Harmful algae invades the Florida Keys

There's no better trip south than the one that takes you into Florida's playground. It's a place where the wake from vessels can take your mind into paradise and noone knows that better than Captain Karl Hamp. For 30 years he's had the best view from the office but has seen the worst of what is in the water.

"It got so bad I actually stopped diving in the mid 80's because our coral reefs were dying so bad, it was depressing," says Hamp.

He's back with a mission to find out what killed all the coral. He's partnered with FAU scientist Dr. Brian Lepointe.

"I don't know anywhere in the world where we have lost coral at such a rapid rate. Today we have about 6% coral on average in the Florida Keys. That is less coral than any other reef in the wider Caribbean region," says Lepointe.

The destruction here at Looe Key serves as the best example of what happens when harmful algae invades the current year after year. This site was once the crown jewel of the Keys. A closer look reveals the truth. Coral looks completely different from 25 years ago when vibrant colors dominated.

"It's bad, we are probably the worst stewards of our coral reef here than anywhere in the world judging by the coral," says Lepointe.

According to Lepointe and his vast research, the source is harmful algae and it came from one place, water discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

These are same discharges that have pummeled the Treasure Coast only these went a different direction a long time ago. Evidence from Lepointe shows that discharges flowed south through the Everglades into Shark River and into Florida Bay.

There's no solution in sight except for raw hard facts that conclude harmful algae is no longer just a Florida problem. Lepointe says there's only one solution that can  work and that's to declare this a national emergency.

"If it is a national emergency then there's a case to take land by eminent domain and flood it and hold that water and stop the bleeding of the nitrogen. Using science to guide these efforts not emotion or politics, says Lepointe.

Time is running out and for this small group of researchers the hope is that one day someone will listen before its too late.

"It's not gonna be an easy answer, it's not gonna be a quick answer," says Hamp.

Print this article Back to Top