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The High Cost of Toxic Slime on the Florida Gulf Coast

While most of the country is concentrating on the horrific fires out west, a quieter, but equally destructive, siege on the environment is strangling Florida. A green and toxic slime blankets several communities along Florida’s Gulf Coast. It is covering docks, boats, and even wildlife with a soupy goop. It is also forcing Floridians out of their homes.

Cape Coral, across a bridge from Fort Myers, may be hardest hit of all the Florida cities impacted by this slop. The coating is a bacteria (called algae though it technically is not) that adds ugly insult to injury against an area that, was plagued with foreclosure filings after the 2008 financial crisis and has never fully recovered.

Juergen Kreuzer captains a charter, fishing and excursion vessel out of Cape Coral. He reports that many of his prospective clients are canceling on him. How is Kreuzer getting by? He meets clients elsewhere and drives them to the dock because his boat launch has a foul and sickening odor.

What is the cause of this outbreak? To answer that question we ask another one. What brings people to Florida’s Gulf Coast? The sun’s warmth? The water? Those are two of the main causes of what scientists call cyanobacteria. The microorganisms occur naturally in warm bodies of water. But, under the right conditions, the green colonies thrive and grow uncontrollably producing toxins and visiting severe side effects on animals and humans alike.

So, is it just an organic happenstance? Not entirely. Like most other ecological crises, human causes are in play. Cyanobacteria love phosphorous and nitrogen. Those two arrive together in agri-fertilizers, and in ill-treated home septic systems.

This year and last year heavy spring rainfall washed these chemicals out of the ground, and the drainage systems, concentrating them in Lake Okeechobee. That’s where the summer of 2018’s green bloom grew up. Discharges from Lake Okeechobee supplied nutrients to nearby rivers, and ultimately to Cape Coral’s canal system.

It won’t last forever. Cyanobacteria expire as summer heat gives way to autumn’s cooler temperatures. Relatively cool temperatures stop the incubation process, and nature does the rest. Sometimes it takes a big push from nature (in 2005 one massive bloom festered until Hurricane Wilma wiped it out) but, eventually, nature will clean up.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, allow Money Examiners to introduce you to actual algae. The winds and currents this summer pushed Karenia brevis into the area. That’s the technical name for algae most often found miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. This nasty stuff produces neurotoxins that are lethal to fish and shore animals. It also causes respiratory problems in humans. When gathered in high concentrations, this harmful bloom looks rusty, and has been named “red tide.” Last week, Florida Governor Rick Scott responded to the red tide and declared a seven-county state of emergency and ordered $1.5 million in aid.

There are already enough chemicals in the soil near Cape Coral to cause literal headaches for decades to come. To make matters worse, the onslaught of green slime and red tide are hard to accurately predict. The weather and nutrient levels work together to create problems…except when they don’t work together at all.

One thing appears clear, however. The climate isn’t going to cool anytime soon. Captain Kruezer shouldn’t expect the smell of his boat launch to improve next summer or the summer after that. This might be a time to book a trip with him. One would imagine travel savings would be in the offing.