We have all seen the news this past month regarding the Floridian red tides. Thousands of miles of coastline devastated by this green thick sludge. In the process, hundreds of sea turtles, dolphins, species of fish, corals, manatees and sharks have been killed. The result of excess nutrients being released by the industrial agriculture industry near Lake Okeechobee, the environmental catastrophe stems from one thing; the overuse of chemical fertilizers.

Occurring predominantly in salty water, these algal blooms produce toxins that pose serious threats to marine life. These poisons can easily propagate through the water as the red tides break down and even spread up into the air as waves crash against the shore, potentially harming organisms above the surface. In other words, humans are at risk too. When local farmers use chemical fertilizers for their crops, much of it runoff when it rains. That runoff flows down to oceans, and those abundances of nutrients spark large growths of algae. 

 

 

 

Every year, water flows down from Lake Okeechobee and connects with the ocean. As this runoff migrates south, it collects huge amounts of chemical fertilizers. In the past, this contaminated water was filtered by the Everglades (especially thanks to the mangrove trees). In fact, the park is also known as the Floridian water buffer. Unfortunately, industrial agriculturists have abused the use of chemical fertilizers and the levels of contamination in those runoffs are too high for the Everglades ecosystem to clean and sift. Thus, millions of gallons of fertilizer still end up in the ocean.

The algae blooms caused by these waves of fertilizers absorb all the oxygen needed by underwater organisms, bringing about mass deaths of animals and plants. In addition, the blooms prevent any sunlight from penetrating the surface, blocking countless species of sea plants from getting what they need for their photosynthetic processes. These plants receive no sunlight, they produce no oxygen, adding to the number of marine animal deaths. In terms of humans, if they come in contact with these red tides, they will experience eye rashes, irritation of the lungs, skin lesions. Swimming amidst the toxic sludge can also cause death in the most extreme cases.

Economically, red tides cost Florida millions of dollars in tourism. Tourists come to Florida for the coastal regions, the beaches, yet swimming in numerous Floridian beaches has been banned due to these poisonous blooms.

 

Here’s where compost comes in:

 

Fortunately, we, as a local, national, and global community, can fix this problem. Once again, compost comes in to save the day! Rather than using chemical fertilizer, you can use other natural and more sustainable sources of nutrients for your garden. Composting your food scraps is not only helpful for trying to reduce the amount of trash that end up in landfills and creates methane gas, but it’s also a way to maximize what comes out of your garden. This is because compost is a nutrient-rich natural fertilizer filled with beneficial microbes. It puts your garden’s soil on overdrive by increasing your plant yields, reducing the effects of acid rain, balancing the pH to neutral, decreasing harmful bacterias, increase your plant’s ability to absorb carbon from the air.

 

In addition, the chemical fertilizer used in these agricultural fields are sprayed in immense quantities and no crop has enough time to absorb it all. This causes the rest to leach out in the groundwaters and local canals, ending up in our oceans. However, when compost is applied, it is absorbed by the plants over a longer period of time. Chemical fertilizers are packed with phosphorus and nitrogen in order to promote the most plant growth, in an unnatural way. Compost does the same yet it provides natural nutrients, at healthy levels. Compost is simply really good soil. So, if it is collected with runoffs, it will not cause these blooms like artificial fertilizers do. Furthermore, compost improves soil in general, preventing soil erosion and degradation. Stronger soil means that much less nutrients will runoff with the water after it rains. If farmers used compost instead of fertilizers, red tides would not be a threat to marine or human life. This works to show that compost can be used in virtually all branches of the environmental movement.

 

So what do you say? Want to be part of the solution? Join Miami’s growing composting movement here! Help back2earth grow gardens not landfills and try to eliminate problems such as red tides and soil degradation.

 

Written by Emma Angeletti, head of research at back2earth.