While the toxicity level of the algae at Port Mayaca is considered to be very low right now, according to testing done by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection this week, this is just the beginning of the season for algae blooms, said Jim Sullivan at FAU Harbor Branch in Fort Pierce.
"This particular algae is not incredibly fast growing, but it grows fairly quick, so in the next two to three weeks we could see a pretty rapid increase," he said.
Sullivan said the current conditions are looking similar to the beginning of the 2016 algae crisis.
"This is somewhat reminiscent of what happened in 2016," he said. "We had some very large rain events, which went into the lake. That’s when you get the influx of nutrients that help these things grow and I would expect with the increase in summer temperatures that we’re probably going to see a decent bloom in the lake this year."
While test results from algae near Port Mayaca came back showing low levels of toxicity, the type of algae detected is what bloomed during the algae crisis, Sullivan said.
“The algae that is now here is a blue-green algae. It is microcystis, which was the dominant algae that caused the problems in 2016," he said.
He said that type of algae is toxic, but the level of toxins DEP detected this week at Port Mayaca were well under what's considered safe for drinking water. The toxicity would have to double to be unsafe to drink and increase tenfold or more to be unsafe to use for recreational purposes.
However, Sullivan doesn't expect the toxicity level to stay low for too long with more rain and warm weather on the way.
"It’s going to keep on growing most likely and you’ll see the toxin levels get higher and higher," he said.
The main concern for people on the Treasure Coast is that discharges from Lake Okeechobee could carry the algae into the St. Lucie Estuary and launch another algae crisis. Discharges are being conducted right now due to a high level in the water in the lake.
"If there’s a big bloom in the lake and we have discharges then we’re going to have problems in the estuary," Sullivan said.
The Florida Department of Health advises people to avoid coming into contact with algae and avoid swimming or fishing where a visible bloom is present.