While the surface of Matlacha’s water is clearing up, experts say it’s a different story beneath the surface.
Pilot Ralph Arwood with Calusa Waterkeeper took recent aerial video above Matlacha, and it showed milky algae patches on the water’s surface.
Rick Bartleson, a research scientist with Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, told us Tuesday the algae we saw in Matlacha Pass a couple weeks ago is sinking to the bottom and decomposing. That, combined with other bacteria in the water, creates a white-colored patch on the water. While the algae at the top doesn’t look as bad, the environmental concern remains.
“There’s so many, so many of those bacteria in the water is making the water look white,” Bartleson said. “There’s also particles of algae mixed in those look white when the when the algae decomposes, the pigments are gone, and just the white shows left.”
Bartleson said, if algae is on the surface and not underwater, hydrogen sulfide is released into the air.
“And that becomes a problem if people are around breathing it because hydrogen sulfide is toxic at levels above one part per million,” Bartleson said.
Because it’s sinking to the bottom, it’s more of a problem for the surrounding environment.
“That catastrophe is partly the algae that is there,” Bartleson said. “It’s covering up sea grasses. It’s covering up everything on the bottom and keeping a lot of those things that live under it from getting what they need.”
What they need is oxygen.
Lee County confirmed it’s not using its newly-contracted algae company for this situation, but county staff members are monitoring the situation.
Present water quality conditions come as a disappointment to an environmental advocate we spoke to who lives in Matlacha.
“When I bought this property in 2014, it was a dream come true,” said Karl Deigert, the treasurer and southeast director or Florida Rights of Nature Network.
Deigert moved to Matlacha for the beauty of the area and the water.
“And I said to my aunt, this is where I’m going to die,” Deigert said. “And she said, ‘No, Karl, this is where you’re going to live.’”
Diegert told us he’s seen the water quality decline since Matlacha became his home.
“That’s hard to take, so I’m moving on,” Deigert said.
While it looks like the algae on the surface has moved on, the water quality situation in Matlacha remains.