The largest freshwater lake in Florida, which is a draw for fishing and boating in the summer months, likely won’t see many faces this year.
That’s because Lake Okeechobee is already half-full with a bright green, toxic algae that researchers say will only grow as algae season continues on through the summer. The algae can cause several health complications, including lung infections, organ damage, and neurological disorders, The New York Times reports.
Experts told the Times the severity of this year’s bloom is, in large part, due to the warming climate that has resulted in increased rainfall and rising levels of carbon dioxide, which the algae feeds on. Algae also flourish among fertilizer and waste manure from nearby farms that run into the lake.
This is not a new problem for Florida. In 2018, former Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency across seven counties in an effort to combat the same toxic algae in Lake Okeechobee that was also inundating a nearby river.
Finding a solution to this toxic bloom has been a challenge.
Florida plans to build a reservoir to stop the algae from flowing out of the lake and into other bodies of water — though the Times reports that the reservoir would fill to capacity after depleting Okeechobee by only six inches.
Environmentalists are also calling on the state of Florida to implement rules limiting the run-off of pollutants from nearby crops that feed the algae, the Times reports.
It would take years for this policy to have a significant impact due to the sediment rich in phosphorous that is already present.