Toxic Algae Forces Closure of Florida Beaches

Jason Lock

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Updated 2525d ago

Gooey, toxic algae 'as thick as paint', forced the closure of some beaches on Florida's Treasure Coast earlier this week.

An emergency has been declared and beaches across Martin County were closed due to a rancid smelling, blue-green algae bloom that is thought to have originated from Lake Okeechobee, running into the St Lucie river then into the Atlantic.

An alert remains in place for Bathtub Reef beach, but Stuart and Jensen beaches have reopened – just before July 4 celebrations.

Toxic? Yep, if eaten, accidentally or otherwise (why...would you?) that's going to cause some problems. Samples taken from the lake contain 20 times the state level of toxins considered hazardous by the World Health Organisation. A sample was taken from the algae on the beaches too, but the results are still out.

Fish status: "I can't give figures for the likelihood of a fish kill," Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society told TC Palm. "But as long as conditions stay the same, long, sunny days; lots of nutrients in the water; and low salinity — it could happen."

Causes of the watery apocalypse? The amount of available nutrients, apparently, such as phosphorous, particularly in warm weather and Florida's eco-system lends itself well to its growth. It's not uncommon but this latest bloom is abnormally large, with concerns about its size first reported about a month or so ago.

It's as thick as paint, apparently, and thickening algae is not a great sign says Ed Philps, an algae expert and professor at the University of Florida, who spoke to TC Palm. As it dies, it releases any toxins they have into the water, causing this catastrophy.

The worst thing? No-one seems to be doing much about it at the moment. Florida Governor Rick Scott told WPTV on Tuesday: ''The state, as you know, doesn't have any control over Lake Okeechobee. The federal government has got to put the money in to be able to hold more water there when we have a rainy year like we have now."

No end in sight yet, but hopefully a solution is found soon.

Cover shot: WPTV