Algae threatening Florida waterways

More than 600 manatees migrate to Florida’s Crystal River every winter, but over the last few decades unwanted algae has invaded this idyllic waterway. If left unchecked, the invasive species could threaten this beloved sea creature’s essential safe haven.

TRANSCRIPT

MORE THAN 600 MANATEES MIGRATE TO FLORIDA'S CRYSTAL RIVER EVERY WINTER, BUT OVER THE LAST FEW DECADES, THE SPRINGS THAT FEED THE RIVER HAVE GONE THROUGH DRAMATIC CHANGES.

NOW UNWANTED ALGAE HAS INVADED THIS IDYLLIC WATERWAY AND, IF LEFT UNCHECKED, COULD THREATEN THIS BELOVED SEA CREATURE'S ESSENTIAL SAFE HAVEN.

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CRYSTAL RIVER, FLORIDA, IS HOME TO AN AQUATIC PARADISE.

IT'S AN ECOSYSTEM WHICH INCLUDES AN ESTUARY, RIVER, AND SPRING SYSTEM THAT ALL STARTS AT KINGS BAY.

KINGS BAY PROPER IS ABOUT 600 ACRES.

IT'S A FAIRLY GOOD-SIZE BAY, BUT THEN YOU'VE GOT ALL THESE CANALS THAT GO BACK UP INTO WHERE THE RESIDENCES ARE AND GO BACK UP INTO THREE SISTERS SPRINGS.

LISA MOORE IS PRESIDENT OF SAVE CRYSTAL RIVER, A COALITION AND PARTNERSHIP MADE UP OF FRIENDS, NEIGHBORS, AND COMMUNITY LEADERS.

WHAT WE WANT TO SEE IS THAT IT'S BROUGHT BACK TO ITS PRISTINE CONDITION LIKE IT WAS IN THE '60s, WHERE THE WATER WAS SO CLEAR THAT YOU COULD LOOK OFF ANYBODY'S DOCK, AND YOU'D SEE FISH AND CRABS AND GRASSES, AND IT WOULD BE JUST ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL.

OVER THE PAST 60 YEARS, THE RIVER AND BAY HAVE CHANGED DRAMATICALLY.

ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENTIST DR. CHRIS ANASTASIOU ATTRIBUTES THE MAIN CULPRIT TO BE LYMBIA, AN ALGAE-LIKE MATERIAL.

LYMBIA IS A VERY STRANGE ORGANISM.

IT'S A CYANOBACTERIA, SO IT IS A BLUE-GREEN ALGAE.

SO IT KIND OF BEHAVES LIKE A PLANT, AND SOMETIMES IT KIND OF BEHAVES A LITTLE BIT MORE LIKE AN ANIMAL, IN THE SENSE THAT IT CAN LIVE IN ALMOST NO LIGHT AND IT CAN ALMOST FEED ON ITSELF.

NATURAL AND MANMADE ORGANIC SEDIMENT UPSET THE BALANCE HERE.

THE RESULT -- THE NATURAL EELGRASSES DIED OFF, AND LYMBIA TOOK OVER.

YOU KNOW THE OLD SAYING, 'NATURE ABHORS A VACUUM.'

IF THERE IS AN AREA THAT IS DISTURBED -- IN OTHER WORDS, YOU LOSE A LOT OF THE NATIVE GRASSES THAT WERE THERE -- LYMBIA COMES IN AND BASICALLY TAKES OVER.

AND THAT'S BEEN THE CASE HERE IN KINGS BAY.

THE SAVE CRYSTAL RIVER COALITION HAS WORKED TIRELESSLY TO FIND A SOLUTION.

THEY SOLICITED THE HELP OF GATOR DREDGING AND THE SEA & SHORELINE COMPANY TO DEVELOP A PLAN TO RESTORE THE BAY.

THEY APPROACHED THE FLORIDA LEGISLATURE TO FUND THE PROJECT.

AND THE LEGISLATURE AGREED WITH US THAT, FIRST OF ALL, THIS IS AN OUTSTANDING FLORIDA WATERWAY AND IT SHOULD LOOK LIKE IT.

SO THEY GAVE US THE $1.6 MILLION APPROPRIATION AND TOLD US THAT THEY WOULD BACK US FOR THE 3.4-ACRE PROJECT THAT WE'RE WORKING ON RIGHT NOW.

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IN OCTOBER OF 2015, RESTORATION BEGAN.

LEGISLATORS, LOCAL POLITICIANS, AND INTERESTED RESIDENTS CAME TOGETHER TO KICK OFF THE EFFORTS.

THE PLAN IS TWOFOLD -- VACUUM UP THE LYMBIA AND ORGANIC MATERIAL, AND PLANT NATIVE FLORIDA EELGRASSES.

THIS MACHINE HERE SEPARATES BASED ON SIZE AND GRAIN SIZE.

IT'S CALLED A TRIFLO FILTER, AND IT'S GOT SHAKER SCREENS ON TOP.

AND AS THE LARGER MATERIAL HITS THE SCREEN, IT'LL STOP ON TOP.

AND ONCE THEY'RE TREATED ON THE BACK END, THEY GET HIT WITH POLYMERS THAT ANY SUSPENDED SOLIDS WILL GET BOUND TOGETHER WITH A HEAVY POLYMER AND SINK TO THE BOTTOM.

ONCE THAT GETS TREATED WITH THE POLYMER AND GETS PUT INTO A GEOTUBE, AND AS THE SEDIMENTS FALL DOWN TO THE BOTTOM, THE WATER POROUSLY COMES OUT THROUGH THE BAG.

AFTER REMOVING THE UNWANTED MATERIAL, DIVERS COME IN TO BEGIN PLANTING THE GRASS.

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NOW THE FIELD IS SET.

THE BOTTOM IS CLEAN.

WE CAN GO REPLANT.

HOWEVER, THERE'S A LARGE POPULATION OF MANATEES AND OTHER HERBIVORES -- TURTLES, DUCKS, AND OTHER FISH -- AND SO WE HAD TO USE A GROW S.A.V. CAGE ON TOP OF THE PLANTING UNITS SO, ONCE THE PLANTS ARE ESTABLISHED, THEY CAN GROW OUT.

THE GRASS THAT WE'RE USING FOR HERE IS NATIVE TO FLORIDA, AND IT'S AN ECOTYPE THAT'S CALLED ROCK STAR, AND WHAT IT EXCELS AT IS GROWING NOT SO MUCH ABOVEGROUND BIOMASS -- THE LEAVES, THE SHOOTS -- BUT THE BELOWGROUND.

THESE PLANTS ARE GONNA GET MUNCHED ON BY THE TURTLES, THE MANATEES, AND WE WELCOME THAT BECAUSE THE MORE THESE LEAVES GET NIBBLED DOWN, THE FASTER THE ROOTS ARE GONNA START GROWING.

AND THAT'S REALLY WHY WE CHOSE THIS ROCK STAR VARIETY.

WHILE THE SAVE CRYSTAL RIVER GROUP WORKS IN THE PRIVATE CANALS, THE MAIN PART OF KINGS BAY IS UNDER THE JURISDICTION OF THE SOUTHWEST FLORIDA WATER MANAGEMENT DISTRICT.

CHIEF SCIENTIST CHRIS ANASTASIOU IS TAKING A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT APPROACH TO RESTORING GRASS BEDS NEAR THE SPRINGS.

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IN ORDER TO COMBAT SOMETHING LIKE LYMBIA, YOU HAVE TO PHYSICALLY GO IN AND PLANT THE GOOD GRASSES THAT WILL EVENTUALLY, WITH CARE AND MAINTENANCE OVER TIME, OUT-COMPETE THE LYMBIA.

THEY TOO CHOSE THE ROCK STAR GRASS TO PLANT NEAR AN AREA KNOWN AS HUNTER SPRINGS.

THEY WERE ABLE TO OBTAIN THEIR GRASS FROM THE MARICULTURE CENTER, RUN BY DUKE ENERGY.

THE MARICULTURE CENTER IS A SERIES OF ONE-ACRE PONDS WHERE THEY TRADITIONALLY GROW FISH.

THROUGH THIS PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP, WE'VE BEEN GROWING THESE GRASS MATS OUT THERE FOR THE BETTER PART OF ABOUT A YEAR.

THE GRASS IS GROWN IN 3x15-FOOT COCONUT MATS.

THE WAY WE TAKE IT OUT OF THE POND IS WE PHYSICALLY WILL LIFT IT UP TO THE SIDE.

WE'LL ROLL IT, AND WHEN WE COME OUT IN THE FIELD, WE TAKE THE MAT, WE PUT IT IN THE WATER, AND THE GOOD THING IS THAT THE MATS WILL FLOAT FOR A TIME, LONG ENOUGH FOR US TO GET THE MATS, SWIM THEM TO THEIR FINAL POSITION, AND THEN SLOWLY WEIGHT THEM DOWN ON THE BOTTOM.

SO WE ALSO DECIDED THAT WE NEEDED TO PROTECT THE GRASSES, AT LEAST AT THE BEGINNING, FROM GETTING GRAZED ON BY MANATEE AND OTHER GRAZERS, LIKE TURTLES.

AND SO WE FINALLY DECIDED ON USING THE FENCED ENCLOSURES THAT WE ARE FLOATING IN RIGHT NOW.

TODAY, DR. ANASTASIOU IS CHECKING ON A NEWLY PLANTED FIELD.

IT IS ALMOST AN INSTANTANEOUS PHENOMENON, WHERE ALL OF A SUDDEN, YOU PUT THE GRASSES DOWN, YOU CREATE THE HABITAT, AND THE FISH START COMING IN.

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THE INFORMATION GATHERED AND RESULTS FOUND HERE WILL BE USED FOR FUTURE ENVIRONMENTAL RESTORATIONS.

IT'S AN EXPERIMENT, JUST LIKE THE WORK THAT SAVE CRYSTAL RIVER IS DOING IN THE CANALS, WHERE WE'RE ALL TRYING DIFFERENT THINGS.

AND THE SECRET TO SUCCESS ULTIMATELY IS BEING ABLE TO DOCUMENT AND LEARN FROM THE EXPERIENCE THAT WE'RE HAVING RIGHT NOW.

IF WE CAN PERFECT THIS PROJECT, WHICH WE BELIEVE IS GONNA HAPPEN, THEN IT'LL BE A MODEL FOR THE STATE OF FLORIDA AND FOR OTHER AREAS THAT ARE FIGHTING LYMBIA, BECAUSE THERE'S A LOT OF LYMBIA AROUND.

THE SAVE CRYSTAL RIVER ORGANIZATION HAS HAD A BIG IMPACT ON BOTH THE RIVER AND THE PEOPLE.

I LIVED HERE.

I'VE GROWN UP HERE.

I STILL LIVE HERE.

MY CHILDREN AND MY GRANDCHILDREN LIVE HERE.

AND WE WANT TO SEE THE NEXT GENERATION HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO ENJOY AND EXPERIENCE THE RIVER THE WAY WE DID WHEN WE WERE GROWING UP.

WE KNOW WHAT IT CAN BE.

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