Stay Away From the Water: In Florida, a $10 Million Give to Fight Toxic Algae

Algae isn’t just unsightly, it can actually be deadly because of a phenomenon called phosphorous pollution. Algae accumulates in thick patches at the water’s surface, blocking sunlight from reaching aquatic plants. It’s also toxic to human health and makes waterways inhospitable for marine life.

Lately, algae is everywhere in Florida, creating lots of misery for waterfront home owners and recreationists. 

Removing the phosphorous that creates these toxic algal blooms is no easy thing, and it's a challenge that is daunting for even the most passionate and well-trained conservationists. But one foundation in Florida is hoping to entice new innovators to the problem with a $10 million prize.

The Everglades Foundation is based in Palmetto Bay, Florida and as the name suggests, is solely dedicated to protecting and restoring America’s Everglades. Although this environmental problem exists in many places around the world, this prize is geared towards saving the Everglades, and then perhaps taking it beyond.

Ultimately, the big goal, here, is to keep costs as low as possible while removing as much phosphorus from the water as possible—at less than $120 per kilogram. Removing phosphorous and algae is a long, complicated, and costly process, but the Everglades Foundation is willing to bet that someone out there can come up with a better way.

“It’s going to be hard to get there, but we trust that someone somewhere has the capabilities,” said Melodie Naja, chief scientist at the foundation.

This is a really important issue for groups in Florida in particular, because of Lake Okeechobee. This is the biggest freshwater lake in the state and its toxic algae bloom has spread across an area of at least 33 miles. Agricultural runoff and dumped sewage is what typically causes these algae blooms, and why they’re so harmful to the land and people who live nearby.

Innovators, researchers, students and scientists are invited to enter the contest for this prize by showcasing promising early-stage technologies. You’ll need to describe your experiment design and demonstrate how your plan will reduce phosphorus concentrations in water. Details about the application procedure can be found on the Barley Prize site.

In the winter, the Everglades Foundation plans to award $35,000 to a few teams that demonstrate good ideas, which will then have to demonstrate more specifically how their technology works. After four stages of the competition, one grand prize will be awarded for the most promising idea.

In other news, the Everglades Foundation is also accepting applications for its 2017 grant cycle. It’s looking for grantees that highlight the importance of restoring the Everglades, employ advocacy campaigns and broaden the base of support to other groups besides environmental organizations. The deadline to submit a proposal is September 1, 2016.