How Does Fertilizer Affect Aquatic Ecosystems?

Plant fertilisers help plants grow, but they can also end up in aquatic ecosystems by accident. These fertilisers add extra nutrients and chemicals to the water that harm aquatic ecosystems in a variety of ways. Careful fertiliser use and some awareness of the negative impacts of fertiliser on aquatic ecosystem help control this increasingly common problem.


Fertiliser travels into aquatic ecosystems through water. The U.S. Geological Survey explains that fertiliser from crops runs off into nearby streams and ditches, which then drain into nearby lakes and other aquatic ecosystems. Fertilisers from lawns also run off into marine environments, according to the EPA.


Fertilisers contain nutrients, especially phosphorous and nitrogen, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Since fertilisers help plants grow, they also cause algal blooms in aquatic ecosystems.


As excess fertilisers enter aquatic ecosystems and cause algal blooms, the algae die off more rapidly. As algae decompose, they remove oxygen from the water, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council and the EPA. A lack of oxygen in the water then kills off fish and other aquatic life. The fertiliser can also leach into the groundwater and contaminate drinking supplies.


Aquatic ecosystems with lots of fertiliser runoff often have green or brown water, rather than clear or blue water, as algal blooms occur.


People can help keep fertiliser out of aquatic ecosystems by using it correctly. Farmers and lawn owners should follow fertiliser directions carefully and should not apply more fertiliser than plants actually need, because the EPA warns that it might end up in runoff. Gardeners may also want to consider slow-release fertilisers, as recommended by the National Gardening Association. Slow-release fertilisers do not release a bunch of nutrients at once, so excess nutrients leach into the groundwater less frequently.

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About the Author

Lisa Chinn developed her research skills while working at a research university library. She writes for numerous publications, specializing in gardening, home care, wellness, copywriting, style and travel. Chinn also designs marketing materials, holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology and is working toward a PhD in cognitive neuroscience.