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Florida's Toxic Algae Bloom Now Visible From Space; What You Need To Know About This Algal Invasion

Jul 08, 2016 04:30 AM EDT

What used to be bustling Florida beaches during summers turned to ghastly ghost towns, as a thick, foul-smelling, green sludge of toxic algae took over its waterfront and waterways.

The algae invasion has been so widespread that it can actually be seen from space.

The Landsat 8 satellite of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) captured an image of Lake Okeechobee on July 2, showing the blue-green algae bloom.

The caption on the image describes the blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, as single-celled organisms that use photosynthesis to make their food. The bacteria grow quickly when nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are abundant in still or slow-moving water, causing an overgrowth that can cause detrimental effects to the ecosystem.

Here is what you need to know about this harmful bloom:

Why did this toxic algae bloom happen?

Algae blooms are actually common during summers, as the temperature is warm enough for their growth. But they cause major issues in humans and wildlife if they are widespread and lingering.

The blame for this sludge that now blanket Florida's beaches should also be put on pollution from manure and fertilizer sewage, according to environment organization Earthjustice, as per CNN.

In the same report, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, however, put the blame on water storage limitations.

Where did it start and why is it now on Florida beaches?

While the harmful bloom began in Lake Okeechobee, the release of the nutrient-rich water in the St. Lucie Estuary to prevent flooding has caused the bloom to invade the beaches.

What are the effects of harmful algae blooms?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listed such effects of harmful algae bloom:

  • Produce extremely dangerous toxins that can sicken or kill both people and animals
  • Create dead zones in the water, or areas that life cannot be supported
  • Hike up treatment costs for drinking water
  • Hurt industries that are dependent on clean water

In humans, algae can cause rashes, nausea, diarrhea and respiratory issues. Longer exposure can result in liver and kidney damage, as well as possible nervous system damage, the Sun Sentinel reported.

Toxic algae blooms can also kill sea grass and small animals, like shrimp and crabs.

Since the beaches have been forced to close due to the horrible smell, Florida's economy has also been hurt, as businesses and tourism enterprises have also been affected.

What is happening now?

Officials are continuing the tests on the samples collected from the water to gauge its toxicity level. The Army Corps are also reducing the water flow from the estuaries.

A state of emergency has now been declared for four counties, namely Martin, Lee, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties.

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