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Harmful Algae Blooms

November 3, 2016

We have all heard the urgent reports and seen the dramatic photos of the harmful algae blooms (HABs) along the Treasure Coast, but do we really understand what is happening and why?  As locals, should we be worried about the health risks associated with HABs?  What about the economic risks?

These blue-green algae that have been spreading through our waterways are cyanobacteria that originated in Lake Okeechobee.  These man-made algae are fertilized and catalyzed by the nitrogen and phosphorus in run-off that is polluted with human waste and fertilizers from surrounding farms and neighborhoods, and it is this polluted run-off that has allowed the HABs to become so large and widespread. 

Knowing that the HABs are man-made, we begin to wonder how they were originally developed.  In the unique case of these toxic blue-green algae, rather than being intentionally developed, their creation was actually an indirect consequence of a poor decision made many years ago.  In an attempt to jumpstart the economy, government officials and land developers decided to redirect water from central Florida to southern Florida by breaking up the natural flow of the rivers.  In their defense, they were able to successfully kick-start the economy for a little while.  On the other hand, the unnatural flow of water resulted with the rivers and lagoons becoming intoxicated by HABs. Apparently these blue-green algae have been blooming around the same time every year for awhile now and they were just more manageable in previous years, but this year random environmental factors happened to come together just right to provide the perfect conditions for the blue-green alga to thrive and allow the HABs to take off, eventually becoming so prominent and so widespread that you could see them from outer space.  

Unsurprisingly, Americans across the countries took notice and the once-manageable HABs are now labeled an environmental crisis.  The HABs aggressively spread primarily throughout the Stuart area and along the treasure coast, and they have even appeared as far south as Fort Lauderdale and Miami.  Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin, St. Lucie, Palm Beach, and Lee counties but he was denied in July.

So why should you care about these algae blooms? As a South Florida local, there are quite a few reasons to be aware of this specific environmental crisis.  Some of the more pressing concerns are that HABs are infecting the drinking water which poses a health risk for locals, that they are killing off the fish and harming other marine life, and that they are hurting South Florida's economy especially effecting the tourism industry.  

The tourism industry affects nearly every single business in South Florida, but we know all that.  So what if you don’t own a business? Why should you care about tourism?  Without business, companies will stop hiring, which means that unemployment rates in our counties will rise which means that there will be fewer consumers stimulating the market, ultimately slowing down the economy which will negatively affected our population as a whole.  And that is just one example.  In South Florida, we are all either directly or indirectly dependent upon the tourism industry.

As a South Florida resident, the best precaution that you can take is to simply avoid exposure of any kind such as swimming and boating.  Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.  Recognize HABs in the water by looking for discoloration, usually a guacamole-like hue, as well as looking for any foam, mats, or scum that may be visible on the surface of the water.  You should rinse off with fresh water as soon as possible after being exposed to HABs.  If you are resident in a nearby neighborhood and you notice a ‘musty’ smell or taste in your water supply then report it to your local water utility provider immediately.  Lastly, try your best not to irrigate with the scummy, malodorous pond water.

Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer for how to reduce these widespread harmful algae blooms, but government officials are working tirelessly with experts in the field to find a solution.  As a short-term solution, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District have stopped releasing water into the rivers and estuaries in an attempt to rein in the outbreak, which has successfully reduced the algae in those rivers and estuaries but it will take much more than that to take care of the outbreak in its entirety.  Plans for a long-term solution include reducing nutrient run-off by having homeowners gradually switch from using septic tanks to using sewer lines and increasing the control of water flow by strengthening the dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee.   Unfortunately any long-term solutions will costs hundreds of millions that the state just doesn’t have.  Allocation is the only way to raise the necessary funds and there is a political debate about who should be responsible for allocating the money.  As of right now we are at a standstill, and in the meantime it is important to stay informed and take precautions.

If you have any questions about Harmful Algae Blooms or if you are interested in our pest control services, please call one of our Nozzle Nolen representatives at (888) 685-0376.


Dewey, Eliza. "Where Will the Green Slime Go? Florida Tracks Its Spreading Algae." Miamiherald. Miami Herald, 7 July 2016. Web. < news/local/environment/ article88302462.html>.

Heimeriks, Niels. "Interactive Map Shows Locations, Types and Toxicity Levels of Algal Bloom Samples in Florida." WPTV. The E.W. Scripps Co, 09 July 2016. Web. < health/interactive-map-shows- locations-types-and-toxicity- levels-of-algal-bloom-samples- in-florida>.

Wright, Pam. "10 Things to Know About Florida's Harmful Algae Blooms." The Weather Channel. IMB Business, 18 July 2016. Web. < nature/news/florida-algae- crisis>.


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