Scientists: Underground river may
explain Florida Bay ecology problems

Dec. 16, 1996

MIAMI (AP) -- A recently discovered underground river might be
the cause of Florida Bay's ecological woes, according to marine
biologists at the University of Miami.

The bay's problems have been a mystery, but scientists think the
remnant of a wide,
prehistoric waterway is likely fueling algae blooms
that are smothering marine life.

Buried under 35 to 100 feet of rock and muck deposited over the last
three to five million years, the ancient river may be a modern pollution pipeline bringing phosphorus-rich water from the land around Lake Okeechobee to the bay and Gulf of Mexico.

The phosphorus is feeding the algae.

That is the best scientific guess of researchers from the University of Miami'sRosenstiel School of Atmospheric and Marine Science. They announced their discovery and theory to more than 200 scientists who gathered in Key Largo last week to discuss Florida Bay.

"All we have now are just sort of bits and pieces," said Donald
McNeill, an assistant professor of marine geology. "We need to learn
more."

If proven, UM's hypothesis would not only answer the nagging question about the overfertilization in Florida Bay, it could dramatically
complicate a daunting task faced by federal engineers and ecologists
trying to draft a multibillion-dollar plan for restoring South Florida's environment.

A team of UM geologists working with the Florida Geological Survey
had discovered the ancient river bed that leads to Florida Bay. They detected the river bed while drilling for possible water supply wells.

The outline of the river that has emerged during the drilling of six wells
had it stretching north to near Lake Okeechobee through an area of phosphate mines spanning south through swamps and citrus groves
under the Everglades in and eventually into Florida Bay.

What grabbed Brand's attention was that where the suspected path
of the river moves into the bay and into the Gulf corresponded neatly
to the nutrient hot spots -- the highest concentrations of phosphorus measured in seven years of monitoring by Florida International
University.

1996 News-Journal Corp.
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