Algae Blooms in Florida

One of the worst parts of living in Florida is the ongoing problem with harmful algal blooms.

Harmful algae blooms are extremely serious problems which threaten the state’s economy, environment and long-term future.

What are Harmful Algae Blooms in Florida?

A harmful algal blooms, often abbreviated as “HABs”, is an out-of-control growth of algae. The algae blooms are often fueled by human pollution, and cause serious problems for the health of Florida’s environment and residents.

Types of Harmful Algae Blooms

Several types of harmful algae blooms occur in Florida, and there are varieties which occur in both salt and freshwater.

Red Tide

​​Red tide is one of the most well-known forms of harmful algae blooms.

Red tide events occur from the excessive growth of an algae called Karenia brevis, which produce dangerous neurotoxins into the surrounding air, water and environment.

The name red tide comes from a noticeable discoloration in affected water. Water affected by red tide is often a dark red or brown, but can also appear as different colors.

The neurotoxins produced by Red Tide can cause serious respiratory illness, neurological dangers and poisoning, if consumed. The neurotoxins can accumulate in sea life, especially shellfish, and can be extremely dangerous to eat.

Blue-Green Algae

Blue-green algae is another type of harmful algae bloom in Florida, which occurs in bodies of freshwater. Blue-green algae refers to cyanobacteria.

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Like red tide, blue-green algae gets its name from its coloration and distinct neon-green appearance. Blue-green algae often resembles green slime.

Some people have compared blue-green algae to a soupy guacamole type consistency.

Sargassum

Sargassum is another form of aquatic organism that thrives in warm water and grows out-of-control as it feeds off of excessive nutrient pollution.

Sargassum severely affects Florida’s beaches, especially in Key West, throughout the Florida Keys and Florida’s east coast beaches.

Beaches in Key West and throughout the Florida Keys often smell like sulfur and rot due to excessive sargassum seaweed and decomposition.

Dangers of Harmful Algae Blooms

Different forms of harmful algae blooms carry different risks.

Red Tide causes massive environmental damage, and also causes respiratory difficulty in humans, among other health effects.

Blue-green algae also causes massive environmental damage, and also poses unique challenges to human and animal health, including neurological damage and other ailments related to toxicity.

Economic Impacts

Harmful algae blooms also harm Florida’s economy.

Many coastal communities in Florida have been devastated by harmful algal blooms in the past, for a variety of reasons.

Algae blooms often make local beaches and waterways unusable, which causes visitors to cancel vacations. Harmful algae blooms have led state and local lawmakers to declare states of emergencies in the past.

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Small beach towns in Florida are also heavily affected, and are often harder hit because they lack the financial resources to perform expensive clean-up operations.

Causes of Harmful Algae Blooms in Florida

Algae are naturally occurring organisms, and algae blooms are natural, to a certain extent.

However, human pollution, especially in the form of nutrient pollution, is causing the “natural” occurrences to bloom into out-of-control disasters.

Florida’s harmful algae bloom problem is also caused by mismanagement of Florida’s environment, especially wetlands and water management.

Many harmful algae blooms are a direct result of nutrient-rich water which has been polluted with sewage, animal waste, or pollution from industrial activities, including agriculture.

Sewage mismanagement is also a common problem in all areas of Florida. The state is experiencing a water pollution crisis thanks to overwhelmed sewage treatment facilities and a huge number of failing septic tanks throughout the state which leech sewage into waterways and drinking supplies.

Lake Okeechobee

Florida’s Lake Okeechobee is a source of many harmful algae blooms because it is a collection-point of polluted water, and algae thrive in the warm, nutrient-rich water.

Water discharges from Lake Okeechobee often move polluted and/or contaminated water to Florida’s east and west coasts, where it can thrive and become a danger to Florida’s beaches.

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Wetland Destruction

Harmful algae blooms are also made worse by the reckless destruction of Florida’s wetlands, especially the Florida Everglades.

Wetlands throughout the state of Florida serve the environment, and residents, by acting as natural “scrubbers” and sponges to absorb and process groundwater. The wetlands store, scrub and process groundwater to help remove nutrients.

Decades of negligent mismanagement of environmental resources is making harmful algae blooms worse.

Final Thoughts

Harmful algae blooms are a serious problem throughout Florida. The effects of algal blooms have been felt throughout all of the state’s regions.

Algae blooms pose a serious threat to all of Florida’s natural resources, from our springs and aquifer, to our beautiful beaches.

Serious environmental reform is needed to help stop the root causes of algae blooms. Without a drastic change, Florida’s environmental and economic futures will surely suffer from future crises.

Photography courtesy of Hayden Dunsel