What's being done in one Florida county to stop the spread of blue-green algae

Vacuumlike device sucks up scum from water's surface

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. – The communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee aren't completely helpless when it comes to battling the blue-green algae blooms that have been coating waterways with thick, toxic sludge.

In Martin County, officials have been closely monitoring the situation and have been busy trying to tackle the problem before it further spreads in the St. Lucie River.

John Maehl, the ecosystems restoration manager for Martin County, said that blue-green algae is a cyanobacteria that uses sunlight to grow in freshwater.

'What we're experiencing is an unnatural volume and accumulation of it and when that happens, it just really makes the water unusable for recreation," Maehl said.

Not only is it unsightly, but it's putrid and potentially toxic to the lungs and skin. Mary Radabaugh, the manager at Central Marine in Stuart, said she's noticed several side effects.

"Stuffy nose, runny nose. You get itchy eyes, sometimes headaches. There's definitely a physical effect from it," Radabaugh said.

She added that it's not just affecting her health, it's also affecting her business.

As freshwater from Lake Okeechobee is discharged and mixes into the St. Lucie River, the pinhead-sized particles bloom and surround the boats Radabaugh sells.

"There's no stopping it. It's here. We have to do something to clean the water," Radabaugh said.

The map below, provided by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, details algal bloom sampling results across the state.



For the first time on Friday, contractors hired by the county were on the water with a vacuumlike device designed to suck up blue-green algae floating on the surface. That scum will be filtered and taken to a wastewater treatment plant.

The project was made possible in part by a $700,000 grant provided by the state. Maehl said it's a good start, but the state's algae problem can't be fixed overnight.

"It's probably going to take a long time before we're at a place where this is not an issue we'll have to deal with," Maehl said.

To help the waterways in South Florida, officials recommend that residents across the state take steps to reduce water runoff and avoid putting anything harmful in the ground soil because nutrient pollution is partially to blame for algae blooms.


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