FGCU professor identifies smelly substance floating on water near Gilchrist Park

Reporter: Emma Heaton Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

The water at Gilchrist Park in Punta Gorda has piles of gunk floating on top of it, creating a smelly situation. WINK News grabbed a sample from the water and took it to Florida Gulf Coast University to get it assessed.

We first learned about the stuff floating in the water when a WINK News viewer couldn’t stand the sight or smell of the water in Gilchrist Park.

Mark Cangelosi called and asked us to investigate the gunk and whether it was dangerous.

“It smells like the top of your septic tank. If you were to open it up. It smells just like that is pretty nasty stuff,” said Cangelosi.

Charlotte County Water Quality Manager Brandon Moody gave us the answer to what it is.

“This is just cyanobacteria and macroalgae that is going through its natural processes, dying and decomposing,” said Moody.

WINK News brought FGCU Water School Professor Barry Rosen a sample of the water from Gilchrist Park, and he confirmed it as cyanobacteria.

I wish I could say there were other good things in here, but there really or not,” said Rosen.

As for why it’s here, there’s a difference of opinion.

In January, a sewage spill dumped approximately 20,000 gallons of wastewater into a drainage canal in the Deep Creek community. That spill was upstream from where the gunk was found floating on the water.

WINK News asked Moody if that spill could have caused the cyanobacteria.

“I wouldn’t say it would have anything directly to do with this,” said Moody.

Rosen said the spill could be the reason for the cyanobacteria near Gilchrist Park.

“The organisms are always there, but they have to be given a stimulus which could’ve easily been that sewage spill, and that stimulus allows them to grow and grow and grow, and now, wait, where are the nutrients, you know, more sewage? So it slowed it up, and it’s going, ‘now what are we going to do?'” said Rosen.

So, where does that nasty smell come from? Rosen said bacteria start to grow when things in water decay. With low oxygen, hydrogen sulfide is released and that creates a bad smell.

The reason you see the cyanobacteria clumped up is because it is trapping oxygen and creating bubbles. Those bubbles rise to the surface.

To find out if people need to worry about what’s in the water and what might happen if they breathe too much of it in, WINK News brought a water sample to the FGCU Water School.

“They should be concerned. Don’t let your pets in the water number one because the smell is terrible, but it may contain toxins,” said Rosen.

Rosen said no one should get in the water anywhere near this.

“The canal system, we don’t know how much it’s going to get, and you cannot kill it all, I guarantee. So all you’ve done is beat it back, and it could come back. It could come back even worse,” said Rosen.

It is important to note that this is dying algae, and it will likely take a few weeks for this specific spot to decompose completely.

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