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June 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Lesson Of Walden Pond Or Why Not To Pee Underwater

from the June, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

While most divers think nothing of emptying their bladders, maybe we need to rethink that for the sake of the environment, at least if we're diving in landlocked areas, like cenotes, quarries or lakes.

You see, Walden Pond is no longer the clear, pristine pond that it was when Henry David Thoreau published Walden: or Life in The Woods, back in 1954. And it's swimmers' pee that has adulterated it.

According to researchers from Paul Smith's College in New York, the combination of climate change and human urine has drastically altered Massachusetts' Pond's chemistry since the 1920s, when hundreds of swimmers began showing up. Phytoplankton populations began increasing, resulting in murkier, greener waters. Phosphorus and nitrogen are necessary for phytoplankton to survive, and researchers say, "More than half of the summer phosphorus budget of the lake may now be attributable to urine released by swimmers." In fact, Yankee Magazine reported in 2008 that Walden was thought to be among the most urine-filled of all of Massachusetts' 1,100 lakes and ponds.

Today, thousands of tourists and swimmers enter the water, and more urine in the lake means more phytoplankton, which in turn means a cloudier and cloudier Walden. If photosynthesizing plants at the bottom of the pond can't get enough sunlight, they will die; theoretically, the small organisms that feed on those plants would die next, and so on up the food chain.

For divers concerned about protecting their watery environment, there's something to think about here.

- From an article in Live Science, by Brandon Specktor, Senior Writer

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