It’s an inland (and upland) problem with a serious coastal impact… and experts warn conditions in the future could make it even more prevalent in our coastal ecosystems.
The issue is colloquially referred to as “blue-green algae” (actually, cyanobacteria), which can produce harmful toxins. Florida is facing cyanobacteria-contaminated waters now, particularly on the east coast where Lake Okeechobee (source for the freshwater bacteria, which is very resistant to salt water) drains into the Atlantic. But these blooms have occurred on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts and on the Great Lakes, with increasing regularity and growing scope and longevity. This isn’t just a U.S. problem, by the way – China, for one, has seen serious blooms in recent years, as have other areas in the Pacific Ocean.
Experts predict we could see more of these deadly blooms in the years ahead if conditions are left unchanged. Why? Because the conditions that spawn them are likely to become more prevalent and persistent.
The impact is equally serious all across the ecosystem. By reducing the dissolved oxygen while releasing toxins in the water, these blooms wreak havoc with fish, plants, birds and anything else that relies on clean water to thrive. That can include humans, who can be sickened by inhaling or ingesting the toxins – so the potential impact to drinking water drawn from contaminated areas is equally distressing.
And, of course, the recreational (and, therefore, economic) impact of these blooms on boating, fishing and beach usage is substantial and lingering. How bad? In addition to the actual closure of beaches and waterways due to high levels of toxins from a bloom, imagine trying to erase the images of pea-soup-green waters along your coastal or riverine waters in the minds of tourists with long memories and plenty of other vacation choices.
What can coastal advocates and managers do?
The problems that have spawned these toxic algae blooms took years (decades) to develop, so obviously solving the dilemma may take just as long. The danger is that the longer action is delayed the worst the environmental damage can be – and the more expensive any reasonable repair will become.
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