Hurricane Irma’s Impact on Water Quality and Phytoplankton Communities in Biscayne Bay (Florida, USA)

  • Anna WachnickaEmail author
  • Joan Browder
  • Thomas Jackson
  • William Louda
  • Christopher Kelble
  • Omar Abdelrahman
  • Erik Stabenau
  • Christian Avila
Special Issue: Impact of 2017 Hurricanes


The short-term (< 6 months) effects of Hurricane Irma on water quality and phytoplankton community structure were assessed in Biscayne Bay and the adjacent coastal canals from September 2017 through January 2018. The bay experienced sharp fluctuations in daily average salinity and salinity gradients during the passage of the hurricane and significant decreases in salinity as a result of increased freshwater inflows that followed the hurricane (148.2% increase in total inflows in the first week after the hurricane compared to a week before). These decreases were most pronounced in southern and south-central parts of the bay, which experienced the largest post-hurricane increases in freshwater inflows (349.4% and 103.1% in southern and south-central parts of the bay, respectively). Storm-induced increases in inorganic nutrient concentrations stimulated phytoplankton growth in northern, north-central, and southern parts of the bay. Opportunistic phytoplankton taxonomic groups such as chlorophytes and cyanobacteria dominated the total algal biomass pool in the canals, and northern and southern parts of the bay in the weeks following the storm, but they were gradually outcompeted by diatoms in the following months. Changes in spatial-temporal phytoplankton community structure in the months following Hurricane Irma reflect recovery and return to usual seasonal patterns. The effect of Hurricane Irma on water quality and phytoplankton communities was short-lived (< 3 months), suggesting that Biscayne Bay is resilient to tropical cyclones.


Hurricane Extreme events Phytoplankton Water quality Biscayne Bay Nutrients Salinity distribution Diatoms Cyanobacteria Chlorophytes Resilience 



This study was made possible thanks to the collaboration between South Florida Water Management District, the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Fisheries Science Center, and the NOAA Research Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. The study grew out of an earlier collaboration between Florida International University, NOAA, the National Research Council (Fellowship), and the NOAA Biscayne Bay Habitat Focus Area Initiative, as supported by the NOAA Fisheries Offices of Habitat Conservation and Science and Technology and by the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office. Many thanks are due to NOAA, DERM, and BNP technicians for post–Hurricane Irma field assistance and Biscayne Bay water quality monitoring. We would also like to thank Ellen Negley from SFWMD Creative Services for her help with the graphics, and internal (SFWMD and NOAA) and external (Estuaries and Coasts) reviewers for detailed and helpful comments on the manuscript.

Supplementary material

12237_2019_592_MOESM1_ESM.docx (498 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 497 kb)


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anna Wachnicka
    • 1
    Email author
  • Joan Browder
    • 2
  • Thomas Jackson
    • 2
  • William Louda
    • 3
  • Christopher Kelble
    • 4
  • Omar Abdelrahman
    • 5
  • Erik Stabenau
    • 6
  • Christian Avila
    • 5
    • 1
  1. 1.Coastal Ecosystems SectionSouth Florida Water Management DistrictWest Palm BeachUSA
  2. 2.National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationMiamiUSA
  3. 3.Florida Atlantic UniversityBoca RatonUSA
  4. 4.Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological LaboratoryNational Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationMiamiUSA
  5. 5.Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources ManagementMiamiUSA
  6. 6.South Florida Natural Resources CenterNational Park ServiceHomesteadUSA

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