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Evidence of Global Phosphorus Crisis Seen on Marco Island

A phosphorus crisis is underway and has significant implications for the global food supply and the environment. This subject is thoroughly discussed in a recently released report titled “Our Phosphorus Future, towards global phosphorus sustainability.” This report is available online and free to download. It is not that complicated. There are only two nutrients involved: nitrogen and phosphorus. These are the components of standard fertilizer. We are overfertilizing and destroying our environment. And we are wasting a precious global resource, phosphorus.

Our world is not sustainable when it comes to phosphorus. Five countries hold 85% of these resources. 1 in 7 farmers globally cannot access or afford phosphorus fertilizers, which is critical for food production. Phosphorus pollution is increasing globally, seen in algal blooms and algal mats in the waterbodies common on Marco Island. Phosphorus from the Marco sewage treatment plant in the “poop water” has been directly linked to oxygen degradation in the canals. The Marco waterways now experience “Hypoxic Hot Spots” or aquatic dead zones, especially in the summer. Why do we tolerate this?

Marco Island is part of the problem; Marco Island is part of the solution. Phosphorus is banned in fertilizer on Marco all year long. Fertilizer is altogether prohibited for four months each summer. The septic tank replacement program (STRP) eliminated 80% of the nitrogen from the septic fields that used to exist on Marco. The wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), also known as the sewage treatment plant, voluntarily reduced the nitrogen load in the “poop water” by 50% in 2019. All reasonable steps in the journey to a “nutrient-free zone” on Marco Island. We need to go further.

The artificial nutrient sources that remain on Marco are: 1) Reuse water (“poop water”) from the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) that contains excessive levels of phosphorus and nitrogen; 2) Potable (drinking) water from the water treatment plant contains phosphorus and nitrogen as well, and 3) Fertilizer which contains nitrogen. We are destroying our environment so we can look at the green grass. Does that make any sense at all?

What can we do? 1) Upgrade the sewage treatment plant to eliminate the excess phosphorus and nitrogen from the reuse water used to irrigate the landscaping of the condos, hotels, and golf courses on Marco; 2) Implement a full-year moratorium (ban) on fertilizer on Marco Island; 3) Examine methods to eliminate the nutrients from the potable water distributed across the island. Marco must become “nutrient-free.”

Guess what? All the above steps will reduce costs. Who knew? We can save money and save the environment at the same time. If we only had the will to do so. The world is waking up – it is time for Marco to do the same.

Nanette Rivera

Candidate for Marco Island City Council

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