U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues algae warning

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.

The Okeechobee Waterway is the coast-to-coast waterway from the St. Lucie Inlet on the east coast, west into the St. Lucie Canal entering Lake Okeechobee at Port Mayaca, across Lake Okeechobee to Moore Haven connecting with the Caloosahatchee River at Moore Haven, then along the Caloosahatchee River to Fort Myers.

Lake Okeechobee News/Katrina Elsken
The Lake Okeechobee Waterway includes the Caloosahatchee River, Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie Canal and the St. Lucie River. This photo of the Franklin Lock on the Caloosahatchee River was taken on Monday. There was no algae in sight.

The following precautions should be taken if you see algae:
• You should not swim at this location.
• Avoid getting water in your eyes, nose or mouth.
• You should not eat shellfish from affected area.
• Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water. Throw out the guts. Cook fish well.
• You should keep pets and livestock away from a location that has a visible algal bloom.

According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, you cannot tell what kind of algae or cyanobacteria is present by looking at an algal bloom.

There are many kinds of algae and cyanobacteria (called blue green algae, but not technically a true algae) that are part of the natural ecosystem of the waterway. You cannot tell whether or not toxins are present without testing. FDEP advises the public to err on the side of caution when dealing with algal blooms. Some species of blue green algae are capable of producing toxins; some are not. Those capable of producing toxins do not always do so.

The Environmental Protection Agency considers toxin levels above 8 micrograms per liter to be unsafe for human recreational contract.

The most recent tests available for the Okeechobee Waterway indicate:
• An algal bloom inside the wing walls at the Port Mayaca Lock was sampled on July 2. Tests indicated it had toxins levels of 3 micrograms per liter, The dominant taxon was Microcystis aeurginso
• A June 24 sample of mixed algae taken in the Caloosahatchee River in Glades County had no toxins.
• A July 1 sample of an algal bloom at the Caloosahatchee River near the LaBelle bridge was mixed algae with no dominant taxon. No toxins were detected.
• A June 10 sample taken on the Caloosahatchee River in Lee County east of the Franklin Lock had no dominant algae and no toxins.
• A June 24 sample taken near the Paradise Canal in Lee County had no toxins. Dominant taxon was filamentous cyanobacteria (Lyngbya-like).

Algal blooms have also been reported north of Fort Myers along the coast.

For current updates on algal blooms and testings, go online to floridadep.gov/AlgalBloom.

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