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Could our algae blooms be linked to Caloosahatchee tributaries?

Posted at 5:11 PM, Jun 18, 2024

SANIBEL, Fla. — Its green...Its slimy...And even sometimes stinky. Almost every year, we experience some kind of algae bloom gunking up our waterways.

Our waterways are so important to us here in Southwest Florida, whether it's for work or play. And when that waterway is out of balance, we all feel it.

Fox 4 Meteorologist Andrew Shipley went out with the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation to learn about some of the research they are doing looking into the nutrients in our waterways and how we can detect blue green algae and other types of algae ahead of time, to give us that early warning.

According to NOAA, harmful algal blooms cost the us an estimated 10-100 million dollars per year.

“It’s phenomenal that is becoming more frequent here, locally, and also around the United States,” said Dr. Eric Milbrandt, SCCF Marine Laboratory Director.

But how do we detect these blooms sooner, when they are small? And maybe when they are small enough to treat before they get out of control. Those are questions that Dr. Milbrandt Is trying answer with his research.

“Once the bloom events are large and very obvious to everyone on the Caloosahatchee, that's when they become a problem,” said Dr. Milbrandt.

Every month Dr. Milbrandt and his team travel up the Caloosahatchee to the tributaries that feed the river. This is where he believes our algae blooms could originate from.

“We are trying to figure out when they happen and where they happen, so we can try to mitigate them in the future and at the very least provide some kind of early warning,” said Dr. Milbrandt.

But treating these blooms let alone preventing them is no easy task.

“The reality is today; we can’t really treat algae blooms,” explained Dr. Milbrandt. “They are just too big. They are too expensive. The best thing to do is prevent the blooms by understanding how they form and where they form. That way in the future we can then try to engineer or try and make some kind of decisions to prevent the spread.”

Dr. Milbrandt hopes that with better understanding, a model can be designed to better predict these blooms and can handle them before they grow out of control.

“Someday we may be able to provide a 3-to-5-day forecast, we hope, but we are a long way from that,” said Dr. Milbrandt. “Right now, we really want to understand, how and when the blooms are starting.”

But in the meantime, Dr. Milbrandt reinforced the need for Everglades restoration projects and lowering our human contributions of nutrients into the system, fertilizer bans and septic to sewer conversions.

“We don’t want to create conditions that are out of balance,” said Dr. Milbrandt. “And when you have the warmer temperatures that we are having, it is more conducive to out-of-control blooms. They just grow faster. So, that is a challenge we are just going to have to manage.