Swim With Caution – Blue Green Algae Found Near Sanibel



This week, the Sand Paper received some disturbing news from the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s weekly report on water quality – Lee County’s Environmental Lab has documented that blue green algae has moved from the Alva boat ramp downriver, and elevated levels of cyanobacteria were found at Iona, the Sanibel Causeway and along the eastern shore of Sanibel Island. In addition, the nuisance algae ‘pyrodinium bahamense’ was documented by the SCCF in Pine Island Sound.

So what does this mean for the public? To use caution before entering the water, according to two scientists from the SCCF.

“This just means that our probes have detected it because they picked up the fluorescence that the bacteria gives off,” Dr. Rick Bartleson told us. “But right now it’s pretty diluted and the currents are distributing it. If you can actually see it in the water, you shouldn’t let your pets swim in it and you should be careful, but the Health Department hasn’t issued any warnings to stay out.”

The Lee County Department of Health did issue warnings for the Franklin Lock area in Alva during the first week of June, but Bartleson told us he knows of no plan to do that in our area anytime soon.

SCCF Director Rae Ann Wessel said there is a ‘definite disconnect’ between scientists at Lee’s Environmental Lab, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Department of Health.

“It’s really hard for the public to find out anything about health conditions related to our water,” she said. “The state really needs to set up some kind of hotline for people to call – they need to figure out a way to make the public aware.”

Wessel said that, in her opinion – based on 25+ years of experience with our local water woes – people should exercise caution before entering the Gulf of Mexico this weekend.

“Anyone with open cuts should definitely not go into the water,” she said. “Otherwise, look at the water – if it looks clear, even brownish clear – then it’s okay. If it doesn’t look good, stay out. Cyanobacteria has now been linked to diseases like ALS and Parkinson’s. This is a problem.”

We also still have the smelly brown water – this week lake releases averaged 4,156 cubic feet per second (cfs) and inflows from the watershed 7,135 cfs, two and a half times the harm threshold for the estuary. This deluge is steadily wreaking havoc on the fragile estuarine ecosystem: salinity levels have reached the lethal range for oysters at Iona, are below optimal for oysters and seagrass at Shell Point and dissolved oxygen concentrations have dipped into the hypoxic range near Beautiful Island. Dark, murky water extends out from the Caloosahatchee River into the Gulf, Pine Island Sound, through Blind and Redfish Passes and along Sanibel and Estero Islands – not unlike the ‘Summer of Brown Water’ in 2013.

We spoke with John Campbell, Public Affairs Specialist for the Army Corps of Engineers, and he told us that the Corps is ‘very concerned’ about the issues with the blue green algae, and that Governor Rick Scott has declared a ‘state of emergency’ for Martin and St. Lucie counties on the east coast of Florida – where widespread algae blooms have caused beaches to be closed and most inshore areas declared unsafe.

“What that declaration does is to allow more water to be held in the Kissimmee River basin north of the lake, thus reducing the inflows coming into the lake and thereby the amount of water we have to deal with,” he said. “So right now we’re hoping that will allow us to reduce flows to both the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers.”

Scott’s order also directs the DEP to establish a hotline for citizens to call to report algal blooms; to deploy teams of additional staff to more rapidly survey and sample areas impacted by algal blooms, and to purchase on-site Microsystin Testing Kits which would allow field staff to perform faster, preliminary tests for toxins on site. No word at press time as to when those directives will be filled.

To read more about blue green algae visit the Department of Health site: bit.ly/BGalgae


Keri Hendry Weeg