PAHOKEE – The Pahokee marina has been plagued with algal blooms over the years, when hot weather warms up the still water in the boat basin. Is the current bloom an indication of something more?
Dr. Paul Gray of Florida Audubon took photos of an algal bloom at the Pahokee marina on April 22. “The closed in boat basin prevents it from flushing well, so it builds up,” he explained.
Gray said the conditions in Pahokee could indicate potential for more algae problems this summer. “The 2016 and 2018 super-bloom years had very wet antecedent conditions. 2016 followed the El Nino winter and 2018 followed Hurricane Irma. We think the extra injection of watershed nutrients puts Lake Okeechobee over the top for a super bloom. Last fall was a very wet event too, and we are worried it portends another superbloom summer,” he explained. “Time will tell.”
According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protect report, tests on a water sample taken April 12 indicated the bloom was “mixed algae with no dominant taxon.” No toxins were detected.
“DEP’s testing is not rigorous enough to give us a good idea of what is going on,” explained Gray. “Toxin levels can change hourly and be very different even 100 feet apart.” He said that makes it very hard to get the number of samples needed for a good overview.
FDEP advises the public not to swim or allow pets near water with visible algae, because you cannot tell by looking at it what kind of algae or cyanobacteria are in the water, or if toxins may be present. In the Lake Okeechobee Waterway, which includes the St. Lucie River, the St. Lucie Canal, Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River, 28 species of cyanobateria have been documented by the U.S. Geological Survey. About 25% of species of cyanobacteria are capable of producing toxins. At least two species known to be common in Lake Okeechobee - Microcystis Aeruginosa and Anabaena – are capable of producing toxins. However, cyanobacteria capable of producing toxins do not always do so. It takes a laboratory test to determine if toxins are present and at what level. Microcystin levels above 1 microgram per liter are considered unsafe for drinking water. Levels above 8 micrograms per liter are considered unsafe for human recreational contact (such as swimming.)
Even if there are no toxins present, the water could contain other health concerns. In 2018 when another algae bloom plagued the Pahokee marina, Palm Beach County health officials tested the water for fecal coliform bacteria and found raw sewage in the water, according to a 2018 article in the Palm Beach Post.
“The only sewage on the inside of the dike would be from the marina infrastructure and I don’t know if that’s enough to do it,” said Gray. “But that marina has such persistent blooms, even when other places don’t, there is something going on there that nurtures them.”
In an April 22 media call, Col. Andrew Kelly, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District, said FDEP will increase water monitoring next month, and continue the more rigorous monitoring throughout the summer.
On Friday, Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said her office has asked Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management Department Director Deborah Drum to investigate conditions at the marina.