tiny fireflies, they lit a jumping fish in a geyser of emerald light. A manatee out for the evening glowed like an alien spaceship as it passed underneath.
It was striking, but also strange: In a region where explosive “blooms” of toxic or nuisance algae have battered fisheries and killed dolphins and sea turtles in recent years, the glowing microorganisms represent another mysterious shift in an ecosystem that scientists say is out of kilter.
In the same week that some Florida researchers monitored the bioluminescent algae on Florida’s East Coast, others were keeping watch on remnants of a massive “red tide” in the Gulf of Mexico, a swath of toxic algae that at one point stretched 100 miles.
From Southern California’s beaches to the Chesapeake Bay, waterways across the United States are seeing increasing numbers of algae blooms, with impacts including tainted drinking water and poisoned shellfish beds. Some are linked to higher levels of nitrogen pollution from livestock waste and fertilizers from suburban lawns and farms. Others are mostly natural events that are occurring in new places as oceans and inland lakes grow warmer.