I feel as if I have been ranting about the Toxic Bluegreen Algae we have been inundated with here on the Treasure Coast of South Florida, but I think most of my ranting has been on Facebook. I like to keep the pretty things on my blog. I apologize in advance as this is about as not pretty as you can get.
I live near the end of the St. Lucie River on the east coast of South Florida. It is entirely possible you have seen this on the news. For the first time, I am happy to not have a riverfront home. We have been overrun by a toxic, festering stew of algae from the center of our state. Our shores are fouled, wildlife is dying and for what reason?
Here is an oversimplification of the story:
About 90 years ago, in the name of flood control and agricultural interests two canals were dug to prevent overflow from Lake Okeechobee, the big hole seen in all maps in the center of Florida. A dike was added a few years later to hold the water back and named for Herbert Hoover. The dike is currently in questionable condition and thousands of people live below it. For drainage purposes the lake was connected by these canals to two rivers, the St Lucie (to the Atlantic) and the Caloosahatchee (to the Gulf of Mexico) Agricultural interests surround and (much of it cattle) drain surface water into Lake O. In the past year or so the state of Florida relaxed all of its formerly mandatory pollution surface water rules on agriculture and viola! We are now in the midst of a historic outbreak of Toxic Bluegreen Algae. This particular type of algae thrives on phosphorous and nutrient laden water from, yes, agriculture. The algae bloom in Lake O is currently 30 square miles.
The toxic aspect of this algae is released into the air as it turns blue. It can contain neurotoxins and heptatoxins causing anything from sinus problems and rashes to liver failure if ingested. ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) has been associated with these toxins.
Local blogger/ River Warrior Cyndi Lenz famously said ‘it smells like death on a cracker’
Local firebrand /River Warrior Marjorie Shropshire famously said, I am paraphrasing ‘our river has been turned into the anus of Lake Okeechobee’. Marjorie braved the toxic stew to take all of these photos and graciously shared them.
In addition to all the excess nutrients in the lake, we have also had an extremely wet dry season, causing excess water in the lake and necessitating more nutrient/algae polluted water to be flushed down our estuaries. The old Herbert Hoover dike ain’t what it used to be and no one will own up to taking care of it. It should be noted the estuaries of both rivers are somewhat salty naturally, but by virtue of the vast quantities of water added the rivers are now fresh water. Decimating much of the plant and animal life that thrives in salty waters.
A state of emergency was declared in the county I live in, Martin. Nothing has happened that I have observed. This toxic algae event was featured in the media over the Fourth of July holiday weekend as most of the beaches were closed in the area due to the algae. I am personally not going in the water anytime soon.
The US has a governmental agency called the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is designed to protect, yes, our environment. So, I contacted them and was told this was not in their jurisdiction! Non point source pollution is a state issue and the state relaxed their rules. Oversimplified explanation: