Toxic green algae is spreading across Florida’s beaches and rivers, destroying fishing and tourism and threatening public health.
The algae that covers much of Lake Okeechobee has been growing and flowing through canals connecting the freshwater lake to sensitive estuaries.
Locals fear the thick, toxic slime could strand their boats in marinas during peak tourism months.
Courtesy of WPLG
Red tide in the Gulf of Mexico has also been killing fish and causing respiratory irritation in southwest Florida. At the same time, thick mats of smelly, brown seaweed coated beaches along the state’s Atlantic coast.
‘One day it will be fine, then something will trigger the algae and it will get completely green,’ Leslie Stempel said in WFOR-TV radio. ‘We’re so early in the summer, it’s just going to get worse and worse.’
Flushing of hundreds of billions of gallons of water out of Lake Okeechobee to relieve pressure on its aging dike helped spread the algae around.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said this would be done again this week to reduce the flood risk that rising lake levels pose to nearby communities, making the situation worse.
The algae blooms have become an annual summer threat, fed by nutrients from cattle ranches and farms surrounding the country’s second largest natural freshwater lake.
But two years ago, pressure from the powerful sugar industry prompted the Florida Legislature to push back a lake cleanup deadline another 20 years.
The Trump administration is reviewing plans for a new Everglades reservoir that would give water managers more flexibility when lake levels rise.
Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Monday for seven counties around the lake to give state environmental and tourism agencies more resources to respond to problems caused by the algae.
The order also authorizes flushing water south of the lake instead of down the rivers that run to the coasts.
In southwest Florida over the past week, a monthslong bloom of red tide has been blamed for respiratory irritations and dead fish, turtles and manatees.
Red tide is another kind of algae that can be exacerbated by fertilizers and other pollution.
Along parts of South Florida’s Atlantic coast, mounds of seaweed known as sargassum were pushed ashore by strong winds and ocean currents, dulling the water and coating beaches.
Experts said the seaweed itself was not harmful, but could hide stinging jellyfish.
‘We don’t really like the feeling of it,’ beachgoer Linda Lunghi said on a Fort Lauderdale beach. ‘We like the clear, blue waters. Unfortunately, that’s not what it is now.’