Algae is spreading, killing reefs off Palm Beach

Published: Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 24, 2003 at 9:44 p.m.
JUPITER - Scientists are trying to find out what is behind the spread of algae that is killing coral reefs along the coast of Palm Beach County and driving away marine life.
The algae, native to the Pacific Ocean, is called Caulerpa brachypus, and was first detected along the Palm Beach coast last year.
No one knows how far it has spread, but it has been sighted in St. Lucie County, said Brian Lapointe, a marine ecologist at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Fort Pierce.
"It can smother just about everything," Lapointe said Thursday.
The algae was probably pumped into area waters from an oceangoing ship or dumped into the water from a home aquarium, he said.
Lapointe has been awarded a $279,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to figure out ways to curb the growth of the algae. He said the algae has spread because it doesn't have natural enemies in the waters off Florida.
One theory behind why it is thriving is that nitrogen-rich sewage from area treatment plans is helping it spread, Lapointe said.
He will test the theory during a two-year study of water quality on two reefs, one artificial, one natural.
Lapointe will also test how the algae reacts to nitrogen that naturally occurs in the water and treated affluent.
Several county, state and federal agencies, including the EPA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, are scheduled to begin a comprehensive study of the effects of treated affluent on the algae later this year.

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