How Does Fertilizer Affect Aquatic Ecosystems?

Written by lisa chinn | 13/05/2017
How Does Fertilizer Affect Aquatic Ecosystems?
Fertilisers can travel through water into aquatic ecosystems and harm them. (mountain and lake scene,buttermere in the lake d image by Adrian fortune from

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.


How Does Fertilizer Affect Aquatic Ecosystems?
Ditches near farmlands carry excess fertiliser into aquatic ecosystems. (landscape in Holland image by Ivonne Wierink from

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.


How Does Fertilizer Affect Aquatic Ecosystems?
Fertiliser nutrients cause algal blooms. (multicoloured algae image by Nikolai Sorokin from

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.


How Does Fertilizer Affect Aquatic Ecosystems?
Aquatic ecosystems with decaying algae do not have enough oxygen for many life forms. (water lily image by jamsi from

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.


How Does Fertilizer Affect Aquatic Ecosystems?
Algal blooms cause green or brown murky water. (duck 3 image by Aussiebloke from

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


How Does Fertilizer Affect Aquatic Ecosystems?
People can minimise fertiliser problems by using correct amounts on lawns and farms. (Lawn image by Yuriy Rozanov from

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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