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Blue-green algae found in North Fort Myers canal has homeowners feeling uneasy

Blue-green algae
Posted at 4:37 PM, Sep 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-09 05:22:22-04

NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. — Blue-green algae have been found in a North Fort Myers canal and people are not only seeing it but smelling it as well.

It blooms during this time of year, but one homeowner along the canal says in her 20 years here she has never seen it in her own backyard. Chelsea Jackson started to notice the algae on Saturday.

"But Sunday is really when it started looking green. I had to come out and look closer to see if I was seeing things," Jackson said.

During the week, the sight and stench got worse.

"Maybe kinda like a rotten egg kind of smell," Jackson said. "My daughter has asthma and some other sensitivity so I’ve definitely told her you to need to stay in, walking to the car is good, just until we know that it’s good."

Staying in is something that's suggested by John Cassani with Calusa Waterkeeper. It's among many things people should do if algae is present, according to the CDC.

Cassani says the cyanobacteria can potentially produce two types of toxins. There are several factors to create the algae blooms, such as nutrients forming from stormwater runoff.

"It’s really, really warm right now and that helps to enable this kind of creature to come out and out compete for the more common ones that we see other times of the year," Cassani said.

Fertilizer can also help blooms grow. Lee County has an ordinance that limits the use of fertilizer through the summer months.

Cassani says he believes there's a way to get a handle on the algae in the long run.

"In my opinion to get to the root cause of the problem is the legislature and the local government has to fund restoration programs," he explained. "One of the key components to restoration is to reduce the nutrient load."

We reached out to Lee County on Thursday about the algae found in the North Fort Myers neighborhood.

Lee County continues to monitor the canal in North Fort Myers where algae is present.

Lee County Natural Resources staff also have done visual inspections of neighboring canals in North Fort Myers. Similar algae blooms are not present at this time.

Per usual operations, Natural Resources continues its weekly survey in several locations along the Caloosahatchee River and find nothing atypical at this time.

The county recognizes the current algae in this canal is unpleasant for residents of neighboring properties and empathizes with those residents.

The current algae bloom is not to the scale of what North Fort Myers experienced during the summer of 2018. However, the county remains vigilant and stands ready to address a large-scale outbreak, should it occur. Per Board of County Commissioners’ direction – and as with the past fiscal years since 2018 – Lee County has algae-remediation contractors on retainer so that if mobilization of equipment is necessary, the process can happen quickly.

What Natural Resources staff are seeing in this North Fort Myers canal is not surprising for late summer in Southwest Florida. Warm water temperatures, extended hours of sunshine, presence of nutrients and lack of circulation at a dead-end canal provide ideal conditions for algae growth.

Wind and tide can move algae patches such as the one being seen in North Fort Myers and can make remediation challenging. Also, algae blooms such as this can dissipate naturally.

While the county continues to monitor, it also encourages residents countywide to be mindful of the fertilizer ordinance. Improper use of fertilizer can aid algae blooms during summertime.

"There’s not much you can do to do something immediately, to immediately change this situation," Cassani said. "The runoffs from the rain we’ve been having bring the nutrients into the system."

Jackson said she could tell right away what it was, but wishes officials would've told her about it.

"There should be some kind of door hangers, some kind of mailers, maybe even at the beginning of summer when that can be more prevalent," she explained.

Calusa Waterkeeper will be out at the canal next week testing the air to see if any toxins are floating around.

We reached out to the Department of Health about the algae and what the state is doing to combat it. As of Thursday evening, we have not heard back.