According to Gov. Rick Scott’s office, in 2015 Florida became the first state to welcome more than 100 million tourists. Aside from devastating and tragic headlines, Florida tourism remains resilient. The indisputable selling features remain the state’s alluring beaches, dependable sunshine and warm weather. But what happens when you take just one of those elements away?
This past week, residents of Martin County awoke to the nightmare of having to address that question. Blue-green algae has started to spread to Florida beaches. Aerial footage of this disaster shows what appears to be vast areas of a surreal, fluorescent green, paint-like substance skimming the surface of the water. While not all algae is bad, make no mistake that this version is testing positive for toxins.
According to the Florida Oceanographic Society, 2005 was the first time that this algae was spotted in the region and each year it just seems to be getting worse. In the grand scheme of things, a decade has not been long enough for the majority of the local population, especially those residing along the peripheral, affected areas, to consistently focus on and understand the logistics of the problem. As expected, people are fearful and angry, launching blame from “Big Sugar” to the Federal Government.
While we may understand oil spills, hurricanes, and perhaps sea lice better than blue-green algae, the following primer will bring you up to speed on a problem that doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon:
What Causes Blue-Green Algae?
According to NOAA, it may be linked to “overfeeding.” This occurs when nutrients (mainly phosphorus, nitrogen, and carbon) from sources such as lawns and farmlands flow downriver to the sea and build up at a rate that ‘overfeeds’ the algae that exist normally in the environment.
They can produce toxins which can sicken or kill people and wildlife, create dead zones in the water, and damage industries that depend on clean water. So far local businesses have already reported loss of income. What Can Be Done? There doesn’t seem to be a simple solution, at least one that all can agree upon. According to the Florida Oceanographic Society, one way to handle the problem is by implementing strong numeric nutrient water quality standards to stop the pollution at the source.