Select Nitrogen Pollution Impacts & Solutions

Florida: Regulating lawn fertilizer to save dolphins

In Florida's Indian River Lagoon, a shallow estuary closed off from the Atlantic Ocean by barrier beaches, nitrogen pollution is leading to dolphin deaths. This place of white sands, seagrass, and abundant wildlife has been plagued by harmful pollutants that spawn algal growth. The algae blocks sunlight and consumes oxygen, killing sea grass, fish and in secondary ways, dolphins.

Bottlenose dolphins are adapted to the mix of fresh and salt water the lagoon and do not fare well in an environment overloaded with nitrogen and other organic chemicals. In addition to nitrogen, high levels of mercury have been found in the waters, which interact with the nitrogen in dangerous ways.

A dolphin health study by the Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Program at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute found that half the dolphins in the lagoon are ill and that they live, on average, only half as long as their free-ranging kin out in the relatively clean Atlantic. Since nitrogen fertilizer is the main pollutant, the good news is that people canhelp fix the problem by reducing fertilizer runoff. For example, the Vero Beach City Council has voted unanimously to enact an ordinance regulating fertilizer use and prohibiting organic material in canals and the lagoon, according to the Vero Beach News. Other cities and counties along the lagoon have passed similar measures.

Now, a Massachusetts NGO called Ocean River Institute is circulating a petition calling for a summer lawn-fertilizing holiday. It's asking Florida county commissioners to pass an ordinance to:
1. Not spread fertilizer closer to waterways than the County's setback of 25 feet.
2. Use at least 50% slow release nitrogen, 100% is better for lawns and waters.
3. Grant a lawn-fertilizing holiday from June 1 to Sept 30.