It’s summer in Florida, AKA toxic-algae season.
Around the world, regional shifts in temperature and weather mark the start of fall and winter, spring and summer. But here in Florida, visitors and residents have become accustomed to another season that coincides with heavy rains and longer, hotter days of summer: toxic-algae season.
In the satellite image above from National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, a neon green mass accumulates in the northwest portion of Lake Okeechobee, spanning the western shoreline in a bloom that covers 160 square miles. If you’ve lived in Florida long, or have followed the news in recent years, the image evokes a familiar wariness that has become common across the sunshine state from mid-May to mid-October, when excess nutrients in the lake combine with elevated heat to create massive blooms of toxic cyanobacteria.
As summer rain events raise the level of Lake Okeechobee, current water policy dictates that water from the lake, including these blooms, is then discharged east and west to the coastal communities along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. The result of this in past years has been environmental and economic devastation, as well as a rise of human health issues related to harmful algae bloom exposure.
At present, Lake Okeechobee stands at 13.02 feet, and the floodgates leading east and west remain closed. Though the bulk of algae seen here is concentrated too far north to pose an immediate threat to downstream communities, reports this month have already issued warnings about algae in more concerning areas, at the Port Mayaca Lock & Dam on Lake Okeechobee’s eastern shoreline and at the Franklin Lock and Dam in Lee County. We all know how quickly conditions can change. It only takes one storm to alter the landscape.
Friends of the Everglades is closely monitoring current algae conditions, even as we continue to advocate for long-term solutions to Florida’s water crises. Stay tuned for more toxic-algae updates this summer.