Tourists visiting Florida’s turquoise-colored beaches on the Fourth of July weekend may find a toxic soup of water instead that can cause skin rashes and drew concern for the fate of marine animals.
A blue-green algae outbreak caused miles of waterways and beaches to be closed.
US Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) called on President Barack Obama to declare a state of emergency to help businesses harmed by the algae bloom in Florida’s southern rivers and beaches.
Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in St. Lucie and Martin counties over the algae problem and as local politicians and residents blame the federal government. Scott added two more counties, Lee and Palm Beach, to the emergency declaration on Thursday.
The US Army Corps of Engineers regularly pumps water east and west of Lake Okeechobee, the state’s largest freshwater lake, to relieve pressure on the lake’s aging dike. They said they would reduce the pumping during the crisis.
The algae bloom was triggered by high rainfall, high temperatures and nutrient-rich water. The area saw a similar crisis in 2005, but not the size of this latest one.
Algae samples from the lake taken earlier this month found levels of toxins 20 times higher than a safety threshold set by the World Health Organization.
Florida residents complained of skin rashes from the bloom. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is telling people to steer clear of discolored water and not to use it to water their lawns. Other potential health concerns include vomiting and respiratory problems.
There are also fears for the local marine life, such as manatees, which graze on seagrasses in the estuary area, and sea turtles that could be killed off by the toxins. The flat wetlands of south Florida have been extensively re-engineered with canals and man-made lakes, radically altering the natural flow of fresh water.