So another disheartening but not unexpected major ungoing natural disaster (caused by humans) that I recently realized is Lake Okeechobee being take over by algae (a symptom). But then looking up some information on this vast lake, I found out relative to basically all other lakes of a comparable size, it only gets a measely 4meters deep! This is nothing, and it screams to me of sameness and need of topographical edge down below (underwater pocket swales, and other seppifying "lake works" techniques to have a thermal flow of the water). I don't know that it would completely stave off the problems, but I'd bet that it would be a lot more resilient to deal with the issues ecosystemically, and that restoring much of the ecosystem by giving niche apartments for all different size lifeforms is the way to go. Anyone familiar with Lake Okeechobee or have any thoughts on how it could/should be approached, from a permaculture perspective?
I think all surrounding communities need to have their watershed restored, and native vegetation restored to provide appropriate filtration for water entering the lake. This holds true for all lakes everywhere which are surrounded by human habitation or farmland.
Long time lurker, first time poster because I find this topic so incredibly important. This is undoubtedly going to be a recurring issue in Florida and many other places as well- the water supply is being clogged by masses of blue green algae, a toxic substance that is so abundant it’s coating miles of beaches, and presenting a danger to communities in the interior and the Everglades as well as lucrative beach-y tourist traps. The problem originates in Okeechobee. The lake, cut off from the slow flow of water through the everglades, is bordered by sugarcane plantation and cattle farms, leading to huge amounts of fertilizer and manure runoff. This, coupled with the plentiful sun and warmth of the Sunshine State, (and the fact that, as you noted Karlos, it's shallow and flat), creates the perfect conditions for algae to bloom.
So there was this landscape that fostered one of the richest and most diverse ecosystems in the country- predictably, our action towards it was to first construct hundreds of miles of canals to drain the wetland, so we could farm. Then to dam the lake to prevent flooding, since the hydrology of the area was busted. Now agricultural producers are actively flooding the lake with concentrated chemical solutions formulated specifically to encourage plant growth, and algae is blooming. And the people of Florida are baffled by the situation. A comment from Geoff comes to mind- in discussing the idea of making things worse by trying to terraform in the way Permaculture does, he said something along the lines of 'we really can't do that much worse than we already are'.
From a systems perspective though, the solutions to this problem are many, lucrative and above all, simple. It all just comes down to remembering a basic tenet of Permaculture- the problem is the solution. The problem an overproduction of blue green algae, also known as cyanobacteria. Some folks may hear ‘toxic blue green algae’, and start eyeing their medicine cabinet askance. Yes, that blue green algae! But the term cyanobacteria (and the common name blue green algae) refers to a whole phylum of bacteria. One of the traits that makes them all cyanobacteria is their ability to photosynthesize- in fact, it’s believed that they are the first organisms with the ability to do so. They not only fix carbon from the atmosphere, but nitrogen also.
So if nothing is going to be done about the people fertilizing the water and leaving it to sit in the sun, perhaps that incredible productive capacity could be put to use! Inoculating the lake with a less toxic, more useful version of the algae, harvesting the tons of it being produced and putting it to any of these uses- as fertilizer, as medicine, as a source of fuel- serves both to eliminate the pollutant and take advantage of a valuable resource, while also fixing CO2. Or if the blue green algae presents such a hazardous situation, find something to compete for the spot- duckweed grows very well in that part of FL. Water Hyacinth. American Lotus. Tons of incredibly productive, valuable options exist to end a catastrophe, with something as simple as filling a niche.
John's probably got the better answer though, and without sacrificing brevity.
Interesting question. Eutrophication is the technical term for what is occurring. The change in water flows from meandering to straight shot compounds the issue of fertilizer overflow.
The challenge with hyacinth is overgrowth to the point of choking waterways. Duckweed not so much choking as obscuring waterways.
Harvesting the algae is a solid idea although i imagine the runoff is not just wholesome fertilizer but a mix of pesticides as well. Would thr algea as fertilizer be clean, contaminated, or somewhere in between.
One additional idea is to add oxygen. Churn that water with solar powered fountains. The end stage of eutrophication is death of the lake due to anearobic conditions. Adding oxygen mechanically using wind or solar may be the least objectionable intervention.
You raise important concerns and challenges. I agree that many of these aquatic species can be dangerous, ecologically- I've always thought that the paradox these plants present- being both prized as bioremediation powerhouses and reviled as explosively productive, 'noxious weeds'. Any of these three- cyanobacteria, water hyacinth, duckweed- and many others besides present dangerous tools to use, ones that should be handled very carefully if utilized at all. I only suggest them for three reasons- cyanobacteria have already exploded, the situation should all of them somehow be removed could potentially be even worse in the open ocean, and it doesn't seem like anyone is intending to stop the dumping of synthetic gick by the streamful anytime soon. The pollutant is the fertilizer- the fast-growing aquatic species is the counterbalance to it.
I definitely agree there's nothing 'wholesome' about the runoff causing this problem! Blech. I doubt there's any way that fertilizer would be 'clean' by most any standards. My thinking is just that if, for example, the sugar plantations are already spraying those biocides hither and thither, they probably won't have too much of a problem with there being traces of it in their fertilizer. Hey, maybe there's a marketing opportunity there- 'Creek Choker Guacamole fertilizer- get your NPK and your poisons, all in one product!' It's still applying the same salty, poisonous gick in the name of agriculture, but it's a step in a better direction, and a way to solve a huge problem. I doubt that toxicity would present too much of a problem in the biofuel process, either- the most commonly used feedstocks for biofuels today are corn and soy from conventional monoculture. If the pesticides there don't disrupt the process, I doubt there would be an issue.
My thinking is that yes, this is dirty work. And the end product isn't a beatific, Organic-certified, life-rich environment right there where the work is done. But it's not adding any problems to the situation either, just closing a loop to contain the already ongoing ones. Doing so might mean that a beatific, life-rich environment downstream lives to fight another day. I think these measures and others like them- larger scale cleanup, using some of the most powerful tools available to us- are possible, and absolutely necessary.
It's like someone is experiencing sepsis from an organ bursting, due to the end result of long term issues in their diet and lifestyle. Yes it's necessary that the mindset and practices of the person change, and the problems are inevitable until they do. But while someone is helping the person work on that, someone else should probably see about staunching the flow of poison through the body.
"The highest function of ecology is the understanding of consequences."
"Cultivate gratitude; hand out seed packets"
The Greenhouse of the Future ebook by Francis Gendron