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Sarasota Monday, May 13, 2019 3 months ago

New algal bloom in county waters sparks health concerns among residents

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A foul-smelling bloom of algae has been located in Sarasota County's Intracoastal Waterway.
by: Samantha Chaney Staff Writer

It was another warm, sunny day for Annie Howell — another day spent pouring draft beers and serving patrons at the outdoor Casey Key Fish House tiki bar, located just off the water at Blackburn Point Park.

And thankfully, on this particular Friday, the stink of the brown clumps in the water wasn’t driving away any more of her customers.

“It’s been terrible. It smells like raw sewage,” she said of the algae floating nearby. “Fortunately, [the customers] don’t notice it as much as I do, because I’m here for 12 hours. I’m a little bit more subjected to it.”

Of late, Sarasota County officials — in conjunction with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection — have been monitoring the presence of filamentous cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, called Lyngbya majuscula in nearby waterways.

This particular type of algae is noted for its brown matted appearance, as well as the foul smell it emits as it decays. According to FDEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller, it typically grows during the summer when temperatures are warmer, daylight hours are longer and the water contains higher levels of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous.

And as its presence follows a particularly devastating red tide outbreak, residents have been concerned over what the impacts of another algal bloom might mean for their health.

Howell is one of those concerned residents.

“I get a stuffy nose, dry throat, watery eyes. Similar to a red tide feeling,” she noted. “Like I said, it’s unfortunate, because I do feel like this is something I see in decades down where people are going to have bigger problems. And when we had red tide really bad last summer, I developed chronic laryngitis. So, you’ve got to wonder what the long term effect is. And that’s my biggest concern.”

“It affects people that are here and their breathing,” echoed Jimmy Von Hubertz, who owns the tiki bar where Howell works. “Some people will leave because they can feel it in their chest.”

But, according to Sarasota County officials, the algae is relatively safe unless you make physical contact with it.

“Lyngbya wollei algae health concerns become serious when patrons come in contact with it in a physical nature, i.e. walking, wading, and swimming through it,” the county announced in a May 8 Facebook post. “Respiratory impacts are not common in Southwest Florida as the toxins are generally not aerosolized easily (like red tide).”

Additionally, when the FDEP tested the Lyngbya majuscula sample from Blackburn Point Park, they did not detect any of the associated the toxins that the algae might produce.

Of course, not everybody was concerned to begin with.

Brian King, who owns Island Jet Ski Tours and Rentals adjacent to Von Hubert’s business, likened the presence of the algae to that of seasonal leaves. King regularly swims through the algae as he cleans his boats and says the bloom has not affected his business.

“People know it’s a natural thing that happens every year,” he said. “It’s not red tide. It’s just like the shedding of the leaves every fall. This stuff comes out every spring, early summer. It eventually just decays, disintegrates and goes away.”

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