Lee’s health department warns of cyanobacteria in Caloosahatchee


The bad news: Toxic blue-green algae is blooming in the Caloosahatchee near a popular boat launch.

The good news: We have been warned.

The Lee County Health Department on Monday placed a red sign a few steps from the water and sent out a press release after samples collected by the state’s environmental protection agency had showed algae toxins in the water: “The public should exercise caution in and around Caloosahatchee River – Davis Boat Ramp,” the statement said.

The announcement followed several blooms of microorganisms, correctly known as cyanobacteria, which were sighted by members of the nonprofit Calusa Waterkeeper in recent weeks and shared on social media. .

As awareness of blooms and their potential risks to health and the environment increased, so did agency responses to the public.

“A few years ago we had to beg and advocate for an answer, and now it looks like they’re doing it a bit more proactively,” said Calusa water warden John Cassani. “And it’s good.”

So far, it’s the only place in the county the department is warning people about, spokeswoman Tammy Soliz said, but the state’s environmental protection department continues to take regular samples. some samples.

A sign warning that the toxins from the algae haven't stopped people from going to the Davis Boat Ramp in Fort Myers Shores.

On Tuesday morning, stale avocado-tinted water lapped against the embankment of the ramp and boaters descended from boats equipped with fishing rods into the river despite warnings in the press release:

  • Do not drink, swim, wade, use a personal watercraft, water ski or boat in waters where there is a visible bloom.
  • Wash your skin and clothes with soap and water if you come in contact with algae or discolored or smelly water.
  • Keep pets away from the area. Waters with algae blooms are not safe for animals. Pets and livestock should have a different water source if there is an algae bloom.

Cyanotoxins can cause diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Long-term exposure has been linked to fatal liver disease and kidney damage.

Further upstream, the water appeared clear at the Alva boat launch and WP Franklin Lock, although a yellow sign warns visitors that algae toxins may be present.

Although the ramp toxin level is “a pretty low number… they’re very cautious, which is good,” said Barry Rosen, FGCU professor and head of algae. “You have an organism there, and you don’t know if it’s going to start to grow, so they report it.”

Since a devastating series of cyanobacterial blooms coupled with a lingering red tide devastated the region in 2018, a lot has changed.

Shortly after taking office, Governor Ron DeSantis issued a sweeping executive order focused on water quality. Among its highlights: $ 2.5 billion for Everglades restoration and water protection – the highest level of restoration funding in state history – a blue algae task force -Green, a scientific director position, phasing out septic tanks, enforcing environmental crime and establishing a coastal protection and resilience office to fund and coordinate the sea level rise response.

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Blooms of cyanobacteria often occur in the summer, when heavy rains flush nutrients from the soil into the river. They’re less common in the winter, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still dump polluted Lake Okeechobee water into the river, and there are flowers on the lake’s south shore, Cassani said.

Runoff is a double-edged sword, as fresh water is needed to keep the estuary healthy and to prevent it from becoming too salty.

Yet these “periodic releases of nutrient-laden waters and cyanobacteria from Lake Okeechobee,” worry researcher Paul Cox, who heads the Brain Chemistry Labs in Wyoming. Despite being based in the West, his institution’s research into algal toxins and neurodegenerative diseases keeps Southwest Florida focused on his work, which has been highlighted in scientific journals and national media. , including in Fortune magazine.

It can be horrible, Cox says. During the 2018 algae crisis, “We received calls from concerned citizens and post-mortem tissue from their animals that had fallen into it,” he told the Naples World Affairs Council earlier this year. “At worst, high levels of microcystin can kill a dog by essentially dissolving its liver in as little as about 30 minutes.”

This is why Cassani and other advocates would like the state to develop consistent and enforceable policies on testing and warning.

In the meantime, he says, “I just hope people recognize this and change their behavior to avoid exposure.”

About cyanobacteria

Is it harmful? Blooms of blue-green algae can impact human health and ecosystems, including fish and other aquatic animals.

Additional information on the potential health effects of algal blooms is available on the Florida Department of Health Aquatic Toxins website.

Find up-to-date information on the state of Florida’s water quality and public health notifications regarding harmful algal blooms and beach conditions by visiting ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov. Protecting Florida Together is the state’s joint effort to provide statewide water quality information to prioritize environmental transparency and commitment to action.

What if I see an algae bloom? The Florida Department of Environmental Protection collects and analyzes samples of algae blooms. To report blooming to DEP, call the toll-free helpline at 855-305-3903 or report it online.

To report fish deaths, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute at 1-800-636-0511.

Report symptoms of exposure to a harmful algal bloom or any aquatic toxin to the Florida Poison Information Center, call 1-800-222-1222 to speak to a poison specialist immediately.