Friday, July 25, 2008

The Patron Saint of Long Island Sound – Part 2 – Algae!

The issue with plankton, algae and all the little microscopic critters that live in the Sound is that they are the fundamental building blocks of life in the ocean or an estuary (like Long Island Sound is). They are not bad creatures, but good. The smaller the size, the more base form of organism is supported. The larger plankton is food for fish and lobster larva. The small ones are good for Jellyfish, slipper snails and that kind of creature (hmmm…Jellyfish, didn’t we have an early coming of them…oh I wander from my topic). Clams and oyster eat just about everything.

So what is the problem? When they die, that is when they use up oxygen, but if they are eaten before they die, there is no problem. Most springs, when things thaw on land and we get a good flush of rain, there is an algae bloom and this begins the cycle of the food chain in the Sound.

So I talked about the size of the algae being important, what conditions change the size of the algae?

When talking about this you need to know what feed algae – nitrogen is one element, phosphorous is another and carbon is a third. That seems fairly simplistic, but that’s what algae are – simple. In the Great Lakes there was a huge problem with the amount of phosphates from detergents being dumped into the Lakes from various sources and the choking algae blooms (along with lots of other serious crud) cause a real problem. In the oceans, phosphorous is not the problem. Studies over decades of the Interstate Sanitation Commission on nitrogen shows that level has been very consistent over decades, but maybe the form has changed.

Form, forms of Nitrogen? I never mentioned that did I? Well Nitrogen has many forms, it can exist as ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, organically bound or inorganically bound and well the first 3 are what feed algae and they convert it to an organic nitrogen, which fish larva can feed on.

Still doesn’t tell you about the size, does it?

And so then we get to talk about carbon.

The sources of carbon are decomposing plant material and waste materials from animals. But wait, we pickup our leaves and grass and such so they don’t go into a compost in the back yard and clean up all the dead trees and we have very good sewage treatment plants to clean up our waste. The only thing left is water comes out of the storm water and that is the next target of the USEPA.

I am not saying that there is a lot of stuff that goes into our water ways that shouldn’t be there, but bear with me as I get to the next installment.

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