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Lake Okeechobee low levels help restoring natural habitat, algae blooms still present

Posted: 11:00 PM, Jun 12, 2019
Updated: 2019-06-12 23:00:05-04

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. -- Tracking the toxins. Fox 4 is getting an up-close look at the health of Lake Okeechobee, before more of the water is released to our rivers, canals and beaches.

The Okee-Tani boat ramp on the northwest shore of Lake O is where Dr. Paul Gray from Audubon Florida launched his airboat, blue-green algae was clearly seen. There was no visible algae found out on the shallow parts where only an airboat could get to.

“Back in here there’s too many plants to compete with the algae for nutrients so we don’t have algae blooms back here,” said Dr. Paul Gray, Scientist, Audubon Florida.

Toxic blue-green algae blooms feeds off of higher levels of phosphorous and nitrogen in the lake. Dr. Gray says blue-green algae is usually found in the middle of the lake, but it's hard to see with the naked eye.

“Not only is this a toxin danger to us, it also harms the ecosystem of Lake Okeechobee and our ability to have a great industry like Okeechobee is famous for,” said Dr. Gray.

Right now, the level of the lake is low at 11 feet, it's usually around 12 to 15 feet.

“We don’t want to go down to 11 feet every year, but this year while we are trying to recover we lost 60 square miles of plant communities from that deep water, and this is a way to recover it,” said Dr. Gray.

One-third of the 450,000 acre lake is made up of marsh and it helps purify the water. When Hurricane Irma hit the vegetation drowned because the lake level rose to 17 feet.

Low lake levels aren't ideal for fisherman or farmers, but Dr. Gray says it's the medicine the lake needs right now.

It might also help from having another a super bloom this summer, “if history is any indicator this won’t be as bad a summer, but again we are seeing some blooms already, so it’s anyones guess at how bad it’ll be,” said Dr. Gray.