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The Algae That Devastated Florida's Coasts Also Contained 28 Kinds Of Bacteria, Study Finds

Blue-green algae along the shore of Martin County. Blue-green algae blooms on Florida's Treasure Coast last summer had a devastating impact on the region's tourism, fishing and wildlife.
Martin County Health Department
/
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Blue-green algae blooms that devastated Florida's coasts last summer contained as many as 28 types of bacteria, some of which can harm humans.

 

That's according to scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, who tested water taken from Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie Estuary last June and July. In a new study, the researchers report the bacteria behind the blooms is Microcystis aeruginosa, which can cause liver damage. They say other bacteria found in the blooms produce neurotoxins, and the algae also can cause rashes, respiratory irritation and vomiting.

 

"There are a multitude of species, each with their own ability to create blooms... and many with the ability to create toxins harmful to wildlife or people," lead author Barry Rosen said in a USGS press release. "It's not just a single organism out there that has the potential to cause a harmful algae bloom."

 

Last year, discharges of excess water from Lake Okeechobee catalyzed  an eruption of blue-green algae blooms on both of Florida's coasts. The algae killed fish, nauseated residents and choked tourism in coastal cities, leading Senate President Joe Negron to push for a reservoir plan intended to limit future Lake O discharges and help restore natural water flow through the greater Everglades ecosystem.

 

The USGS researchers say fertilizer in water from lawns and agriculture contributes to the blooms, as does water that’s warm and slow-moving. Rosen says his team is working to understand why blooms may or may not emerge under similar conditions.

 

A spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District says no organized blooms have been reported this year.

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Kate Stein can't quite explain what attracts her to South Florida. It's more than just the warm weather (although this Wisconsin native and Northwestern University graduate definitely appreciates the South Florida sunshine). It has a lot to do with being able to travel from the Everglades to Little Havana to Brickell without turning off 8th Street. It's also related to Stein's fantastic coworkers, whom she first got to know during a winter 2016 internship.Officially, Stein is WLRN's environment, data and transportation journalist. Privately, she uses her job as an excuse to rove around South Florida searching for stories à la Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan. Regardless, Stein speaks Spanish and is always thrilled to run, explore and read.