Just as massive fish kills are finally easing up, more trouble for the St. Johns River — this time it comes in the form of a mysterious foam.
St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon says the foam has a meringue-like texture, is “unlike anything anyone’s ever seen” and is, in some instances, as much as 3-feet thick. “It’s not like sea foam, which is more one-dimensional and caused by wind blowing across the water. This foam is basically 3-D. … It looks like you could cut it and serve it.”
A report of “[white] debris floating with the tide for several miles” was made to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish Kill Hotline earlier this week, according to Carli Segelson, the Commission’s Media Coordinator.
Segelson says the St. Johns River Water Management District was then sent to gather samples, which the FFWCC will tomorrow begin testing for traces of harmful algal blooms. Though they are unsure of the cause of the substance, Segelson says that, in general, algal blooms can result in foam: “Foam can occur when blooms decompose and it can release toxins. We will be testing it to see if it is harmful or not, and should have those results within the next couple of weeks.”
It is unclear if the foam will have as negative an impact as the river’s many algal blooms; if it is a by-product of an algal bloom, the impact will depend on the type of algae.
Teresa Munson, senior communications specialist with the St. Johns River Water Management District, says the foam collection and testing will be done much like the testing of algal samples. “Our field officers have been collecting algae and water samples all summer and the foam collection will be no different,” she says. “We are still coordinating with the Duval County Health Department, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the FFWCC — we’ve created sort of an inter-agency partnership, an opportunity to compare playbooks and use a very high level of expertise.”
Munson says the foam was first reported by a Jacksonville resident living near the Shands Bridge, who tested the foam using a home pool kit. “This individual found something that was familiar to him and then contacted the Riverkeeper.” That “familiar” substance in the foam was cyanauric acid, though it’s important to note that those test results have not been validated by any of the agencies involved, and likely weren’t done with professional scientific equipment.
Armingeon says the Riverkeeper has received “dozens” of calls in the past week with reports of the foam — and that its sudden appearance, coupled with the many algal blooms along the river, doesn’t bode well for the area economy: “One of the reports came from [a marina] that contained both the algae and the foam. … That can’t be good for business. When people see this stuff, they don’t want to go out on the river.”