Scientist hoping for funding so he can research cause, source of algae bloom in the Treasure Coast

Posted at 5:55 PM, Jun 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-29 17:55:27-04

FORT PIERCE, Fla. Dr. Jim Sullivan is a research professor at FAU's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Ft. Pierce.

He recently collected a water sample from Stuart to study the bacteria that makes up the blue-green algae found throughout Martin County.

The cyanobacteria is something Sullivan is familiar with.

He spent years studying it in Lake Erie.

"To see it down here--the same kind of problems I studied in Lake Erie-- it's somewhat depressing," Sullivan said.

Sullivan is hoping to get federal funding to further research the current algae bloom in the Treasure Coast, so he can attempt to track down the exact cause and origin of the bacteria.

"It's really difficult to say--without the science-- where the nutrient sources are that are driving the algae to grow," he said.

The bacteria, Sullivan said, can be toxic to both animals and humans.

The toxic bacteria it's able to create can cause serious liver problems, he said.

Sullivan added that it can also affect people who breathe in the toxins.

"If the algae's toxic, it can actually get into the air and you can inhale that. The risk for that is very, very low."

It can also kill underwater plantlife. "If this slick were to maintain itself over a seagrass bed, the seagrass will have a hard time getting light because it's all being absorbed by this green mat that is growing above it," he said.

Sullivan said that there's not a lot of scientific data behind this specific type of algae, which is why he hopes to further investigate.

"It needs nitrogen, it needs phosphorus. If those are in adequate supply it will bloom and create these massive slicks."

Sullivan, and other local scientists, are confident the bloom will lead to a fish kill in the near future.

If you spot dead fish in the waterways, you're urged to call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish Kill Hotline.