Sewage-Derived Nitrogen Increasingly Polluting Caribbean Ecosystems
May 16, 2011
"Nitrogen pollution in our coastal ecosystems, the result of widespread use of synthetic agricultural fertilizers and of human sewage, leads to decreased water transparency, the loss of desirable fish species, and the emergence of toxic phytoplankton species—such as the algae behind the renowned "red tides" that kill fish. The effects are particularly pronounced in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
A study published in the journal Global Change Biology finds that while fertilizer has been the dominant source of nitrogen pollution in Caribbean coastal ecosystems for the past 50 years, such pollution is on the decline, thanks in part to the introduction of more advanced, environmentally responsible agricultural practices during the last decade. But now, sewage-derived nitrogen is increasingly becoming the top source of such pollution in those areas.
"We can't simply say our coastal ecosystem is being polluted by nitrogen," said Kiho Kim, one of the study's authors and chair of environmental science at American University. "The consequences may be the same, but differentiating the source of the pollutants is critical to crafting sustainable solutions—you can't fix a problem if you don't know what's causing it.""
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