Lake Okeechobee, the state’s largest freshwater lake, regularly experiences algal blooms, but this year’s is particularly large. It covers about 90% of the 730-square-mile lake, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It has also appeared in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries on the state’s east and west coasts.
Algal blooms are unpredictable but tend to develop in bodies of water where there are warm temperatures, relatively calm conditions and nutrients running off nearby land. The bloom in Florida is caused by the accumulation of a naturally occurring blue-green algae called cyanobacteria. Algae doesn’t always pose a health or environmental risk, but cyanobacteria can produce a toxin called microcystin that, if consumed, can damage the liver and irritate the skin, eyes and throat, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Of the 90 algae samples taken from the affected counties in the last 30 days, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has detected microcystin toxins in 49 of them. Of those, only 19 contained toxin levels greater than 10 micrograms per liter, the level the World Health Organization considers a low-level risk. The amounts ranged from less than one microgram to more than 460 micrograms of toxin per liter.
People are discouraged from swimming in algal blooms or eating fish harvested from areas near or in the blooms, according to guidelines from the Florida Department of Health. They also shouldn’t allow pets to drink or swim in the blooms.
Lake Okeechobee last experienced a severe algal bloom in 2016, which also led the governor’s office to declare a state of emergency. Other notable toxic algal blooms occurred in 2004 and 2013.
Tourism and recreation industries are forecast to suffer as the viscous water repels potential visitors. During the algal bloom in 2016, 70% of people who were planning to visit Florida within three months said they would avoid traveling to areas declared a state of emergency, according to a study conducted by Black Hills State University and the University of Florida’s Tourism Crisis Management Initiative.
The state’s Department of Economic Opportunity on Thursday opened a survey to assess what affected businesses will need to recover from the algal blooms. It is too soon to identify the blooms’ effect on local businesses, said Tiffany Vause, the agency’s communications director.
The last time Gov. Scott declared a state of emergency due to algal blooms, the DEO helped a small handful of affected businesses obtain short-term emergency bridge loans, Ms. Vause said.
The governor’s office said the algal bloom spread as the Army Corps of Engineers discharged water from the lake into neighboring bodies of water.
The Army Corps releases water from Lake Okeechobee to manage flood risk during the state’s wet season, which runs from late spring through the fall. This year, the discharges began on June 1. After halting releases of water to the east coast on June 30 to allow the tides to replenish saltwater in estuaries, the Corps paused discharges to the west on July 9.
“Our challenge in managing water in Lake Okeechobee is that the potential inflow, especially during wet season, far exceeds outflow capacity,” said John Campbell of the Army Corps’ communications office. “Right now, the lake sits at higher level than before Hurricane Irma last year.”
The Army Corps on Friday resumed discharging water to the west of the lake.
Lake Okeechobee isn’t the only body of water affected by algal blooms. In 2016, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality reported almost 100 people were sickened after exposure to an algal bloom in Utah Lake. Regular blooms in Lake Erie prompted the creation of an NOAA-funded research team that produces seasonal and biweekly forecasts for harmful algal blooms.
This news has been published by title Algae Blooms In Lakes & Oceans Creating Pollution That Harms People, Pets, & The Planet
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