Nature

Algae Slime Has Prompted a State of Emergency in Florida

July 5, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

Algae slime on a foot
Photo credit: Lake Improvement Association/flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Miles of Florida coastline overwhelmed by algae invasion.

A massive bloom of cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae, is spreading in southern Florida, raising health and environmental concerns and prompting Governor Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency in 2 counties last week.

Algal blooms like the one affecting southern Florida arise from a combination of warm water, sunshine, and nutrients that originate from agricultural runoff, sewage, and industry waste.

The bloom started more than two weeks ago when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville, Florida released water out of the Lake Okeechobee to prevent flooding.

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The New York Times explains, “those discharges, which carry pollutants from agricultural lands that flow into the lake from the north, pour into rivers and lagoons downstream, which eventually dump into the ocean,” and the "the blend of fresh and salt water creates giant phosphorescent plumes of algae, making the water unsafe for human and aquatic life alike."

The Florida Department of Health states that at high levels, cyanobacteria can "affect the gastrointestinal tract, liver, nervous system, and skin." Some residents have already complained of itchy eyes and respiratory problems since the bloom began, according to NPR.

There is also cause for concern over the effects of this bloom on marine wildlife. Though not all algae blooms impact wildlife, cyanobacteria sometimes releases toxins that can harm sea turtles, and potentially other animals. A video showing a resident hosing off a manatee that appears to have gotten lost in the slime has gone viral.

Through protests, local residents have made it clear that they want Florida’s Legislature to purchase the land surrounding Lake Okeechobee for water storage to avoid the recurrence of these algal blooms in the future.

The Army Corps of Engineers agreed last Thursday to reduce the amount of water flowing from Lake Okeechobee, WPBF News reports.

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