Brian Lapointe’s research interests include algal physiology and biochemistry, seagrass and coral reef ecology, eutrophication, marine bioinvasions and marine conservation.
He has extensive experience in water quality research in South Florida and the Caribbean region. As chief scientist on numerous Caribbean and western North Atlantic Ocean research expeditions, he has amassed valuable field experience in assessing relations between water quality and the health of tropical seagrasses and coral reefs. Lapointe’s long-term water quality monitoring at Looe Key reef in the Florida Keys represents the longest low-level nutrient record for a coral reef anywhere in the world. His work in the Keys led to a strong phosphate ban and new state regulations for Monroe County requiring greater nutrient removal from sewage effluents.
Lapointe’s work in Florida Bay and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in the 1990s, which utilized stable nitrogen isotopes to “fingerprint” nitrogen sources, was the first to demonstrate the importance of agricultural nitrogen from mainland sources to development of algal blooms in the Keys. He developed the first “ridge-to-reef” water quality monitoring program for the European Union in Negril, Jamaica, a model that has been adopted by Marine Protected Areas around the Caribbean region. Lapointe has advised the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, State of Florida and the governments of Monroe County (Florida Keys), Palm Beach County, Lee County, Bahamas, Tobago, Turks & Caicos, Jamaica, Bonaire, Curacao, Martinique and St. Lucia on development of water quality monitoring programs for assessing the impacts of land-based pollution.
Lapointe’s Sargassum research has yielded novel insights into the ecology of this macroalgae, the Sargasso Sea and associated communities, including symbiosis with juvenile fish marked by exchange of habitat and nutrients.
Areas of Expertise (7)
Coral Reef Ecology
Environmental Science Award
Conservation Alliance of St. Lucie County, 2000
Red Wright Fellowship
Bermuda Biological Station for Research, Inc., 1986, 1990
Outstanding Research Award
University of South Florida: Ph.D., Biology 1982
University of Florida: M.S., Environmental Sciences 1979
Boston University: B.A., Biology 1973
- American Water Resource Association
- American Association for the Advancement of Science
- American Society of Limnology and Oceanography
- Association of Marine Laboratories of the Caribbean
- Oceanography Society
- Phycological Society of America
- Estuarine Research Federation
- Southeastern Estuarine Research Society
- Explorers Club
Selected Media Appearances (21)
'Will they make it?': Florida researchers discuss how coral reefs are dealing with the heat
ABC25 WPBF online
"In the past, those warm temps typically occur in late to mid-August, and so when bleaching happened back then, those corals only had to survive a month or maybe six weeks until the water temp cooled down," Brian LaPointe, PH.D., senior author and a research professor at FAU's Harbor Branch said. "And they regained their symbiotic algae and bean to function normally again."
FAU Harbor Branch Study Underscores the Need to End Septic Tank Use and Convert to Sewer Systems
WQCS 88.9 FM online
“We had 20 sites spanning that 156-mile length of the Lagoon where we looked at the composition of the water," said Dr. LaPointe. One of the principal goals of the study was to determine the effectiveness of fertilizer bans.
The Atlantic Ocean is heavy on the sargassum
CNN’s Rosemary Church interviews a leading scientist about a massive seaweed blob twice the size of the US that’s headed for the Gulf of Mexico.
From the Magazine: Protecting Neverland
Boca Magazine online
Few Floridians understand the value and beauty of Florida’s waters like Brian LaPointe. Far fewer understand the extent to which those waters are under siege. Currently a research professor with FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, where he has worked since 1983, LaPointe’s research focuses on the study of nutrient pollution that leads to Harmful Algal Blooms—or HABs—which cause phenomena including red tides and coral death.
Piles of rotting seaweed finally clear off South Florida’s beaches, a month earlier than usual
Sun Sentinel online
Nitrogen — partly from fertilizer carried in runoff from land — is a leading suspect as a cause for the recent, large blooms, said Dr. Brian LaPointe, a FAU professor who studies marine system eco-health. “What we’re seeing is that the nitrogen content has gone up in the Sargassum,” said LaPointe, who has studied Sargassum since the 1980s, “and we believe that is probably the primary reason we’re seeing these massive blooms, more biomass than we’ve ever seen before.”
Sewage problems create algae blooms in Fort Lauderdale waterways
WSVN 7 News online
“And it forms like the scum the floats on the top of the water,” said Dr. Brian LaPointe. News sent pictures of the algae bloom to LaPointe, a research professor at Florida Atlantic University. “When you see that, that’s very characteristic of nutrient-polluted waters,” he said.
Seaweed's back, lining Palm Beach County shorelines
Brian LaPointe, Ph.D., of Florida Atlantic Univeristy-Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute near Ft. Pierce, is considered the global expert on oceanic sargassum seaweed. He told CBS12 News back in May, the seaweed would be back again this summer, although maybe not as bad as the prior two years.
Shift in weather pattern brings in banner crop of sargassum
Palm Beach Post online
Brian LaPointe, a researcher at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute who specializes in algae blooms, said large amounts of sargassum have come ashore in parts of the Florida Keys also.
In an effort to replace polluting septic tanks, sewer lines now extend throughout Stuart
A 2016 study by Brian Lapointe, a research professor at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Fort Pierce, estimated septic tanks in Martin County put about 400,000 pounds of nitrogen in the St.Lucie River each year.
Out of sight, still a blight
Less commonly known are the risks of aging, leaking septic systems to people. “It affects not just the ability to enjoy healthy coastal ecosystems and fisheries — but also human health,” said Florida Atlantic University research professor Brian LaPointe.
When beaches reopen, are you safe from coronavirus in the water?
Sun Sentinel online
It’s a concept that Brian LaPointe said could be a particular problem for South Florida because of the deterioration of the water treatment system. He’s a researcher at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and has been studying water quality in South Florida for decades. “The coronavirus is most likely to be a problem in areas without adequate wastewater infrastructure and broken pipes,” LaPointe said. “If you have a good wastewater treatment system with disinfection, it’s a pretty safe bet that disinfection will kill the coronavirus.”
The coast may be clear now, but sargassum is heading from the Caribbean to Florida shores, scientists warn
“This is the time of year the blooms start coming into the Caribbean and they are heading this way,” Brian LaPointe, a researcher at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, told the Sun Sentinel. “A number of islands have been reporting inundations.”
As beaches reopen, talk turns to likely reappearance of seaweed
“This is the season it starts showing up,” said Brian LaPointe, Ph.D., of Florida Atlantic University-Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute near Fort Pierce. LaPointe is considered the global expert on oceanic sargassum seaweed.
Sargassum seaweed could return to Florida's beaches in coming weeks
“This is the time of year the blooms start coming into the Caribbean and they are heading this way,” said Brian LaPointe, a researcher at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute who specializes in algae blooms. “A number of islands have been reporting inundations.”
South Florida beach closures could help marine life, water quality
WPTV also spoke to Dr. Brian LaPointe from FAU'S Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute over video chat from his home in Key West. "We have seen a dramatic reduction of people, primarily tourists from the highways and the byways of the Florida Keys," said LaPointe. "All tourists have been requested to leave the county."
Fort Lauderdale’s foul sewage spills have killed fish. There’s likely more damage
Miami Herald online
“Exposure could be a risk because there are pathogens in human waste that are harmful to corals,” said Brian Lapointe, a professor and water quality researcher at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch. “Sewage is also full of nutrients, which can lead to algal blooms that can also suffocate corals.”
Pollution + Florida’s Coral Reefs: “We Are Changing The Chemistry Of The Planet”
Clean Technica online
What we’re seeing, Lapointe outlines, is destruction of the coral reefs due to nutrient dominance. As the nitrogen-phosphorous balance in the ocean gets out of balance, certain membranes in the coral start to break down. The coral can’t get enough phosphorous, which leads to what Lapointe calls “phosphorous limitation and eventual starvation.”
What’s that weed on the beach? If it’s not sargassum, what is it?
Palm Beach Post online
Brian LaPointe, a research professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, identified the weedy lumps as manatee grass by each blade’s cylindrical shape — more noodle than the flat ribbon-type structure of turtle grass.
Local expert comes up with possible solution for blue-green algae problem
WPBF West Palm Beach online
A research professor on the Treasure Coast is pointing the blame, for the algae blooms in the St. Lucie estuaries, to septic tanks. Dr. Brian Lapointe, a Ph.D. research professor at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, shared his concerns with St. Lucie County Commissioners during Tuesday morning's commission meeting.
Nitrogen, septic tanks to blame rash of Fla. algae blooms, expert says
We've been telling you about the toxic algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee and neighboring communities all summer. One of the researchers studying how these blooms keep popping up says septic tanks and nitrogen pollution are a large part of the problem.
Study finds source of toxic green algal blooms and the results stink
Florida's St. Lucie Estuary received national attention in 2016 as toxic green algal blooms wreaked havoc on this vital ecosystem. A new study contradicts the widespread misconception that periodic discharges from Lake Okeechobee were responsible. Water samples gathered and tested in the year-long study provide multiple lines of evidence that human wastewater nitrogen from septic systems was a major contributor to the high nitrogen concentrations in the estuary and downstream coastal reefs.
Selected Articles (3)
Remote Sensing of Sargassum Biomass, Nutrients, and PigmentsGeophysical Research Letters
Mengqiu Wang, Chuanmin Hu, Jennifer Cannizzaro, David English, Xingxing Han, David Naar, Brian Lapointe, Rachel Brewton, Frank Hernandez
2018 Field and laboratory experiments are designed to measure Sargassum biomass per area (density), surface reflectance, nutrient contents, and pigment concentrations. An alternative floating algae index‐biomass density model is established to link the spectral reflectance to Sargassum biomass density, with a relative uncertainty of ~12%. Monthly mean integrated Sargassum biomass in the Caribbean Sea and central West Atlantic reached at least 4.4 million tons in July 2015. The average %C, %N, and %P per dry weight are 27.16, 1.06, and 0.10, respectively. The mean chlorophyll‐a (Chl‐a) concentration is ~0.05% of the dry weight. With these parameters, the amounts of nutrients and pigments can be estimated directly from remotely sensed Sargassum biomass. During bloom seasons, Sargassum carbon can account for ~18% of the total particulate organic carbon in the upper water column. This study provides the first quantitative assessment of the overall Sargassum biomass, nutrients, and pigment abundance from remote sensing observations, thus helping to quantify their ecological roles and facilitate management decisions.
Characterizing a Sea Turtle Developmental Habitat Using Landsat Observations of Surface-Pelagic Drift Communities in the Eastern Gulf of MexicoIEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing
Robert F Hardy, Chuanmin Hu, Blair Witherington, Brian Lapointe, Anne Meylan, Ernst Peebles, Leo Meirose, Shigetomo Hirama
2018 Compared with our understanding of most aspects of sea turtle biology, knowledge of the surface-pelagic juvenile life stages remains limited. Young North Atlantic cheloniids (hard-shelled sea turtles) are closely associated with surface-pelagic drift communities (SPDCs), which are dominated by macroalgae of the genus Sargassum. We quantified SPDCs in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, a region that hosts four species of cheloniids during their surface-pelagic juvenile stage. Landsat satellite imagery was used to identify and measure the areal coverage of SPDCs in the eastern Gulf during 2003-2011 (1323 images). Although the SPDC coverage varied annually, seasonally, and spatially, SPDCs were present year-round, with an estimated mean area of SPDC in each Landsat image of 4.9 km 2 (SD = 10.1). The area of SPDCs observed was inversely proportional to sea-surface wind velocity (Spearman's r = -0.33, p
Septic systems contribute to nutrient pollution and harmful algal blooms in the St. Lucie Estuary, Southeast Florida, USAHarmful Algae
Brian E Lapointe, Laura W Herren, Armelle L Paule
2017 Nutrient enrichment is a significant global-scale driver of change in coastal waters, contributing to an array of problems in coastal ecosystems. The St. Lucie Estuary (SLE) in southeast Florida has received national attention as a result of its poor water quality (elevated nutrient concentrations and fecal bacteria counts), recurring toxic Microcystis aeruginosa blooms, and its proximity to the northern boundary of tropical coral species in the United States. The SLE has an artificially large watershed comprised of a network of drainage canals, one of which (C-44) is used to lower the water level in Lake Okeechobee. Public attention has primarily been directed at nutrient inputs originating from the lake, but recent concern over the importance of local watershed impacts prompted a one-year watershed study designed to investigate the interactions between on-site sewage treatment and disposal systems (OSTDS or septic systems), groundwaters, and surface waters in the SLE and nearshore reefs. Results provided multiple lines of evidence of OSTDS contamination of the SLE and its watershed: 1) dissolved nutrients in groundwaters and surface waters were most concentrated adjacent to two older (pre-1978) residential communities and the primary canals, and 2) sucralose was present in groundwater at residential sites (up to 32.0 μg/L) and adjacent surface waters (up to 5.5 μg/L), and 3) δ15N values in surface water (+7.5 o/oo), macroalgae (+4.4 o/oo) and phytoplankton (+5.0 o/oo) were within the published range (>+3 o/oo) for sewage N and similar to values in OSTDS-contaminated groundwaters. Measured δ15N values in M. aeruginosa became increasingly enriched during transport from the C-44 canal (∼5.8 o/oo) into the mid-estuary (∼8.0 o/oo), indicating uptake and growth on sewage N sources within the urbanized estuary. Consequently, there is a need to reduce N and P loading, as well as fecal loading, from the SLE watershed via septic-to-sewer conversion projects and to minimize the frequency and intensity of the releases from Lake Okeechobee to the SLE via additional water storage north of the lake. These enhancements would improve water quality in both the SLE and Lake Okeechobee, reduce the occurrence of toxic harmful algal blooms in the linked systems, and improve overall ecosystem health in the SLE and downstream reefs.