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Wednesday, 29 July 2015 13:51

Here It Comes – Toxic Algae Bloom in Lake O

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Karenia brevis, also known as red tide, just off the coast of one of Florida’s many Gulf front communities. Karenia brevis, also known as red tide, just off the coast of one of Florida’s many Gulf front communities. coastalscience.noaa.gov

It’s not in the Caloosahatchee – yet – but toxic blue-green algae has public health warning signs lining the eastern shores of Lake Okeechobee.

The Martin County Health Department posted the signs July 24 when officials from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District tested the water at Port Myaca at the mouth of the St. Lucie Canal on Lake Okeechobee.

The St. Lucie is to Florida’s southeast coast what the Caloosahatchee is on the southwest. Residents keep a wary eye on it and on the lake with the knowledge that whatever is in the lake likely will eventually flow downstream and impact coastal estuaries and beaches.

According to Martin County Health Department spokesperson Renay Rouse reports of the algae bloom near the Myaca dam and locks prompted testing, and the department there immediately posted warnings.

“We are focused on human health, so we had put up the signs when they were doing the testing,” said Rouse.

Elevated levels of the bacteria microcystin can cause nausea, vomiting and rashes. It’s by no means the nastiest of local contaminants. Red tides, borne of Karenia brevis, have become almost routine along the southwest Florida coast, blamed at least in part on high levels of nutrient pollution flowing out of the lake.

Vibrio vulnificus occurs naturally in Florida’s warm brackish waters. It can enter the body through a wound or from eating affected shellfish, and it has killed two in the state this year.

Algae blooms can be spurred by high levels of nutrients in the water. Activists on both coasts point to the lake and nutrients from dairy farms to the north and sugar in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Rouse said Martin County tests its beaches every two weeks and four spots along the St. Lucie weekly.

Diane Holm, spokesperson for the Lee County Health Department, said that here 13 public beach sites are regularly tested. Here tests specifically look for the indicator enterococcus bacteria.

“We do get reports from the myriad canals we have here,” said Holm. “And we can have very, very high concentrations there but it wouldn’t be an issue at our beaches.”

Another difference between the two coasts is Martin County posted the area immediately when tests were done, even before results were in. In Lee County testing is done every Monday. Results are available on Tuesday. If the results are high the tests are repeated Wednesday. If the results are confirmed on Wednesday the signs go up on Thursday.

Rouse said the signs at Port Myaca will come down when tests give the all-clear.

Read 3615 times Last modified on Wednesday, 29 July 2015 14:52

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