Raising awareness about global toxic algae bloom

[USA] A new docuseries that raises awareness of the global toxic algae bloom issue, which is caused by excess phosphorus in water, has been developed. To learn more Digital Journal spoke with the team behind the series.

A new docuseries highlights both the global toxic algae bloom issue and the impact of this issue on all 50 U.S. states. The effect is to taint drinking water and kill wildlife. The series was created by The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation and National Geographic photographer Andy Mann.

The docuseries explores the crisis, but also highlights the people who are working diligently to find a solution. The series has been posted onto YouTube and includes “Water Positive: Reflections on the Algal Bloom Crisis”; “Water Positive: The Story of Lake Erie”; and “Water Positive: The Story of the Long Island Sound”. An excerpt from the latter is shown in the video below:

The docuseries is a new effort to create more visibility for challenges caused by harmful algae blooms and to highlight the work that is being done to solve for it. Digital Journal spoke with Andy Mann and Mark Slavens, Vice President of R&D, Environmental Affairs at The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.

Digital Journal: How serious are global toxic algae blooms?

Mark Slavens: Harmful algal blooms are a global crisis affecting water bodies in all 50 U.S. states, and the EPA estimates that it costs the U.S. economy $2.2 billion annually. This is the same problem that put Florida in a state of emergency in 2016 and left half a million Ohioans without drinking water in 2014. Toxic blooms of blue-green algae are mainly caused by high phosphorus levels in the water. Phosphorus can reach waterways from numerous sources, including runoff from agricultural fertilizer, wastewater treatment plants, leaking home septic systems and even runoff from lawns can contribute.

DJ: What is the impact on wildlife? And to human health?

Slavens: The algae causes a range of adverse effects in animals and people. It has been reported to kill wildlife, taint drinking water, contaminate fish and shellfish, making catch inedible. The problem also affects local economies like fishing, tourism, recreation and real estate.

DJ: What steps are being taken to address the issue?

Slavens: Over the last decade, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company has taken significant action to prevent local nutrient pollution from lawn and garden activity, including removing phosphorus from our lawn fertilizer products in 2012, The move reduced consumer use of phosphorus by 10,000 tons each year. Unfortunately, there is still more than 10 million metric tons of phosphorus flowing into freshwater from other source each year We know there is so much more that can be done and that’s why we’ve partnered with Andy Mann to shine a light on the efforts that are underway to help solve it.

The invasive algae species  Caulerpa taxifolia  also known as  killer algae.

The invasive algae species, Caulerpa taxifolia, also known as “killer algae.” B. Doll

DJ: How important is it to educate the public on the issue? How did you get involved with making the video series?

Andy Mann: For more than a decade, I have been in the world of adventure film and conservation photography. I’m lucky that my work takes me around the world, telling stories of water issues on all seven continents. My involvement with The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation was born in 2017 from a mutual love of our natural watersheds and storytelling. I grew up around Chesapeake Bay and my grandfather was a watermen on the mouth of the Rappahannock River. I remember the “red tides” in the 80s and how that affected the communities there, so when The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation reached out to me about this algal bloom problem, it really hit home and I wanted to help them tell that story.

DJ: How did you go about making the movies?

Mann: Last year, along with my video crew and The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation, I traveled to four different watersheds affected by algal blooms across the U.S.: the Everglades, Lake Erie, Long Island Sound and Chesapeake Bay. At each location, we spoke with so many different people – fisherman, scientists, families and non-profit organizations – impacted by blooms and learned about the work they are doing to solve for it. When I first set out of the project I imagined the focus would be on these giant algal blooms and wildlife, but it quickly turned into a story about those people that I met.

Green algae

Green algae

DJ: You must have filmed a great deal. How did you go about putting everything together?

Mann: We captured a ton of different interviews and compiled them into a three-part docuseries that highlights the issue from three different perspectives: my own, Lake Erie and the Long Island Sound. The three videos were shared across my Instagram channel and ScottsMiracle-Gro’s channels on World Water Day. For me, I do most of my storytelling through Instagram because my work is so visual.

This project, in particular, really resonated with my followers because many of them have a connection to the issue. I often travel to locations so remote and undocumented that it’s difficult to tell if the stories I’m telling are making an impact, but this project definitely did. I received so much engagement from shooting these blooms. I’ve never received so much gratitude from so many people by shining a light on this issue and these communities.


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