See algae in the water? Don’t swim there and don’t let pets swim there or drink the water. That’s the advice from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Algae and cyanobacteria are present in all freshwater. They are part of the ecosystem and the base of the food chain. Under certain conditions, algae and cyanobacteria can rapidly reproduce into a large visible mass, called a “bloom.” According to the U.S. Geological Service, about 25% of the known species of cyanobacteria that live in the Lake Okeechobee waterway are capable of producing toxins. Cyanobacteria capable of producing toxins do not always do so. But there’s no way to tell what kind of algae and/or cyanobacteria is present or whether or not toxins may be present just by looking it.
The Lake Okeechobee Waterway includes the Caloosahatchee River, Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie Canal and the St. Lucie River.
Better safe than sorry. If you can see visible algae, stay out of the water they advise.
Based on information provided by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Health, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers advises the public, marinas, and those operating commercial and recreational vessels through the Okeechobee Waterway that there is the potential of encountering Blue Green Algae.
On March 29, FDEP sampled a small algal bloom within a stagnant area of the Port Mayaca Lock. The sample included cyanobacteria with microcystin toxin levels at 0.79 micrograms per liter. The World Health Organization considers levels above 1 microgram per liter to be unsafe to drink and levels about 8 micrograms per liter unsafe for human recreational contact, such as swimming.
According to the Florida Department of Health, visitors should be aware that water from areas with blue-green algae can make animals and people sick, and they should stay away from these areas.
This algae may be blue, bright green, brown or red, and can have a strong odor like rotting plants. People who are very sensitive to smells may have respiratory irritation.
If you come into contact with blue-green algae, get out of the area and wash off with soap and water, advises FDEP. See your doctor if you think blue-green algae has made you sick.
The following precautions should be taken if you see algae:
• Do not swim at this location.
• Avoid getting water in your eyes, nose or mouth.
• Do not eat shellfish from affected area.
• Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water. Throw out the guts. Cook fish well. (If toxins are present they will be most concentrated in the liver.)
• Keep pets and livestock away from affected location.
For Information about algal blooms, visit:
• The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Water Quality Status Map at https://protectingfloridatogether.gov/water-quality-status/lake-okeechobee,
• The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Algal Bloom Dashboard at https://floridadep.gov/AlgalBloom or call 850-245-2118.
• The Florida Department of Health’s Harmful Algae Blooms web page at http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental- health/aquatic-toxins/harmful-algae-blooms/index.html or call 850-245-4250.
For up-to-date Lock information contact the shift operator 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at:
• St. Lucie Lock & Dam 772-287-2665 or 863-662-9148
• Port Mayaca Lock & Dam 561-924-2858 or 863-662-9424
• Moore Haven Lock & Dam 863-946-0414 or 863-662-9533
• Ortona Lock & Dam 863-675-0616 or 863- 662-9846
• WP Franklin Lock & Dam 239-694-5451 or 863-662-9908
• Canaveral Lock 321-783-5421 or 863-662-0298 (6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.)
• U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Point of Contact is Gary Hipkins at Gary.L.Hipkins@usace.army.mil or 863-983-8101.