Blue Green algae is a problem that people here in Southwest Florida are all too familiar with, especially those living along canals or stagnant parts of the Caloosahatchee River. It’s now during the hottest part of the year when blooms become a more noticeable problem.
We’re already starting to see some officials taking action, like in Cape Coral, where crews deployed hydrogen peroxide just last week to keep the blooms at bay. Still, with this summer being the hottest on record, some scientists are concerned that hotter summers like this could worsen Cyanobacteria problems.
Following tips from locals and recent weather patterns, our search took us to the north side of Florida’s great lake, infamous for its Blue-Green algae blooms.
On the other side of the lake’s dike, at a stagnant patch of water by a lock, we found a bloom that could only be described as a green and black sludge.
“What conditions allow it to take over a system? That is what a lot of scientists are looking at,” said Dr. Mike Parsons, a Harmful Algae expert from FGCU.
In places along the Caloosahatchee River, most of the water and nutrients come from Lake Okeechobee. This time of the year, large patches of the lake are covered in patches of cyanobacteria.
“If all other conditions are suitable, you would expect to see it grow pretty rapidly.” Dr. Parsons added.
Historically, Lake Okeechobee is known for having an excess nutrient problem from a combination of runoff from landscaping and agriculture. That fuels blooms in the lake but can also seed flowers downriver during the rainy season, as the US Army Corps of Engineers is forced to drain the lake using the Caloosahatchee. Combine that with local runoff in places like Cape Coral, and you get what happened in 2018.
“But not all blooms are being imported; some of the blooms in Cape Coral, in freshwater canals, those were basically “homegrown” blooms,” Parsons said.
This year, Dr. Parsons from FGCU says a new factor could soon worsen Blue-Green Algae problems: Heat.
“It was tracking pretty close temperature-wise pretty close to the average until this month, and so we are seeing a little extra temperature because of all the heat right now. Cyanobacteria like warmer temperatures. If you want to try and improve the chances for a bloom, warm water, stagnant water, lots of nutrients.”
Fortunately, local governments have learned since 2018, and even this year, we’ve seen the City of Cape Coral use both bubble curtains and hydrogen peroxide treatment to keep blooms at bay.
But treatments like this can be expensive and don’t tackle the root of the problem over time.
“Some people view that as a waste of money, so you have to keep doing it. Eventually, you are going to say that 5 million dollars that’s not working; maybe we could apply that to other measures, like nutrient reduction.” Parsons said.
And while it might seem ambitious, many scientists see nutrient reduction as the only way to address this long-term problem permanently.