University of North Florida coastal biology department aims to tackle algae blooms

by: Lorena Inclan, Action News Jax Updated:

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The University of North Florida is spearheading an effort to combat algae blooms.

You’ve seen it out in our local waterways: a nasty green film covering the surface. It’s not only a nuisance but it’s also a health concern.

A retention pond on the UNF campus is serving as a testing site for associate professor Dr. Kelly Smith and senior Ben Mowbray.  

On Tuesday afternoon, they used a canoe to get to what’s called a floating treatment wetland they had placed in the pond at least a day prior.

“They're basically just floats where you put plants that can tolerate a lot water,” Smith said.

The plants act as a sponge, absorbing damaging nutrients in the water that can lead to algal blooms, a sight that’s become far too common.

“The plants take up the nutrients and then we harvest the plants out of the pond, taking those nutrients with the plant and then put them into the salt marsh habitat,” Smith said.

According to Smith, retention ponds are critical to keeping nutrients out of the ground water.

“What's happening is they're not processing the nutrients adequately so all the nutrients are moving with the water into the ground water, which makes its way into the river and can fuel these algal blooms,” Smith said.

Mowbray is helping to track the health of the plants by collecting data. The hope is to eventually clone the plants and make them available.

“I think if we got a lot of homeowners associations and other groups to put out floating wetlands, they could reduce the amount of nutrients that make their way into the river,” Smith said.

Ultimately, Smith said this project is about preventing excessive algae blooms and making sure our waterways stay beautiful and healthy.

Smith plans to start another similar trial in the spring when the active growing season for the vegetation used in the project begins.