Experts gather at SWFL water conference on FGCU campus

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Blue-green algae build up in a SWFL canal. Photo via WINK News.
Blue-green algae build up in a SWFL canal. Photo via WINK News.

Right now, experts from across the country are joining together to tackle water quality issues. They want to solve our blue-green algae problem before the slime returns to our waterways. They want to know of blue-green algae can make people sick.

FGCU hosted the 28th Annual Southwest Florida Water Conference on its campus Friday.

“It really struck us last summer,” said. “But it’s far from the first time that it’s happening.”

When this blue green gunk lingered for months, many families worried about their health.

James Metcalf is an internationally acclaimed scientist from Wyoming. He researches how algae can impact your brain.

“If you give them nutrients, they grow some produce toxins,” Metcalf said. “Some can come into contact with people and can cause illnesses and animal deaths. We’ve seen here in Florida dog deaths and dog illnesses.”

Metcalf said his data suggests exposure to cyanobacteria in algae may cause diseases such as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and Alzheimer’s disease. Now, they’re researching if that’s true or not.

“We’re just trying to understand what are the risk factor for these diseases and creating research forming research on the relationship between exposure to this toxin and new pathology and human diseases,” Metcalf said.

Dr. Don Duke, an environmental studies professor, said the conference is the perfect way to brainstorm solutions.

“This is a place that we can all get together at once and sort of exchange what’s going on,” Duke said.

Metcalf, who is a main speaker at the conference, agrees.

“And communication is an important part in trying to solve the problem,” Metcalf said. “If you don’t communicate, you don’t resolve anything, so conferences like this are excellent, essential.”

Metcalf said this is a long-term project but hopes to come back to next year’s conference with more answers.

FGCU’s day-long water conference also discussed other water quality issues including red tide.

The event ends at 6 p.m. tonight.

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