Over the last several weeks, toxic algae has been choking the waterways in South Florida, leading Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency in four Florida counties. The thick green algae not only looks and smells gross, but is potentially harmful to people and animals who come into contact with it. The toxins given off by the algae can cause bad reactions in your eyes, ears, nose and skin if you touch it or breathe it in. The uncontrollable growths can also use up all the oxygen in the water that fish need to survive.
Algae blooms happen occasionally thanks to excess nutrients that come from fertilizers in wastewater runoff. Cyanobacteria, which creates the algae, naturally occurs in our waterways. The bacteria feeds off the nutrient-rich runoff and starts to grow out of control very quickly, especially in the unusually hot weather we’ve been experiencing. We’ve seen it here in the St. Johns many times before, although what is happening further south right now is a more extreme case, fueled by polluted runoff in Lake Okeechobee being purposely redirected into other nearby waterways.
So far, North Florida is clear of algae blooms, but it could spread into the St. Johns river soon. It has happened here before, and it will happen again. The St. Johns Riverkeeper has a team of people that keep an eye out, regularly analyzing the water to track levels of the algae-causing cyanobacteria. They are always looking for volunteers to help out with these initiatives and will be making a presentation on July 27 to educate the public about the algae blooms and how to help out. Meanwhile, keep an eye on their website for updates about any toxic algae heading this way.