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More algae blooms popping up on Lake Okeechobee

Algae spotted on canal side of Port Mayaca Lock
Blue-green algae on canal side of Port Mayaca Lock, May 3, 2021
Posted at 1:31 PM, May 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-03 18:30:39-04

PORT MAYACA, Fla. — Algae problems continue along the waterways in and around Lake Okeechobee.

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Potentially toxic blue-green algae was spotted Monday afternoon on the canal side of the Port Mayaca Lock.

The Florida Department of Health in Martin County issued a health advisory last month near the lock because of the presence of algae.

"There are no factors that we're optimistic about right now," said John Maehl, Martin County's ecosystem manager.

Maehl said heavy rains last fall set up this year's worrisome scenario with high levels of phosphorous and other nutrients in the lake.

"It's really up to Mother Nature, at this point, to see how bad this gets. What's most concerning is how quickly and how widespread the algae bloom has been in Lake Okeechobee," Maehl said.

Satellite imagery taken nine days apart shows how much more algae currently covers the lake.

Algae levels on Lake Okeechobee on April 22 and May 1, 2021 from NOAA satellites
Satellite images show how much the algae on Lake Okeechobee has grown from April 22, 2021 (left) to May 1, 2021 (right).

Maehl said if residents want to speak up about water quality or water policy, they have two opportunities this week.

While a federal standard of 8 parts per billion of cyanobacteria is considered unsafe, there is still no state standard. That meeting to discuss surface water quality will be held Wednesday morning.

The Army Corps will then discuss future plans Friday on how and when it plans to discharge freshwater from the lake into the St. Lucie Estuary.

Those discharges have brought toxic algae blooms to the coast in recent years.

"The St. Lucie River has no historic relationship to the lake. It’s completely engineered," Maehl said.

Algae prompted the closure of the Pahokee Marina last week after toxicity levels measured 100 times above what the federal government deems safe.

Workers were still busy Monday vacuuming and blasting away the algae, which was still caked along the marina's edges.

Algae cleanup at Pahokee Marina on May 3, 2021
Workers were busy vacuuming toxic algae at the Pahokee Marina in Pahokee, Fla., on May 3, 2021.

A crew with the state Department of Environmental Protection was also at the marina Monday taking water samples.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Friday they are still concerned by the high water levels on Lake Okeechobee but have refrained from discharges into the St. Lucie Estuary as the dry season continues.

No one is sure how much longer the Corps can hold off on discharges since the lake level is about 1.5 feet higher than the 12.5 feet that the Corps prefers it to be by June 1.

Residents are reminded that exposure to toxic algae may cause gastrointestinal effects if swallowed and an irritation or rash if touched or inhaled.

Experts say swimming in water with blue-green algae blooms may cause ear, eye and skin reactions, hay fever symptoms and diarrhea.

Visit the Martin County Government website to learn how to voice your concerns over water policy.