PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — People who live along the Indian River Lagoon in Martin and St. Lucie Counties are noticing a black ‘goo’ washing up along the shoreline along Indian River Drive.
It grabbed the attention of the Indian Riverkeeper, who says it may be a sign of an unhealthy waterway.
Indian Riverkeeper Executive Director Mike Connor has been fielding questions about the “black gunk” for a couple of weeks.
“When it gets on the shoreline like this, it turns black, and it rots. That’s what some of the neighbors along Indian River Drive brought to my attention,” Connor said.
He’s taken a few pictures and samples to send to scientists.
One sample that he kept in a jar changed colors drastically almost overnight.
“All of the water in the jar turned absolutely pink, a hot pink,” Connor said.
Connor sent the pictures to Dr. Grant Gilmore, a long-time researcher and scientist focused on the lagoon.
“It’s probably bacteria,” Dr. Gilmore said, saying more specifically, it appears to be a cyanobacteria called Lyngbya.
Gilmore said if it is lyngbya, it is an indication that conditions are not at their best in the lagoon.
“Something’s imbalanced. We know we need seagrasses. We know we need seaweeds and algae that feed the whole ecosystem, and sure, cyanobacteria plays a role but just not all over the place,” Gilmore said.
He’s concerned about the amount of potential cyanobacteria collecting along the shoreline.
Gilmore and Connor both agree the cause is likely local, attributed to nutrient buildups from stormwater runoff, septic systems seeping into the waterway, and fertilizer and herbicide use.
“Florida in particular, you have to understand that you’re directly connected with the water. There’s always a little ditch or canal near your house flowing to the ocean or lagoon,” Gilmore said.
Connor has other reasons to believe the root cause is local.
He does weekly tests in the St. Lucie Estuary closer to the inlet to gauge water quality. This week, he says the quality there was almost ideal because there are no Lake Okeechobee releases.
Because there are no releases, that means what’s happening deeper in the lagoon can be attributed to local causes.
“As far as all-encompassing threats to the lagoon, our own local runoff is a problem,” Connor said.
According to the EPA, lyngbya can cause adverse health reactions such as fever, headache, vomiting, or bloody diarrhea.
Connor will continue to collect samples for testing.