Understanding Cyanobacteria or Toxic Algae, SLR/IRL


Cyanobacteria in the St Lucie River, 2013. Photo Jenny Flaugh.
Cyanobacteria in the St Lucie River, 2013. Photo Jenny Flaugh.

I prefer not to focus on negative topics in my blog, however, it is important we learn about cyanobacteria or “toxic algae” while it is a hot topic as it has it is being released into our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon by the Army Corp of Engineers, as I compose this blog post.

I am going to provide “bullet points,” as I think this will be most effective. I have provided reading material at the end of the post should you be interested in pursuing the topic.

Toxic algae bloom S-308 2015, Lake Okeechobee. (Photo JTL)
Toxic algae bloom S-308, 2015, Lake Okeechobee. (Photo JTL)


Here we go; as no expert, I will do my best:


-Cyanobacteria has characteristics  of both bacteria and algae; it is not a “true algae”

-It is referred to as “blue-green algae”

– It is ancient, the oldest form of life on our planet, perhaps 3.5 billion years old

– It is believed to have created the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere thus defining life on Earth

-It can live in both fresh and salt water environments and in-between

-It exists worldwide in inland and coastal waters (salt and fresh)

-There are “different” cynobacteria in different water environments; they adapt

– 46 species show toxic effects (World Health Organization, 1999)

-The most common FRESHWATER species is microcystis (species found in Lake O)

-The other “most common” species is neuotoxin

-Some species contain both microcysis and neuotoxins

-The World Health Organization recommends governments recognize the “presumption” that all cyanobacteria can be toxic

-Cyanobacteria is buoyant but some can also adjust where they live in the water column to attain the right amount of sunlight

-Buoyancy leads to floating on the water’s surface where winds drive them to shore and they accumulate in a “scum” that is even more “toxic” (concentrated) (Like Lake O)

-Cyanobacteria blooms are a threat to public health and wildlife

Cyanobacteria is encouraged by heavy “nutrients” like phosphorus and nitrogen to “bloom” (grow)

-The present warming trend of the Earth, compounded with human “waste” from agricultural fertilizer, septic and sewer, and “stromwater” from roadways (how we have designed all water to run off into our rivers and lakes) is “feeding” cyanobacteria blooms

-Cyanobacteria blooms are increasing worldwide

-Cyanobacteria can be “controlled” through lessening nutrient pollution from fertilizer and other nutrient producers

Sandsprit part 2013, (Photo: Bob Voisenet.)
Sandsprit Park 2013, (Photo: Bob Voisenet.)

About four years ago, I was at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute attending a lecture on “nutrient pollution and our waterways.” At the event, I spoke to Dr Margaret Leinen who is now director of Scripps Research Institution of Oceanography in California.  In the course of conversation, she told me she testified before Congress for the National Reasearch Council’s publication, “Clean Coastal Waters, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution, 2000” of which I had just read, and had been discussed at the lecture.

I asked her, why the US Congressional committee wasn’t “stricter” in passing laws to reduce agribusiness fertilizer runoff, and other sources since the scientists “knew” why our waters including the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and especially Lake Okeechobee were experiencing these toxic blooms.

She, being a lady, just looked at me and said something to the effect of, “Jacqui they don’t always listen….”

Her words have rung in my ears for four years.

No they don’t always listen. Most politicians wait until a crisis ensues as is happening now. We will have to make them listen…all of them: US politicians, state politicians, and local politicians. It is not fun, enforcing laws on polluters, especially if they are campaign donors, but now there is no choice; it is a health issue. We, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, are a voice for all the world.


The sample of toxic algae taken by DEP and reported from Martin County on 4-24-15 from Lake O read as follows: “Toxin analysis showed 8.4 µg of microcystin-LR per liter in the sample.” ( I do not know how to read this or how to compare it but it was “toxic.” )


Reading Material:

Clean Coastal Waters, National Academies Press: (http://www.nap.edu/catalog/9812/clean-coastal-waters-understanding-and-reducing-the-effects-of-nutrient)

World Health Organization: Guidelines for Safe Recreational Water Environments:  (http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/bathing/srwe1-chap8.pdf)


NOAA: (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/features/feb12/cyanobacteria.html)

The Rise of Harmful Cyanobacteria Blooms: (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1568988311001557)

12 thoughts on “Understanding Cyanobacteria or Toxic Algae, SLR/IRL

  1. They dont always listen… or they hear, but don’t actually understand the implications. I also fear we are overwhelmed by the idea of change in “how we do things”.

  2. Florida Sporfsman Staffer Trey Wheeler discovered the new toxic algae bloom at Lake O. And now we hear that the state scientists had been tracking it for some weeks without telling anyone, and State Sen. Joe Negron supposedly called for the gates to be closed but only after it was already out via Florida Sportsman and social media. Why was it kept secret by Negron and others?

    Fact is that the political power structure is still in league with the polluters and it’s a coverup begging to be exposed by the authorities. If Trey hadn’t documented the bloom it would still be Joe’s little secret.

  3. I spoke to one of the water testers out there yesterday. He didn’t that concerned about the whole thing. i wasn’t there last week so I have no basis of comparison but I did take a good wide shot and there just seemed like there was a little bit on our side and nothing on the other side.

    1. So you were there today? Good for you cyndi. Yes, the testers are probably “hired.” Like checking air in a tire…. I would love to see your phots. Probably most of the algae has passed into the c-44 canal.

      1. there was nothing on the lake side just on our side and i took that long shot from the overpass. There is also a small area to the right. Like I said in my blog I was not there last week so I have no basis of comparison. I have friends the work for SFWMD district. All good people. I know they have a very frustrating job and under strict orders to do their job and not talk to anyone.

  4. I have a question.What if instead of buying the sugar lands we instead simply built a massive water treament plant in Pahokee and used the thousands and thousands of acre feet of water dumped into the ocean every day as drinking water for the Dade-Broward metro area?Every gallon of water that gets filtered,areated and chlorinated is one less gallon that will be released into the St Lucie or Caloosahatchee waterways.Is it possible to use the large volume of fresh water to satisfy the water needs of a growing city on our coast and at the same time mitigate the pollution in our rivers?

    1. Julian thanks for writing. Your idea basically is one the Everglades Foundation sees happening one way or another. Pahokee of course would have to agree and benefit. It is my dream such a thing one day will will occur. Good thinking! Keep your ideas coming and spread them to your friends and family.!

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