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Toxic Algae Blooms and How They’re Affecting Florida

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In the near future, a future that most middle-aged adults living today are more then likely to see sometime in their lifetimes, crystal blue water that once surrounded Florida’s coasts will be coated by toxic algae blooms that harm sea life and the life that surrounds the sea; massive algae blooms will have rendered marinas and inlets useless to the public. Beaches that once were filled with crystal clear blue water and enough people to start a riot are now dead and haven’t seen a sign of life since the algae took over. A dramatic supply of toxic algae in the water will have ruined fishing, tourism, and the beautiful houses that once thrived on the coasts. Stepping outside to smell the ocean will sting your nose. The smell so strong, cats dare not sit under the piers in hopes of catching a bird. All life that once used to surround the beach is no more, birds don’t call, fish don’t jump, and turtles don’t lay their eggs on the beaches. All that remains is the water and the algae that covers and consumes it.

This is a future that the introduction of toxic algae blooms into Florida’s water created. This future could ruin Florida and the beautiful water that surrounds it. Florida’s tourism would go first, leaving businesses that survive and feed their families based on the amount of tourism Florida receives annually to die. The water that attracts millions a year could be tarnished and eaten by a carpet of toxic algae thick enough to halt all boat traffic and keep people from driving boats all together. While this future may seem unrealistic, it was generated out of a realistic fear of what algae blooms are capable of doing once they have been introduced into a water system. Toxic algae blooms have infected Lake Okeechobee’s water, threatening Florida’s treasure coasts with algae thick enough to shut down businesses, and potent enough to threaten human lives.

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In order to understand how dangerous this algae growth is, it’s important to understand what the toxic algae actually is. Hans W. Paerl and Timothy G. Otten explain that the toxic algae are a cyanobacteria, which produce toxic metabolites that affect the digestive, dermal, nervous system (996). “Cyanobacteria are the Earth’s oldest oxygenic photoautotrophs … Their long evolutionary history has enabled them to adapt to geochemical and climatic changes” (Paerl and Otten 995). The age of the bacteria has allowed it to thrive in places it shouldn’t succeed in, making it especially dangerous when it finds its way into water systems. As it sits, the more it grows and spreads making it especially devastating to water without a natural stream. Paerl and Otten report that the toxins that the algae produce thrive in marine systems making it that much more difficult to get rid of them once they have been introduced to the water (996).

Paerl and Otten explain that the algae also hurt the plant and animal life under the water that the algae now cover (995). The algae are so thick that sunlight can’t make its way down to the plant life that occupies the water, killing off the habitats that fish rely on for food and protection from larger predators (Pearl and Otten 995). The algae disrupt the entire ecosystem by simply starving the plants of sunlight, and the ripple affect caused by the algae is devastating. The decomposition of dying blooms causes an issue for fish life because the decomposition causes oxygen depletion in the water causing many fish to die (Paerl and Otten 995).

Lake Okeechobee spreads water all throughout Florida, its water makes its way through all waterways. Jenny Staletovich talks about how Lake Okeechobee is exploding with massive algae blooms which is especially concerning due to the fact that its water travels all throughout Florida and its coasts (Staletovich). Staletovich goes on to talk about how the algae has made its way down the Caloosahatchee River towards the southeast coasts (Staletovich). Staletovich also reported that, “More ooze piled up on the lake’s eastern banks pushing against a gate leading to million-dollar waterfront homes and businesses.” The path of the algae is concerning, having that much algae around high end real estate and business makes it an undesirable location for tourism. The loss of tourism heavily impacts these areas because these businesses make their income from the tourists that come to these areas to visit and vacation.

Staletovich talks about how a marina in Stuart was closed due to the fact that the algae had made its way to the marina and was eight inches thick (Staletovich). Businesses that exist near the ocean are all subject to a decline in income, marinas can’t operate if boats can’t make it to and from the marina. While the algae kill the fish life and consumes all the nutrients to continue its rapid growth, it also destroys the lives of those who make a living off of the water. It’s unusual for the algae to be in a flowing river but Steve Davis, an ecologist from the Everglades foundation talks about how nutrient rich lake water is enough to fuel the algae’s growth despite its movement (Dewey). Steve Davis states that, “it will be a delicate balancing act to reduce the flow of the nutrient-rich lake water fueling the algae explosion. If water volumes are reduced too much, that, too, can fuel algae growth” (Dewey). Steve’s remark goes along with Paerl and Otten’s research when they said that the bacteria had been around for so long that it can basically succeed in any circumstance it finds itself in (995).

Staletovich also reported that, “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also announced plans Thursday to stop releases to the east coast for nine days, to allow time for tides to flush the algae.” While the algae are susceptible to many environments, fast moving water is able to break up the algae and keep it from growing. Staletovich continues the conversation by talking about how the lake dumping will continue after the nine days due to summer rains that would overcome any dyke and spread contaminated water to uncontaminated areas (Staletovich). The process of dealing with the algae is strenuous, water can’t sit too long, or algae will grow and if you let the water out it will contaminate other water. As previously stated, when it comes to dealing with the algae every move is carefully coordinated and it’s made sure that the algae don’t come across nutrient filled water or an unexpected bloom could erupt (Staletovich).

The Problem with the Toxic algae blooms is that they have been around for so long that their susceptible to all types of environments and succeed when their supposed to die (Paerl and Otten 995). They disrupt any system they become apart of, by killing off plant life and eventually depleting the oxygen enough to cause fish to die (Paerl and Otten 995). When it comes to tourism, the algae know exactly what to do to scare people away. The Drop in tourism has a significant affect on the economy due to the fact that businesses aren’t able to run if they have toxic algae in the water halting all operations (Staletovich).

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