MASGC Project Impacts

Water-quality monitoring program affects management decisions in Alabama lagoon


Little Lagoon is a poorly-flushed lagoon, which makes it vulnerable to anthropogenic impact. Symptoms of degraded ecological status include episodic hypoxia, recurring blooms of the toxic harmful algal blooms (HAB)-forming diatom Pseudo-nitzschia spp, occasional high to very high numbers of fecal coliform bacteria and, less frequently, E. coli.


In a Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant-funded project, a biweekly sampling program was established with a core group of eight volunteers from the grassroots Little Lagoon Preservation Society (LLPS) to monitor water quality and identify the environmental and/or anthropogenic drivers.


The research-volunteer team has identified drivers of water quality and HABs in the lagoon and identified unusually high fecal coliform numbers in the lagoon when the pass was closed following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Data and their implications have been presented publicly via LLPS quarterly meetings and website. When fecal coliform numbers were elevated, data and interpretation were communicated promptly to federal, state and municipal personnel responsible for maintaining water quality. Water-quality managers reopened the pass daily in response to the monitoring information. The archive of data has been made available on request to municipal utility managers in response to concerns about the impact of septic tanks adjacent to the lagoon.


During the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, on-the-ground data collection showed a spike in coliform bacteria in Little Lagoon in Alabama. Based on the data, state managers decided to reopen the pass daily to flush the 2,400-acre system. This management decision put health concerns above potential impacts of oil entering the lagoon. (2014)