Florida Has Officially Declared an Algae Emergency

Ah, Florida. You probably smelled nice, once. 

Getty Images / Joe Raedle

With summer rolling in, South Florida business owners have likely been preparing for another heavy tourist season near the many shores off the coasts of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. But now, it seems, the expected tourist season might be jeopardized by an algae growth so disgusting and massive that Florida Governor Rick Scott has called a state of emergency for this coming Fourth of July weekend.

In the warm waters of South Florida’s swamps and beaches, a thriving bacteria known as cyanobacteria has caused a widespread growth of unsightly, thick, and smelly blue-green algae. When the cyanobacteria dies, dangerous and potentially fatal toxins are released into the water. The problem has been advancing since May, when algae found in Lake Okeechobee showed positive results for high levels of a dangerous toxin said to target the liver. Several swimming areas across the state have reportedly been closed to swimming and public use as the state decides on how to handle the problem.

Orlando Sentinel

A similar problem arose in Lake Erie earlier this year, as officials doubled-down on their efforts to save the lake from a massive growth of similar algae created by phosphorus that was dumped into the Great Lake. They decided to cut the amount of phosphorus being dumped by 40% in an effort to save the lake and the citizens living near the area in both the U.S. and Canada.

For the Lake Okeechobee incident, in particular, the problem only adds to a number of issues that the Army Corps of Engineers must deal with alongside maintaining the Lake’s Herbert Hoover Dike in order to prevent it from bursting and flooding neighboring residential areas.

For this particular incident, the side effects of swimming in or consuming the water looks like a line-up of the worst possible party guests: headaches, sore throats, vomiting, nausea, coughing, diarrhea, and pneumonia. Local businesses are already experiencing the brunt of the downfall, with one reporting a sharp drop in boat rentals just recently. Speaking with The Verge, Joe Catrambone of the Stuart Martin Chamber of Commerce painted a picture of the struggle that authorities and local business owners are experiencing because of the emergency. “We asked Senator Rubio today to get us a reprieve [from water discharge], get us two or three weeks, meet with the Corps, meet with the President, do whatever you can to give us a break.”

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