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Green slime emerges in Brevard County canals

It's unclear whether May sewage discharge by county caused problem

Reports of a greenish substance on the surface of the canal off of Bahama Drive in Indian Harbour Beach over the weekend.     (Photo: MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY)
Reports of a greenish substance on the surface of the canal off of Bahama Drive in Indian Harbour Beach over the weekend. (Photo: MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY)

INDIAN HARBOR BEACH, Fla. – Several canals in Indian Harbour Beach turned milky shades of green over the past few days, prompting state water tests and concern for some residents.

"I just feel like it looked really bad," Catherine Vecchio, of Indian Harbour Beach, said of the greenish-brown water she saw Sunday in a canal north of Bahama Drive.

Water near Oars and Paddles Park also took on a greenish tint this week.

News 6 Partner Florida Today reports the discolored water is in the area near where Brevard County discharged more than 1 million gallons of raw sewage on May 11, but it's uncertain whether that caused the current discoloration in the canals.

To prevent sewage backups at homes and businesses during the May incident, the county diverted more than 600,000 gallons of raw sewage into a pond near Sea Park Elementary School and more than 1 million gallons of raw sewage into Anchor Drive Canal, which connects via other canals to the Banana River. Brevard County had to pay a $1,000 state fine in connection with the incident.

On Monday, staff from Fish and Wildlife Research Institute sent staff to sample the discolored canal water. A brown tide algae that killed countless fish in the Banana River this past March had mostly faded, water quality experts said last week, but patchy blooms of the algae remain. And Brevardians have watched nervously as a toxic blue-green algae has turned waters in St. Lucie and Martin counties shades of green and gray in recent weeks, raising fears of toxic effects in humans, pets and wildlife.

Sampling Monday by Florida Institute of Technology scientists did not turn up any brown tide, the blue-green algae devastating South Florida, or the type of algae that caused the "super bloom" in the lagoon in 2011 linked with hundreds of manatees, dolphins and pelicans dying.

The algae was mostly a mix of two types of algae called dinoflagellates, Kevin Johnson, an FIT biologist said via email. Dinoflagellates are a type of algae that propel through the water using whip-like tails. The algae is considerably larger-celled than most of the harmful algae blooms the lagoon suffers from, Johnson added, making the algae have a higher visual impact at much lower densities.

July ushers in the most dangerous time of year for the bacteria levels in the Indian River Lagoon, lakes, rivers and other waters, biologists say. So on Monday, state health officials in Volusia County urged residents and tourists to take precautions to avoid exposure to Vibrio vulnificus, a potentially deadly saltwater bacteria that has killed four people so for this year in Florida.

Vibrio infections tend to happen between May and October, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Warm water and moderate salt levels can increase the number of Vibrio vulnificus organisms in shellfish.

Broward, Citrus, Palm Beach and Santa Rosa counties each had a death attributed to the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria this year.

The naturally occurring bacteria can cause disease in those who eat contaminated seafood or expose an open wound to warm, brackish seawater. Ingestion of the bacteria can cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. It also can cause a skin infections when people who have open wounds.

Vibrio dies at salt levels typically seen in the ocean but thrives at lower to moderate salt concentrations, such as those found in the lagoon.

Every year Brevard has a few cases due to water exposure.

Half of Vibrio vulnificus infections are deadly, and mostly that's when people eat a contaminated oyster or other seafood. Eating a single contaminated oyster can kill. Or even an ant bite or any tiny wound can allow an entry point for the bacteria.

Vibrio is found in higher levels in stagnant, inshore waters during warm, rainy months.

“People most at risk of contracting an infection are anglers and swimmers in brackish water,” Dr. Paul Rehme, Department of Health-Volusia disease control director, said in a release. “People with weakened immune systems or other chronic illnesses are most likely to develop severe infections or die from contracting Vibrio.”

People with chronic liver disease are at risk for Vibrio infection when they eat raw shellfish, especially oysters. People with these pre-existing medical conditions are 80 times more likely to develop Vibrio vulnificus blood infections than healthy people, state health officials say.

“It’s an old wives’ tale that we should rinse wound infections in salt water to clean them,” Rehme added. “That’s the wrong thing to do especially during warm months of the year.”

Tips for preventing Vibrio vulnificus infections include:

• Do not eat raw oysters or other raw shellfish.

• Cook shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels) thoroughly.

• For shellfish in the shell, either a) boil until the shells open and continue boiling for 5 more minutes, or b) steam until the shells open and then continue cooking for 9 more minutes. Do not eat those shellfish that do not open during cooking. Boil shucked oysters at least three minutes, or fry them in oil at least 10 minutes at 375°F.

• Avoid cross-contamination of cooked seafood and other foods with raw seafood and juices from raw seafood.

• Eat shellfish promptly after cooking and refrigerate leftovers.

• Avoid exposure of open wounds or broken skin to warm salt or brackish water, or to raw shellfish harvested from such waters.

• Wear protective clothing (e.g., gloves) when handling raw shellfish.

Source: Florida Department of Health-Volusia

Seafood and swimming safey

• Florida Health Department fish consumption advisories: www.floridahealth.gov/prevention-safety-and-wellness/healthy-weight/nutrition/seafood-consumption/fish-advisories-page.html

• Vibrio: http://www.cdc.gov/vibrio/vibriov.html

• FDA Seafood Hotline: 800-332-4010.

• Florida Division of Aquaculture (shellfish safety): www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Aquaculture

• Healthy swimming: www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/index.html