BREVARD COUNTY, Florida - Florida Governor Rick Scott applauded the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) for partnering with other state, regional and local agencies to assess and respond to the large brown algal bloom which has recently inundated the Indian River and Banana River lagoons in Brevard County, Florida.
While brown algae is typically non-toxic to humans, it can reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water, impacting fish and other wildlife. Coordinating state agencies are assessing and responding to algal bloom events, monitoring and analyzing impacts to wildlife and water quality, and addressing short and longer-term solutions.
“The quality and safety of Florida’s waters is a top priority for our state," Governor Scott said. "While this brown tide event is not a health threat to our families or visitors, we are assessing and responding to areas that are seeing a loss of fish. I applaud our state agencies for working together to quickly determine the effects of this recent event, and we will continue to do all we can to protect water quality in the Indian River Lagoon.”
“Getting answers to help address this serious situation is a top priority," FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley said. "We are working closely with our partners and the local community to better understand the problem and help develop solutions. Florida’s natural treasures and wildlife are incredibly important to our state and we will continue to do all we can to ensure its protection and preservation.”
Brevard County Algae Bloom Unrelated To Lake Okeechobee Discharges
Although algal bloom events can be unpredictable, contributing factors can include weather conditions and excess nutrients in waterways. The Governor's office emphasized that the water from Lake Okeechobee does not reach Brevard County through the Indian River Lagoon, so there is no evidence as of now that this bloom is related to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
Health Concerns Over Brown Tide, Fish Kill
“While brown tides are not associated with toxins and do not impact human health directly, it is important that people do not handle, collect or eat fish or wildlife found dead or dying," said Interim State Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip. "DOH will continue to work with our partnering agencies to keep local families and visitors safe during this recovery process.”
“This algal bloom event reinforces the need for continued restoration work in the lagoon," DEP Secretary Jon Steverson said. "We are committed to working with our state and local partners to expedite and implement projects that will improve water quality conditions, and ensure our natural treasures are safe for Florida’s families and visitors to enjoy.”
SJRWMD Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle said, “It’s only through collaboration with our communities and partners, like FWC and DEP, that we can make progress with recovery efforts at the Indian River Lagoon. Our district is committed to not only helping with immediate relief in the hardest hit areas, but also by expediting efforts to put projects in the ground that will offer long-term relief to the nutrient problem in the lagoon.”
What Government Agencies Are Doing Right Now
The Governor's Office said in a release that local, state and federal agencies will continue to work together to find answers to the cause of this brown tide and to identify what can be done in the future to limit or avoid similar events and build on restoration efforts underway. DEP and SJRWMD have deployed staff and boats to assist Brevard County with their local recovery and clean-up efforts, and local DOH offices continue to monitor for human health impacts and encourage public safety.
Short-term response efforts include:
FWC is serving as the lead agency for documenting and determining the cause of fish and wildlife mortality events.
On March 19, FWC began taking fish and water samples to analyze at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg. Current data and historic analysis indicate fish impacts appear to be the result of low dissolved oxygen conditions associated with the brown algae bloom.
To help them respond to this algal bloom and other wildlife events, FWC encourages the public to hotline allows the public to report directly to researchers the locations of fish kills and diseased or abnormal fish by calling a toll-free hotline at 1-800-636-0511.
The SJRWMD continues to collect water quality monitoring samples and track movement and trends in the bloom activity. The water management district routinely monitors water quality in the Indian River Lagoon and its tributaries, collecting and managing data from 58 sites monthly to provide reliable data about current water quality conditions.
To monitor specifically for algae species, the SJRWMD partners with FWC and the University of Florida to sample and analyze five sites monthly and provides additional event-driven support when algal blooms are reported. The district also maintains five stations that provide continuous water quality monitoring, sending the information electronically to the agency’s headquarters.
In addition to on-the-ground response and monitoring efforts, state and local agencies are also focusing on longer-term water quality restoration efforts for Indian River Lagoon. These restoration projects and management strategies are essential to reducing nitrogen and phosphorous levels, which will help to decrease the intensity and duration of algal bloom events.
Long-term restoration efforts include:
Including the recently signed Florida First budget, the state will have invested nearly $80 million dollars in projects in Brevard County to restore the lagoon over a three-year span.
To address elevated levels of nutrients in the lagoon in 2013, DEP adopted three basin management action plans (BMAPs) to implement the projects and activities necessary to bring the lagoon back to health. In addition, the Department has adopted the St. Lucie BMAP, which will also help the Southern Indian River Lagoon. To date, the stakeholders have achieved all obligations outlined in the BMAPs.
Several projects have been completed in recent months that will bring relief to the Indian River Lagoon in time. Recently, SJRWMD activated large scale stormwater treatment and control projects on the C-1 Canal and at the Wheeler Stormwater Park.
DEP and the district are also working to expedite a number of projects that can help improve the health of the lagoon. Recently, innovative dispersed water pilot projects have been approved in Indian River County that are projected to keep thousands of pounds of nutrients from reaching the lagoon.