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New study tracks 'nutrient fingerprint' in Tampa Bay

Jul 11, 2023

TAMPA, Fla. — Harmful algal blooms, like red tide, form in waterways when excess nutrients lead to overgrowth. Now, the marine conservation nonprofit Ocean Conservancy is working to pinpoint where those nutrients are coming from with cutting-edge water testing capabilities.

Dubbed the “Nutrient Fingerprint Project,” the organization and its partners are testing water at more than 20 sites along the Hillsborough River and Tampa Bay for chemicals known to pass through the human body, like caffeine and aspartame.

J.P. Brooker, the organization’s Florida director, said those chemicals associate with nitrogen, one of the driving sources of nutrient excess. The presence of those chemicals will show when that nutrient excess is coming from a human source, such as a septic tank or leaky pipe, helping researchers pinpoint neighborhoods in need of repairs and encourage overall policy changes at the local and state levels.

“It’s not about nutrient finger pointing. It’s about nutrient finger printing,” Brooker said. “We’re trying to figure out collective solutions that will address the nutrient problem.”

The Ocean Conservancy is a national organization based out of Washington D.C., with its Florida headquarters located in St. Petersburg. Using funding through a combination of both private and federal dollars, it will conduct water testing for this latest project every month for the next two years.