Another Ecological Disaster in Florida?

  • Algae blooms have been found in recent days in Florida’s Lake Okeechobee.
  • Water releases from the lake have been required after the state endured its rainiest May on record.
  • Residents are concerned this could become a repeat of the 2016 algae bloom, which had major ecological impacts.

Blooms of hazardous blue-green algae are appearing again on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, and residents are worried it could mean a replay of the monster blooms they saw in 2016.

Over the past few days, the algae was spotted pouring out of the lake during planned water releases and flowing toward the St. Lucie River, according to The Florida Department of Environmental Protection sent a crew to collect water samples, and a toxic form of cyanobacteria was found in the samples.

“I can see algae here on the east shore of the lake, and it’s getting sucked through the dam,” Florida Oceanographic Society executive director Mark Perry told “Once it goes through, it gets mixed in with all the muddy, dirty water and you can’t see it anymore. But it’s heading our way, and it sure looks like blue-green algae.”

The water releases became necessary, in part, because the Sunshine State just endured its rainiest May on record. To lower water levels, the Army Corps of Engineers discharged some 1.9 billion gallons of water into the St. Lucie River, reported.

The release from the lake has discolored water off the coast of Sanibel Island on the Gulf of Mexico, more than 100 miles away.

The blue-green algae can grow quickly in phosphorus- and nitrogen-rich water, the Palm Beach Post said. In addition to the dead zones they create in the water, toxic algae blooms can also sicken or kill humans and pets, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In early May 2016, an algae bloom grew to cover 33 square miles of the lake and affected water quality beyond the lakeshore. It showed up downstream, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin and St. Lucie counties after the blooms appeared there. Water samples collected from the lake and from the river near Stuart tested positive for high levels of toxins produced by the algae.

Currently, the blooms are small, but if they continue to grow, residents fear the impact it could have this summer on the lake and nearby waterways.

“Because of what we all experienced in 2016, we are very sensitive,” former Sewall’s Point mayor Jacquie Thurlow-Lippisch told the Palm Beach Post. “We are concerned for our businesses, our real estate, and it’s a health issue for people who live on the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee.”