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Algal blooms are nothing new to Florida boaters, but that doesn’t make them any easier to take. A blue-green bloom
developed in May in the state’s massive Lake Okeechobee, which empties to
the Atlantic Ocean through several rivers
and estuaries. St. Lucie River in Martin
County was fouled all summer, affecting
beachgoers, tourists, and boaters.
“When you see the photos of green
water, you don’t realize how thick this
stuff is,” says Phil Norman, co-owner of
Outboards Only, a repair shop in Jensen
Beach. “This crud is suspended through
the water column.” Norman says his repair
work is down 21 percent because small
boaters “are afraid to use their boats.”
The issue has been a political hot potato
for years, with blame directed at Gov. Rick
Scott, who faults the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers for releasing too much water
from the Okeechobee, which is necessary
to keep pressure off the Okeechobee dike.
As people point fingers and search for
solutions, nature takes its course, and local
Charlie Poveromo owns Action
Mobile Marine in St. Lucie, which services boats in their slips. “I was doing a
monthly service recently, and the water-intake strainer was full of algae,” he says.
“I got some splashed in my face, and my
eye swelled up so much I had to see a doctor, who gave me antibiotics to clear it up.”
In mid-July, the USACE was able to
reduce the amount of water flowing from
Lake Okeechobee into rivers and estuaries; within a week, local residents reported
the algal bloom was abating. A permanent
solution to the chronic problem is still
decades away. — R.A.
Blue-green algae is a naturally occurring part of the food chain
that can explode in growth after a particularly heavy rainy
season. Nutrient pollution, such as nitrogen and phosphorus
from agricultural runoff, significantly worsens the outbreaks.