Algae blooms return to Lake Okeechobee

Posted at 9:57 PM, May 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-12 06:43:02-04

Hosea Burns is fishing Wednesday by the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam.  He’s got one keeper so far but what he saw in the water had him concerned.

“It doesn’t look good at all.  It’s something to definitely consider worrying about and thinking about," said the Martin County resident.

It wasn’t necessarily a small blob of algae inside the C-44 canal, rather larger algae blooms on the lake side of the dam.

“What if it gets worse or what if it gets out of hand?" feared Burns.

The return of the algae scares commercial fishing guide Mike Conner.

“Now the fear is the water is still high in the lake and we have the wet season still coming," said Conner, who also works with the environmental group

While algae lines the lakeshore, the Army Corps of Engineers ideally wants the lake to drop another foot-plus before the start of hurricane season.  Environmentalists wondering what that means for the current Lake Okeechobee discharges into the St. Lucie Estuary.

“So we fear that water will keep bringing that algae into the St. Lucie Estuary where again the salinity is very low," said Mark Perry with the Florida Oceanographic Society.

Beyond the potential harm to oysters, sea life and seagrass, local scientist Edie Widder told Newschannel 5 recently there’s a human component as well.  

"It’s known that some of the cyanotoxins that this algae produce can be taken up by food crops," said Widder.

There's also the possibility we could see a summer of signs urging residents to have no contact with the water if it's determined to be dangerous.  After a too wet dry season, Mike Conner now has a bottle of green lake water as evidence of a big potential problem.

"Our estuary is very fresh right now from months of discharges.  It’s ripe for toxic algae blooms," said Conner.

There is a large algae bloom that covers several square miles north of Pahokee.  The South Florida Water Management District is testing that algae to see if its toxic.  Those results should be back in the next two days.  Mike Conner says he is sending his algae filled water to the state to get it tested as well.

The Army Corps will determine Thursday if they will make any changes to the current discharges.