FLORIDA OVERCOME BY BLUE-GREEN ALGAE AND RED TIDES
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By Michelle Moore
It has been almost a month since significant toxic blue green algae blooms triggered a State of Emergency for southwest Florida. A discharge of Lake Okeechobee from the Army Corps of Engineers allowed blue green algae to flow into highly populated areas.
The Army Corps of Engineers opened the floodgates on Lake Okeechobee to mitigate flood risk and released water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association the lake was 90% covered with blue green algae when the water was released.
Blue green algae or cyanobacteria typically grow in lakes and manifest themselves as a layer of green slime on the water's surface. Cyanobacteria is known to produce several toxins and can cause respiratory difficulty or skin irritation if exposed to it.
On July 9 Governor Rick Scott issued the emergency order for Glades, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties to help combat algal blooms.
As part of the order, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has dedicated more staff to water testing and sampling and will receive support from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)'s Research Institute.
In addition to blue green algae, Florida has also been dealing with a major red tide bloom. Also known as K. brevis., the annual blooms usually break over the winter but this one has lingered since November.
Red tides are another kind of harmful algae bloom that prefers salt water and can cause coughing, sneezing, tearing eyes and sore throat. In people with asthma or other chronic respiratory problems the symptoms can be more severe.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said that instances of respiratory irritation were reported over the past week in several areas including Manatee County, Sarasota County, and Lee County.
The FWC continues to receive reports of fish kills in the region. Incidents were reported at two beaches in Manatee County, and several locations in Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee and Collier County.
Dr. Robin Bast, veterinarian at the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife said the clinic typically gets 400 or 10% of their patients from red tide blooms annually but that this year has been worse.
Dr. Bast said "this year in particular we've been seeing a lot more birds and sea turtles than we have in previous years because of the severity and the length of the bloom itself."
The clinic is currently treating 1 loggerhead and 5 critically endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtles for red tide poisoning. The turtles were found either washed up on shore or floating in the water.
Dr. Bast said "the toxins affects nervous system in birds and sea turtles so they usually present with a variety of neurologic signs, some of them come in in complete comas, others are too weak to stand."
At the clinic, turtles and birds receive intravenous fluids until they are strong enough to receive them orally. Animals are often very thin and need nutritional support so they are put on a critical care liquid diet until they can build up the strength to return to their normal diets.
Dr. Bast added "often times because they have neurologic deficits it slows down the motility of their GI tract and so they can get secondary issues with their GI tract and also with their respiratory system so we'll treat them for that as well."
While it is unclear when the red tide bloom will end, the clinic works closely with the FWC to monitor blooms and determine what areas are safest to release wildlife once they are rehabilitated.