Dr. Jim Sullivan with FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic, is a biologist who specializes in algae growth.
He says it’s important to remember that the cyanobacteria, the type of algae being seen throughout the Treasure Coast, is naturally found in most freshwater.
“This particular algae can only grow in warmer temperatures. It likes everything above 75 degrees," says Dr. Sullivan.
Sullivan says It’s reaching toxic levels because it’s receiving a lot of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous. While billions of gallons of nutrient laden freshwater is coming in from Lake Okeechobee, Sullivan says this isn’t the only culprit for the algae blooms.
“It could be coming from septic runoff, agricultural runoff, fertilizer runoff, straight runoff from rivers or different cities.”
Sullivan has been studying this type of problem for years, most recently in Lake Erie, where he says algae blooms happen every year.
“In that case, they’re pretty certain what was driving that bloom was phosphate runoff from agriculture. Every year, the spring rains would come and dumped in to the lake and that’s what would fertilize the bloom.”
But while we don’t have one single answer for what’s causing the problem in the Indian River Lagoon, how long will it continue?
“It’s a plant. A simple plant. As long as it has nutrients, sunlight and the warmth to grow. It will continue to grow in Lake O and if they have to release the water, it’s still going to come down here.”
Dr. Sullivan is trying to secure funding to do more extensive research in Lake Okeechobee.