By Zachary Fagenson
MIAMI (Reuters) - A Florida environmental group is offering $10 million to anyone who can devise a method for ridding the Everglades and other waterways around the country of the fertilizer byproduct phosphorous that has caused disastrous algal blooms in Florida and the Midwest.
The Miami-based Everglades Foundation announced the international challenge prize on Monday and said it also hopes to disburse a total of $1 million for other advances over the next seven years leading up to the $10 million award in 2022.
The competition seeks to tackle intertwined problems: clearing out algae-fostering phosphorous while also recycling it into increasingly rare phosphate for farms.
“Phosphorous pollution is destroying waterways around the globe, diminishing sea life,” Maurice Ferré, son of a former Miami mayor and chair of the Everglades Foundation’s board, said in a statement.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel this week will host a water quality meeting in Chicago with mayors from surrounding cities seeking to combat future Great Lakes algae blooms. Last month officials issued a brief ban on drinking tap water in Toledo, Ohio, due to algal toxins.
The Everglades Foundation also cited a 2010 report warning of an impending worldwide shortage of phosphorus and noting that remaining phosphate rock reserves are controlled by just a few countries, including Morocco, China, South Africa, Jordan and the United States.
In Florida, state and federal officials have long struggled to control costly problems in the Everglades ranging from pollution to invasive species.
Water flows south from the center of the state through sugar industry farmland and pastures where it picks up fertilizer runoff that is deposited into the southern wetlands.
The effort to control phosphorous in the Everglades began in the 1990s and has ballooned into a more than $1 billion effort to build more than 65,000 acres (26,000 hectares) of artificial marshes with plants to take up excess nutrients.
Environmentalists welcomed the foundation’s prize for its potential to offer additional, much-needed solutions.
"There are tens of thousands of acres of these marshes and they are just barely meeting the needs," said Julie Hill-Gabriel, Everglades policy director for Audubon Florida.
(Reporting By David Adams and Mohammad Zargham)