Florida's toxic algae crisis: Conditions ripe for years of blue-green algae blooms

Scientists expect more outbreaks of toxic blue-green algae this summer.

The state has already found blooms in Sarasota, but university scientists say they are not testing as much as they would like due to funding constraints. 

"One unfortunate circumstance is: We almost have to wait for the next bloom so we can initiate the next level of studies and a lot of that is related to funding,” said Dr. Mike Parsons, a leading marine science professor at Florida Gulf Coast University. 

Florida is paying the price for decades of unchecked development. Rains wash fertilizer from lawns and farms into waterways while aging wastewater systems leak pollution from below.

It feeds the cyanobacteria that cause a thick layer blue-green sludge on the water's surface. 

After years of rolling back environmental regulations and dismantling state controls on urban sprawl, scientists say Florida needs to reexamine its policies and priorities. 

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Blue-green slime and red tide: An in-depth look at Florida's water crisis

The EPA also ties Florida's toxic water crisis to climate change because cyanobacteria need nutrients and heat. As the water gets hotter, it creates a better climate for the toxic blooms to thrive.

Dr. Parsons is one of the five experts Gov. DeSantis picked to serve on a new toxic algae task force, which will recommend remedies and solutions.

Parsons said the state should focus on improving a response plan to remove toxic blooms across the state.

%INLINE%He said the state should proactively warn the public of the danger and provide an easy way for citizens to report blooms. Then the state should promptly activate cleanup crews to remove the algae in a way that addresses the safety of the crews and methods of disposal. 

“It’s almost easier to kill it and sink it, but now you’ve got a sludge problem you’re creating that could fertilize next year’s bloom,” said Parsons. 

He noted, between existing blooms, leftover sludge from past blooms, and fertilizer already in the soil, future cyanobacteria have plenty from which to feed.

“They don’t even have to add phosphate onto the fields anymore and you’re still having high levels of phosphate leaching into the waters,” he said. “That could be happening for decades”

%INLINE%Previous coverage: Florida's toxic water crisis

- Toxins found in air concern researchers
Brain toxins produced by blue-green algae concern researchers
- Blue-green algae suffocating part of Sarasota County's Lemon Bay