Algae from South America shows up in Cape Coral canal

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What’s in our waterways? Health alerts have popped up for more than a week now as blue-green algae appeared to build in canals from North Fort Myers to Cape Coral.

But there is something extra alarming in the Rubicon Canal near the Bimini Basin in Cape Coral.

blue green algae

FGCU Water School Professor Barry Rosen found rare cyanobacteria – or blue-green algae – not typically found in the United States.

Rare cyanobacteria

“In Brazil, it’s a known producer of a very potent toxin. We rarely see it in the U.S. We don’t even have ways of measuring it very carefully because we don’t have standards for it,” said Rosen.

It’s called Sphaerospermopsis torques-reginae and is a distant relative to what we more commonly see, the cyanobacteria called Microcystis. Rosen explained, “You can see the coils.” That makes it easily identifiable.

Sphaerospermopsis, if releasing toxins, produces something called Guana. Guanitoxin is one of the most toxic and fast-acting neurotoxins associated with Harmful Algal Blooms or HABs.

Because it is so rare, there is no simple way to test for toxins, but Rosen does know this is the second year in a row it has formed in the Rubicon Canal.


“Finding out if this one can make toxin is really important. Because if it came last year, it’s here this year, it has a resting stage, a lot of these have little little spore resting stages. It will be back next year,” added Rosen.

blue green algae

One more standout feature is how this bacteria grows. While typical blooms are fed with nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, that’s not the case with sphaerospermopsis.

“You’ve got this resting cell, the nitrogen-fixing cell and a resting cell. That adjacent-ness and the shape of those cells – boom,” said Rosen.

It can create its own bloom, drawing nitrogen right from the air.

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