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Nancy Smith

About that Panel of Algae Scientists: How Did Brian Lapointe Get Left Behind?

July 22, 2019 - 9:45am
Brian Lapointe during a Florida Senate presentation.
Brian Lapointe during a Florida Senate presentation.

Brian Lapointe is almost everywhere. 

Note, I said almost

In the past week I've seen the Florida Atlantic University/Harbor Branch Oceanographic research professor and biologist on CNN, heard him on National Public Radio, read his just-published 30-year study of coral degradation off Looe Key, and looked over a July paper following the massive movement of Sargassum seaweed from Africa to the beaches of South Florida. With all this, Lapointe is still advising legislators, still explaining nitrogen's effect on algal blooms, still helping South Florida communities with septic-to-sewer conversions.

So, why do I say almost everywhere? Because the only place I haven't seen him is the one place you would think he'd be found: On the governor's five-member task force of scientists looking to find a fix to algae problems.

But no, his name isn't on the list. To my knowledge, he was never approached, never invited, never seriously considered.

Said Gov. Ron DeSantis during his panel announcement, "We’re getting resources, financial resources to bear on the problem and making good choices, we want to make sure that those choices are informed by the best science and the best research available.”

Seems to me, Lapointe -- author of more than 90 publications in the field of algal physiology, biochemistry and ecology, and internationally recognized for his work -- is like 8-year-old Kevin McCallister in the Christmas classic, "Home Alone." He should have been in Paris with his family but ... he was naughty and somehow got left behind.

Only, Kevin's parents left him behind accidentally. Lapointe was left behind deliberately. Why? Because water czar Eric Eikenberg, head of the Everglades Foundation, doesn't like him. Apparently, if you put this particular scientist on a state committee, you risk giving him a megaphone.

Snubbing Lapointe isn't just mean-spirited. Frankly, it speaks volumes about the sincerity of Congressman Brian Mast and Eikenberg, whom the governor entrusted to help him find a solutions-driven panel to fix the state's algae woes. 

And by the way, I'm not saying I think Lapointe should be leading the charge on this issue. Neither am I disparaging any of the scientists among the appointments.  But no biologist has taken more samples of water off Florida's 1,100 miles of coastline, including the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie estuary than Brian Lapointe. Why would he be deliberately left behind, a marine biologist whose research interests include biological oceanography, algal physiology and biochemistry, seagrass and coral reef ecology, marine pollution, and remote sensing? Why wasn't someone saying, "Let's use that experience ..."? Read about Lapointe here and you tell me.   

If you're wondering why Lapointe is such a thorn in Eikenberg's side, here it is: 

Working under water
Working under water
First, Lapointe keeps talking about the importance of nitrogen from fertilizers and particularly sewage feeding algal blooms. Septic tanks and sewage spills are the last things Eikenberg wants to talk about -- 'lest, God forbid, the state begin spending a larger share of conservation money fixing leaking sewage pipes and enabling septic-to-sewer conversions. Eikenberg wants concentration on the Foundation's top priority south of the lake -- keeping their eyes on the prize, making sure the public swallows the importance of a larger EAA reservoir footprint. 

Second, for three decades Lapointe tried to show scientists at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary that their theory on what was killing coral, seagrass and fish in Florida Bay wasn't, as they insisted, hypersalinity -- too much salt water. Lapointe admits it was rough going trying to have a conversation with them. The Sanctuary and the Everglades Foundation bought into each other's theories.

"Scientists often disagree," Lapointe told me in a 2015 telephone interview. "That's good, because that's how advances are made. But this was different. Their scientists, Jay Zieman and Ron Jones, the Foundation, the Sanctuary and the Keys Nature Conservancy -- they all circled the wagons and went overboard to discredit everything I was saying, even as I was presenting papers to show I had the evidence and other scientists were corroborating my work."

In December 1994, after a New York Times Magazine piece by William K. Stevens, "Will Remedy Worsen a Sick Bay?" -- a story questioning Florida's hypersalinity/just-pump-more-fresh-water theory for saving Florida Bay -- the Times received a letter to the editor from John H. Ryther, scientist emeritus at the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

Public education: Brian Lapointe works with the Florida Chamber 

 

"There is no question that the Bay is suffering from a bad case of eutrophication (excessive growth of algae) that has turned its once crystal clear waters to pea soup. It is the imputed cause of the eutrophication that I take issue with. The latter is not just wrong, it is completely backwards. The method proposed to correct the situation (pumping more fresh water in the bay) would almost certainly make it much worse."

What Lapointe had discovered some 25 years ago, and what was corroborated by other algal scientists in scientific journals and in in-depth newspaper stories was that the missing quotient in the Zieman-Jones hypothesis was nitrogen -- the chemical that primarily comes from agricultural runoff and sewage.

"Zieman and Jones were only worried about phosphorus," Lapointe explained. "They knew wetlands can clean up phosphorus. So they insisted the bay only needed more fresh water flowing through the 'Glades and into the bay to heal the reefs, get the coating of slime off them. But fresh water wasn't the problem. The problem was, wetlands don't clean nitrogen."

Nitrogen works in combination with phosphorus to create eutrophication.It's eutrophication -- or over-enrichment by nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and silica -- the chemicals that come from sewage outfalls, industrial and agricultural runoff -- that create sheets and blooms of algae that degrade and ultimately destroy life-giving coral reefs.

In fact, in 2007 investigative reporter Ken Weiss, reporter Usha Lee McFarling, and photographer Rick Loomis of the Los Angeles Times won a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting for their series, "The Rise of Slime." The series covered research in the Florida Bay/Florida Keys region and based much of the breakthroughs on Lapointe's hypothesis.

But Zieman and Jones had become so invested in their hypothesis that the bay needed more fresh water flowing south, pumped from canals in the Everglades Agricultural Area, that they couldn't -- or wouldn't -- turn back even when they realized they should.

"Between 1991 and 1995, when the South Florida Water Management District was sending the greatest deluge of water south -- as they want to again -- the effect was horrific," Lapointe told me. "Because wetlands can't deal with such concentrations of nitrogen, the volume of water was sending literally thousands of tons of nitrogen into Florida Bay, and then, combined with the phosphorus ... algal blooms are nitrogen-limited, so it was like we were feeding the algae with Miracle Gro."

Said Lapointe, "How bad was this wrong hypothesis? Some 40 percent of Florida Bay's coral reefs were lost in the blink of an eye. It was one of the worst environmental disasters in modern history."

If you haven't already, read Bob Malloy and Will Bourne's 1996 manuscript written for the New York Times Magazine, but never published. I've written about it before. It's a real eye-opener. Call it up in the blue "Download" attachment immediately below this story.

It was George Barley, co-founder of the Everglades Foundation with Paul Tudor Jones, who officially brought Zieman and Jones aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fledgling Keys Marine Sanctuary. Barley was a respected Central Florida multimillionaire who, like his friend Paul Tudor Jones, bought a home in Islamorada and became active in environmental matters in the Everglades and the Keys. Zieman and Jones morphed into the scientists for the Everglades Foundation, too.

The Everglades Foundation is still underplaying the role of heavy nitrogen content in the health of Florida Bay, its goal is still to run fresh water down into Florida Bay as "the answer," and Brian Lapointe still calls their their thinking so much "balloon juice." 

But the bottom line is, we've got a massive challenge here and Lapointe has a wealth of data on algal blooms. Spite and dissension shouldn't keep an international authority  off a team of scientists working together for answers to Florida's greatest environmental disaster in recent times.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

Comments

Nancy, (just to continue to respond to your Florida Bay anti-hypersalinity conspiracy theory nonsense - see earlier comments below) you know that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently had a meeting in Stuart that discussed the lack of sufficient fresh water reaching Florida Bay seagrasses (were you even there?). . . . . . . seems like the Commission and the SFWMD don't buy Brian's "belief" that "fresh water wasn't the problem" for Florida Bay seagrasses . . . . . . . maybe that says a whole lot . . . . . . . . . . . like your demonizing a dead scientist who can't fight back . . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . .

Basically I agree with Tru SW FL Indy, except I do not know if Lapointe is or has been funded by big sugar. Because he is in a university means nothing. He does, however, mislead by placing all the blame on septics. AG by far is the main nutrient source in all rural areas, and this is acknowledged by DEP. People, especially those vulnerable, avoid naming AG because of the hard pushback.

Your answer should lie in an inspection of LaPoint's scientific publications... do any of them show funding supplied by Big Sugar or any allied interests? I don't know the answer to that yet, but publication research will let me know. As far as placing "all the blame on septics", isn't that a bit of a stretch? LaPoint's research and experience doesn't exempt agriculture by any means.

Please LISTEN to Brian Lapointe. He has never placed all the blame on septic tanks for algae. He blames phosphorus mainly, but his work keeps showing us proof that the nitrogen in human and animal waste, the 75 million people (tourists included) flushing toilets in the Orlando area, are creating a crisis in many parts of South Florida because the year-over-year increase of nitrogen in the water reacts with the phosphorus and is like putting algae on steriods. It GROWS the blooms. Lapointe is saying, it's not just agriculture we have to deal with to cure blue-green algae and red tide, it's development and climate change and nitrogen by the ton in every body of water in Florida. And while there's not a lot we can do in the foreseeable future about development and climate, his point is, we can get off of septic tanks and fix aging municipal sewer pipes. Getting poop out of our water, that's the one thing that is in our power to do.

If that belief that all that nitrogen and phosphorus was coming from the Orlando area was true...THEN...why is there no problem with pollution and cyanobacteria blooms in any of the lakes in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in the upper Kissimmee River basin where the Kissimmee River begins? From Lake Tohopekaliga where the city of Kissimmee is on its north shore down to Lake Kissimmee at the southern boundary of the upper Kssimmee River basin...the water quality and the fishing and the fishing guide businesses are doing great. The problems with nutrient pollution really pick up as the Kissimmee River flows through the lower Kissimmee River basin where all the agricultural activity is. The nitrogen AND phosphate levels in the water get a LOT higher in the Kissimmee River water as it drains the rainfall runoffs and receives groundwater in the lower Kissimmee River basin before it empties into Lake Okeechobee. Those are the facts. Those can be shown from FDEP and SFWMD data presentations and graphics. Those should trump beliefs and perpetuated myths meant to sow confusion and misinformation for Big Sugar and Big Ag...And dubious 'scientists' who are in conflict with the long term consensus of the overwhelming majority of scientists who have studied this hydrological system for many years.

The algae bloom task force won't accomplish much and I think that was on purpose. None of the appointees are practitioners. Researchers who have no experience in actually preventing pollution and restoring water quality. They have no experience in state regulatory systems and water policy, again on purpose. The blind leading the blind. If the governor was genuine, then the task force would include representatives with diverse experience in actually solving the problem. Academia has a role, but should not be the only voice at the table.

“How Did Brian Lapointe Get Left Behind?” He isn’t considered a credible person. He sold his soul to the Chamber of Commerce.

Boys.... boys... boys.. "I know you are, but what am I?" REALLY?

Idiot!

Sheep. See, two can do that.

Obviously, the Governor is all about $money$ (YOURS),.. and《power》 (HIS)..! That's why he regularly (almost always), creates "committees" primarily comprised of "benefactors" who will "fatten his re-election pot"...(..or in the soiled, duplicitous language of the neophyte pettifogger: "Quid Pro Quo"..). Republicans are only just learning what Democrats have ALWAYS KNOWN, since "Boss Tweed's" "Tammany Hall" over two centuries ago...[...and THAT'S why the "best & brightest" will rarely (if ever) appear on a "committee",...OF ANY KIND ! ! !

Gee, so many mis-statements to choose from, where to begin . . . . . . let's revisit the "hypersaliinity" denial conspiracy theory . . . . . usually, when it comes to Florida Bay, Nancy gets her science wrong by such erroneous statements like "It's unfathomable to me that the Everglades Foundation can continue to claim “hypersalinity” is killing seagrass in Florida Bay -- proposing to “send water south” from Lake Okeechobee to save the bay" . . . AND . . . . "The hypersalinity "hypoorthesis" was never supported by science, much less common sense, and was officially de-bunked by the National Academy of Sciences over a decade ago. " . . . . . . . . . . . . of course, what the National Academy of Science has actually stated is quite a bit different from Nancy's "Fake News" --> (Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Sixth Biennial Review, 2016): "In the mid- to late 1900s, Florida Bay was characterized as having clear water and dense seagrass meadows, but in 1987, hypersaline conditions resulting from chronic and acute shortages of freshwater inflows triggered a cascade of ecological effects in the bay. Together with high temperatures, the hypersaline conditions caused hypoxic conditions and high sulfide levels that caused widespread seagrass collapse in the central and western portions of the bay, algal blooms, and increased turbidity (Deis, 2011; Hall et al., 1999) with major effects on commercial and recreational fishing. . . . In 2015, a seagrass die-off (Figure 2-3) was again observed in several locations in the bay. The 2015 seagrass die-off was attributed to local rainfall deficits associated with a strong El Niño which, in addition to the chronic shortage of freshwater deliveries, led to increased salinity in the bay (up to 72 practical salinity units [psu] in Garfield Bight, the highest salinity yet recorded in the bay) (NPS, 2016a). By late 2015, the spatial extents of seagrass die-off included areas such as Johnson Key, Rankin Lake, Pelican Key, Dido Key Bank, and Garfield Bight (NPS, 2016a). In the 1980s, the collapse of Florida Bay brought increased scientific, public, and political attention to the conditions of the Greater Everglades ecosystem and support for restoration actions to increase flows to and restore conditions in Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. Twentieth-century water management in South Florida had decreased freshwater inflow to the bay by about 60 percent compared to predrainage conditions, while altering the distribution and timing of that water (Herbert et al., 2011). CERP and non-CERP projects (e.g., C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project, C-111 South Dade), were authorized and constructed to help restore freshwater flows to Taylor Slough and Florida Bay, but as of 2015, flow restoration implementation was insufficient to prevent a recent reoccurrence of seagrass die-off." . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . actually knowing the science matters . . . . . . . Brian is not a seagrass scientist . . . . . . none of the seagrass scientists (nor other major researchers in Florida) I know believe that the cause of the two main episodes of seagrass collapse in Florida Bay was due to too much nitrogen . . . . nor does the National Academy of Scientists . . . . . . . scientific debate is fine (as Brian does here), but demonizing dead scientists like Jay Zieman (as Nancy has done in the past) . . . . . . . is still . . . . . . . . . . . . . PATHETIC

frank may have a science background but each time he writes his connection to the everglades foundation sticks out like a sore thumb. frank is bought and paid for by the dems and-or-the paul tudor jones gang. we don't even know who he is. at least brian lapointe has a backbone.

No one mentioned pays me - that's an obvious smear and blatant lie by someone clueless. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . I'm 71 and now mostly retired from public service . . . . . . . without any past or present connection to the Everglades Foundation or to the Paul Tudor Jones "gang" . . . . . . . I'm independent, having voted in the past for good Republicans and Democrats . . . . . as to Brian, some of his observations just don't match the known scientific facts . . . . . . . . . that's the problem . . . . . . . . your partisan truthiness is noted . . . . . and plain . . . . PATHETIC . . .

You nailed it Frank. Thank you for clearing up the confusion sowing this page and this editor is so well known for. In service to Big Sugar, the biggest sugar daddy there ever was. Keep doing that fact-checking as much as you can and reminding Floridians what the actual history is. I have only one small correction to make in what you said. In 2015, the local rainfall deficit that led to the hypersalinity conditions in Florida Bay near Flamingo and a repeat of the seagrass bed die-offs that happened before in 1987 due to hypersalinity also...that was due to a La Nina cycle that had been in place since 2014, I think. The cycle switched to a strong El Nino pattern by the end of 2015 and that was what brought the heavy rains to Florida in the winter of 2015-2016. Which led to the damaging discharges and toxic cyanobacteria blooms in the east and west coastal estuaries for most of 2016. That was when the Florida Chamber of Commerce cooked up this deal with Brian LaPointe to create a constant distraction and red herring to get people to think about septic tanks and NOT Big Sugar and Big Ag.

"Frank, the pseudo scientist"... Still PATHETICcally boring ! You give "science" a bad name "Frankie"..

Clearly, a scientist you aren't . . . . . go ahead, state your scientific "facts" here so we can hold them up to the light and evaluate them . . . . . you don't know where to begin, do you (and you still have yet to answer the science question I've asked you in the past) . . . . . . can't get past what's science that explains the observations and what's faux truthiness, can you . . . . . PATHETIC . . .

The main issue most people have with Lapointe is his insistence that this problem has mostly to do with sewage and septic. The research just does not support that. It is a part of the problem, but a smaller part comparatively speaking. If you didn't know any better, you'd think that he is from Martin County and some of his funding comes from Big Sugar...oops, both are true...The post is a little misleading. Yes, there is some pollution coming from the highly developed areas north of lake O. However, you neglected to mention the other highly fertilized agricultural areas north and south of lake O, involving the top two consumers of fertilizer and surface runoff in the state by far, Big Sugar and the Citrus industries. They are 1 and 2 in fertilizer use and subsequent runoff in the state, and it is not even remotely close to the next highest abusers (they consume 87% of all fertilizer and runoff used in the state). Number 3 is all other agriculture at only 9%. the other issue is the fact that lake O is already severely polluted from years and years of runoff and pollution with some experts putting their fertilizer contaminate levels at 30-40 times the recommended amounts for the lake. Don't forget the current legislature and former Gov. Scott's deregulation of the septic tanks in the state. They used to have to be inspected annually with assurance they were not leaking and the drain fields were intact. That is no longer the case. Sometimes it is best to have all of the facts and figures, instead of just some targeted facts describing the problems...and now you have the rest of the story...

"The rest of the story" will have to involve N-14/N-15 isotope studies to definitely ascertain where the nitrogen pollution originates... if FL DEP or any other agencies (WMDs?) have done those studies, they definitely haven't shared that publicly-paid-for research with the public.

Already done. By Canadian scientists. Read Ward-Paige et al 2005 (a) and (b). More than 10 years ago.

The 'leaking septic tanks' issue is overblown by both sides. You ask a septic tank company owner how many 'leaking septic tanks' there are out there and you'll get back an answer like 'virtually zero'...Because nobody knows what a 'leaking' septic tank is. They send the liquid in the tank to the drainfield by gravity flow and if the drainfield gets clogged and the septic system backs up and the toilets will not flush and liquid appears above ground near the septic tank...home owners call a septic tank company right away and have their tanks pumped out. But that is usually just a temporary fix. If the drainfield is hopelessly clogged and needs to be replaced, they get that done. Sometimes tree roots can cause such backups between the septic tank and the drainfield and that is a much easier and much cheaper fix. Brian LaPointe is NOT from Martin County. He got about 90,000 dollars FROM Martin County Utilities Dept. years ago to do a study in the St. Lucie River estuary regarding sources of nutrients in the estuary and it surprised nobody, I hope, that he focused on septic tanks instead of Big Sugar and Big Ag nutrients loading...via the C-44. He went to high school at Palm Beach High School. His obsession became coral reefs and coral polyps and Palm Beach County has those. Martin County does not. It is hard to get funding for work that involves scuba diving all over the world studying coral reefs and coral polyps but some really ambitious and slick personalities manage to find ways to do that. Even if it costs them in certain ways amongst the real scientific community where integrity counts more than getting funding does.

Big Sugar has never paid for a Lapointe study. Not once. You think that's something I haven't researched? Over the years Sugar has given him almost as hard a time as the Foundation has. He works for a university and a research institute. Look at his papers and his funding sources are right there, they're public record. If you know something I don't after his three decades of work and can prove it, by all means, show me. Also, Lapointe claims nitrogen from fecal material and fertilizer simply FEEDS the algae to grow it faster and more damaging. He doesn't say it CREATES algae. Incidentally, one of the Legislature's most powerful voices for ending septic tank inspections was the enviros' big hero, former Senate president Joe Negron. Negron told me at the time septic tank inspections violated residents' privacy. I wrote about it.

Joe Negron (R), who agreed to a double deep, half-sized acreage reservoir than what the science demonstrated is needed, is the environmentalists' hero? That's rich.

Nevertheless, in 2017 Audubon of Florida named Negron "Champion of the Everglades" for his “steadfast leadership” in Everglades restoration. That award was promoted widely by The Everglades Trust. In 2019, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation recognized him for his environmental policy work, giving him the 2019 "Love Your Lagoon Lifetime Leadership and Achievement Award." There may have been other good-environmental-steward awards for Negron, the septic tank inspection denier, before he left to serve the private prison people.

Lapointe and his paid-for science has already infiltrated almost every Florida institution. Lamenting the one task force Big Ag wasn't able to get him appointed to is sadly comical. Nancy Smith's shillery knows no bounds.

Thank you, Ms. Smith. Dr. Lapointe belongs on this panel. I can think of perhaps three other scientists in the world who are as qualified to serve on this panel. Florida is the loser, not Dr. Lapointe. Thank you for saying the things so many of us are thinking.

I can easily think of 3 in Florida more apt to serve on the blue-green algae task force (Dr. Karl Havens, Dr. Larry Brand, Dr. Bill Mitsch). Open it up to the world and there are MANY more qualified researchers in the cyanobacteria field.

Dr. Karl Havens died recently and so is no longer available...

If you haven't taken the time to listen to him then its your loss Florida

LaPointe is an environmentalist - and DeSantis- and Trump-style Republicans abhor environmentalists. And - he's probably a Democrat! No Democrats allowed in one-party-rule Florida.

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nancy smith
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