Water experts monitor blue-green algae in Lake Okeechobee

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Streaks of blue-green algae can be seen on the surface of Lake Okeechobee on May 3, 2021. (Credit: Ralph Arwood/ Calusa Waterkeeper)

Monday, Calusa Waterkeeper posted images of what appears to be blue-green algae that could be seen in streaks over Lake Okeechobee.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration uses satellite images of Lake Okeechobee to show how blue-green algae conditions change on the lake.

Rick Stumpf, a NOAA oceanographer, monitors the time of year we see the algae.

“It’s early would be my first comment,” Stumpf said. “It’s not as dense. Well, it’s starting off, so it’s not as dense as it can potentially become. And I will caveat, we don’t know how dense this bloom will be.”

Stumpf says blooms vary year to year, and even day to day. It has to do with the buoyancy of the cyanobacteria cells and the wind.

“If it’s a windy day, they just get mixed through the water column,” Stumpf said. “But in a calm day, they float up to the surface, which is why you get those scums.”

That would explain why we see an area of high concentration in red on the west side of the lake one day and why it’s gone two days later.

Still, the proximity of blue-green algae to the Moore Haven Lock and Dam concerns Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani.

“The satellite imagery indicates it’s about 300 square miles of the lake has visible cyanobacteria, just pretty widespread,” Cassani said.

If there’s enough algae for it to show up on satellite imagery, it’s important to keep pets out of the water, especially if it has a scummy surface.

Cassani says it doesn’t have to be on the surface to be present, however.

“There can be toxins in the water that you can’t see or smell,” Cassani said.

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