How do you know there’s an algae bloom on Lake Okeechobee? Look at the calendar. Those familiar with the area will tell you that if it’s summer, there’s a good chance there’s an algae bloom somewhere on the Big O.
You might not see it — at 40 miles across, it’s a big lake — but algae is part of the lake’s natural ecosystem, and hot weather causes it to bloom.
Image: Last year's algae bloom and Lake O water release into local rivers caused a toxic disaster
The lake’s native algae is only a threat to fish if a large bloom sucks the oxygen out of the water as it dies, and the fish cannot get out of the way in time. However, some blue-green algae produce microsystins which are toxins; when an algae bloom is reported, the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation tests the algae to determine the type of algae and whether any microsystins or other toxins are present.
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According to the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation, blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, is a type of bacteria found naturally in freshwater environments. This bacteria is a microorganism that functions like algae or a plant in that it feeds through photosynthesis and derives its energy from the sun. Blue-green algae can be found all over the world, and occur in Florida’s freshwater and brackish habitats, such as lakes, rivers and estuaries.
“Although blue-green algae are found naturally, increases in nutrients can exacerbate the extent, duration and intensity of blooms. Other factors that contribute to blooms include warm temperatures, reduced water flow and lack of animals that eat algae. Although they can occur at any time, blue-green algae are most common in Florida during the summer and early fall, with high temperatures and abundant sunlight. The summer also brings storms that have the potential to deliver nutrients into waterways through stormwater runoff,” the FDEP website states.
Brandon Tucker, who was appointed to the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board in June, said SFWMD uses satellite imagery to track algae blooms on Lake Okeechobee. In early July they tracked a bloom off the northwest shore of the lake.
A Repeat of Last Year's Algae Disaster?
Last year's algae bloom made it to Palm Beach's Lake Worth Lagoon. But so fat a massive algae bloom growing in Lake Okeechobee is no immediate threat to Palm Beach or the St. Lucie River, and U.S. Rep. Brian Mast wants the Army Corps of Engineers to keep it that way.
In a letter sent Monday to Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy, Mast called the possibility of discharging algae-laden lake water to the river "simply unacceptable."
The Palm City Republican representing much of the Treasure Coast, Mast said releasing algae-filled water from the lake would risk a repeat of the toxic blooms that blanketed much of the river around Stuart and Palm City last year.