Unprecedented Toxic Algae from Mining, Agriculture Run-off impacting Ocean-Recreation Economies.
An unprecedented bloom of toxic cyanobacteria is washing onto beaches in Florida, keeping beach goers at home and raising concerns about possible impacts on public health and the local tourism economy. Florida’s Lake Okeechobee is the source of the bacterial bloom, where a massive outbreak of microcystis has migrated down the St. Lucie river to the Atlantic Ocean.
Also known as Blue-Green Algae, the bacteria belong to the genus microcystis, meaning they are not technically algae, and are known to appear in areas with high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus: These two compounds have been found leaching into the water supply from industrial farming and phosphate mining activities in the area. Algae blooms are not limited to Florida, and have become deadly when gone unreported. The photo to the left taken by David McLain/Aurora Photos/Corbis shows an algae bloom in Kalmath, California. The WHO reports that 42 people died in 1988 after drinking water from a cyanobacteria-contaminated reservoir in Brazil. A similar event occurred in Australia, where some 140 people developed symptoms of liver disease after blooms were reported in a nearby reservoir.
Factors Affecting Toxic Outbreak
A confluence of events likely contributed to this season’s outbreak. Leaching may be attributed to a system of dikes that surround Lake Okeechobee that are some 80 years old, and are in need of repair according to reports by the New York Times.
In an El Niño year such as this, the region tends to see more rain. The Army Corps has also been releasing more water from the lake to prevent flooding, a process that started about two weeks ago — and it has since reduced the flow of water.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in the four counties hit hardest by microcystis. The algae produce both neurotoxins and hepatotoxins, which can cause rashes, and affect the liver and digestive system. In addition to mammals, the blooms are also harmful to fish populations in the area. When the bacteria begin to rot they suck oxygen out of the water, causing fish to suffocate and die.
What can be done
According to experts, there’s not much that can be done at the moment. While chemicals such as peroxide and more natural treatments such as packets of barley straw have been shown to kill off blooms in small, contained areas, the sheer size of the microcystis invasion, combined with the presence of tides, makes it very difficult to clear the blooms.
Preventative tactics are needed to control future blooms, and regulating the levels of chemical runoff in Lake Okeechobee is a primary concern. Because the bacteria need nitrogen to both survive and produce toxins, reducing nitrogen levels could significantly impact the amount of cyanobacteria in the water.
Dive Industry Response
In response to this situation, the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) has submitted a letter to the Governor of Florida expressing concerns over the negative impact this bloom will have on the recreational watersports businesses in these counties, as well as the reputation of Florida as a premier recreational diving destination.
Although it’s difficult to measure the direct impact the cyanobacteria bloom will have on residents participating in diving, DEMA is concerned the bloom could have a direct impact on the local dive industry economy in aspects of the number of diving travelers, hotel occupancy, and long-term consequences such as the loss of Florida’s reputation as a premier US diving destination.
DEMA’s letter to the Governor of Florida asks that direct and decisive action be taken to address the current situation, and future problems by continuing to work with the federal government on the problem of water storage and discharge from Lake Okeechobee, as well as work to reduce the effects of pollution that includes sewage runoff and discharges from the phosphate mining industry and agriculture, all of which appear to contribute to this year’s need for emergency action.
DEMA stressed how Florida’s local recreational diving industry, hotels, restaurants, marinas and other businesses associated with diving activities are all dependent on the availability of quality diving and snorkeling sites.
What you can do
According to local Surf and SUP operator Island Watersports, there are a number of things you can do to stay safe and still enjoy the water.
- Avoid contact with water that is discolored or has scum on the surface. This includes, but is not limited to: swimming, surfing, paddleboarding, skimboarding, snorkeling, jet skiing, water skiing, tubing, boating, etc.
- If contact does occur, immediately wash with soap and water or rinse thoroughly with clean water to remove algae.
- Never drink untreated surface water, whether or not algae blooms are present. Water from lakes, rivers, or streams may contain other bacteria, parasites or viruses, as well as toxins that could cause illness if consumed.
- Do not fish from lakes where algal scum is present, and do not eat fish caught in areas where blue-green algae is in bloom.
With more than 1,300 members, the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA) is an international organization dedicated to the promotion and growth of the recreational scuba diving and snorkeling industry. This non-profit, global organization promotes scuba diving through consumer awareness programs and media campaigns and the yearly DEMA Show. For more information on DEMA and affiliated programs contact (800) 862-DIVE (3483) or (858) 616-6408 and visit DEMA.org. To register for DEMA Show 2016 visit DEMAShow.com.
More Info: http://www.islandwatersports.com/blog/blue-green-algae/