Algae Bloom on Florida's Lake Okeechobee

A blue-green algae bloom is stretching over several square miles in southern Lake Okeechobee, according to the South Florida Water Management District.

Tests to determine if the algae is the type called microcystis, which often is toxic, should be completed Thursday or Friday.

"It's definitely blue-green algae and it sure looks like microcystis to me," said Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart. "And it appears to be morphing into the phase where it would be toxic. It's got that bright, yellow-green color like radiator fluid we've seen in toxic blooms in the past."

The bloom is "a good distance south and west" of Port Mayaca, where Lake O water currently is being discharged into the C-44 (St. Lucie) Canal, which leads to the St. Lucie River.

Winds Wednesday afternoon at Pahokee were out of the west at 7 mph, meaning they could be blowing the bloom closer to Port Mayaca.
"The bloom could be coming our way," Perry said. "This is critical."

Conditions in the South Fork of the St. Lucie River, where Lake O water enters the estuary, are prime for algae blooms, Perry said: barely any salinity, lots of nutrients in the lake water, and water temperature in the mid-80s.

The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to announce Thursday whether the discharges will continue at the current rate - about 400 million gallons a day Tuesday - be increased, decreased or stopped.

A corps spokesman could not be reached Wednesday afternoon.

This report will be updated.

Here's how blue-green algae can affect the environment:
  • Technically a bacteria, like plants it uses energy in sunlight to grow through photosynthesis.
  • It shades and kills sea grass.
  • Toxins in the algae can kill small animals like shrimp and crabs.
  • Animals that hunt for food in water can't see their prey through the algae.
  • When the algae dies, it's eaten by bacteria that use all the oxygen in the water, which can lead to fish kills.

Here's how blue-green algae can affect you:
  • Microcystis, a type of blue-green algae that's plagued the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, contains toxins that can make humans and animals sick, causing stomach and intestinal illness, respiratory distress, allergic reactions, skin irritations and liver damage.
  • New studies suggest, but have not proven, a link between a toxin in blue-green algae and neurological diseases, Swallowing even small amounts of toxin can result in flu-like symptoms; large amounts can damage the liver, kidneys and the nervous system.
  • Swimming or wading in a bloom can cause skin irritation, hives, blisters and rashes.
  • Inhaling toxins can cause hay fever-like symptoms: itchy eyes, sore throat and congestion.
  • Because of their size, children and pets are at greater risk for poisoning.

After exposure to toxins, rinse immediately and thoroughly with fresh water and soap.
If you see possible blue-green algae, contact the Department of Environmental Protection at 772-467-5572.