MATLACHA, Fla. — A disturbing sight in Matlacha canals is causing residents to rethink about getting in the water.
Dead fish are popping up, floating on top of a brown substance that some are likening to muck. It’s a sight- and smell- that’s causing a disturbance on the island.
“It’s just a shame that they have to smell it and see it when they’re visiting our beautiful island,” says Leoma Lovegrove, Owner of Lovegrove Gallery and Gardens.
Harmful algal blooms, resembling muck, taking over the island’s canals. Not only is it causing a nauseous aroma, but it’s killing the water’s inhabitants with hundreds of dead fish floating on its surface.
“Somebody had told us about it when we got back and I was like, ‘What is that smell?’ We got back at night and then the next morning it was just filled. We couldn’t believe it," said Lovegrove.
Lovegrove is a local business owner, of a gallery on one of the canals. As big of a tourist destination the island is, Lovegrove says the smell and the sight is driving visitors away.
“Our customers, who are usually hanging out outside in our garden snapping pictures here are staying inside because it stinks so much," she says. "And if it’s toxic, we need to know! We need to know what it is.”
“Never. Never saw anything like this before," says says Thomas Terrell, Matlacha resident. "It was eyes burning, things of that nature. I couldn’t stay out back when it was really thick in the back. Out front here, now, it’s out here so we can’t sit in the front."
Terrell is a resident, sharing the same canal as Lovegrove. He says the blooms have been overwhelming, not only to his own body but to the wildlife as well.
“We could go out and catch our supper in just a short time- mangrove snappers, there’s all types of fish back there including bird life. With this algae and things coming in, we’re seeing the little baby fish jump through the holes in the algae and die on the surface.”
Experts say the underlying cause of the blooms is nutrient enrichment- meaning there’s too much nitrogen and phosphorous.
Which can be a health risk to humans.
“It kind of depends on the concentration and the duration you’re exposed," said John Cassani, Calusa Waterkeeper. "You can have exposure by swimming or ingesting it or, if you’re breathing the aerosolized particles, you can have some risks from that as well.”
One form of action being taken right now is the right to clean water movement. It’s formed, as Cassani says, as a result of the inability to manage these pollutants.
“We’re hoping this will give us another legal tool in the toolbox to try to get some better compliance on these pollution issues.”
In the meantime, residents just want to see their paradise protected.
“I’m thankful for anything anybody can do to help this water crisis that is all over," said Lovegrove. "We’re a small little island but we’re out there, people know who Matlacha is.”>>
“We’ve got a beautiful place here, we sure don’t want to lose it," says Terrell.