There’s been a lot of talk on the news lately about algae. You might’ve heard about harmful algae that have led to the death of several family pets after going swimming in a local lake. Or toxic algae that has closed down some of Florida’s beaches over the summer.
It’s a topic that has recently gained more attention, and with its rapid growth, it’s important to know the difference between the good and bad algae in Florida’s freshwaters.
The Good Algae
Algae are plant-like organisms that grow in water or damp environments. They are normally harmless and act as the main source of food for a lot of fish and other aquatic life. They’re also essential to the ecosystem in Florida’s freshwaters.
However, too dense of these algae can deplete oxygen levels which then cause fish to become stressed and die. There are also certain algae varieties such as blue-green algae that, if left uncontrolled/untreated, can be very dangerous.
The Bad Algae
Blue-green algae can be found in freshwater environments such as lakes and rivers. This variety of algae is actually cyanobacteria, which means that they get their “food” from photosynthesis – just like plants do. They can produce toxins that can be dangerous to humans, animals, and fish.
These algae can grow exponentially in extremely hot conditions or when too many nutrients are present. This causes what is known as algal blooms. These blooms can get so big that they can be seen from space. In 2011, for example, Lake Erie experienced a cyanobacteria outbreak that led Ohio officials to ban the use of drinking water for over 400,000 residents in the area.
There are a variety of ways you can control algae. Physical treatments like aeration and air lifts will help control the spread of them. However, this summer, the Army Corps of Engineers is employing a new way to combat toxic algae in Lake Okeechobee. The process is called “dissolved air flotation” in which billions and billions of microscopic air bubbles are attached to the solids. It imparts buoyancy to the solids, and those solids float to the surface. When they float to the surface, they are skimmed off.
To make this sustainable over the long term, the Army Corps of Engineers is looking at possible uses for the tons of algae removed from the lake, including converting the algae into biofuel or using the algae in consumer products like yoga mats or sneakers. The ultimate goal is to develop scalable solutions to the problem and make sure there are technologies that can be applied nationwide, not just in South Florida.
If you have any more questions about the algae in Florida’s freshwaters, please feel free to reach out.