Brown ‘gumbo’ algae invades island

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Another bout of brown algae returns to Key Royale Drive May 6 at 65th Street in Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Christine Wright
Brown algae blankets the Key Royale canal at 65th Street during the last week of March and first week of May. Islander Photo: Christine Wright
A closeup May 9 shows the fiberous sheath of oblong-shaped algae at 66th Street. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

“People call it gumbo,” Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth said May 9.

At the end of April and beginning of May, pad-like algal blooms pushed into waters around Anna Maria Island, hung around for about a week and receded.

But then the unwanted visitor came back strong and stinky.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection began testing May 9 in Holmes Beach to determine the toxicity of the large brownish oblong algae mats.

The DEP collected samples from two Holmes Beach locations — bayside at 26th Street and the canal north of Westbay Point & Moorings, 6500 Flotilla Drive.

Also May 9, DEP spokeswoman Weesam Khoury would not speculate on why the bloom was occurring and did not know when testing results would be made available.

The samples will be analyzed in Tallahassee for toxicity and algal type.

Similar testing from Lake Okeechobee, along the Calaloosahatchee River to Fort Myers, has been performed in the past month. And, in places, whitish mold has grown on the brown pads.

As to why sites were chosen, she said there were several reports from Charlotte County to Manatee County that prompted testing for six types of “microcystins,” including toxic cyanobacteria, known as the blue-green algae, and three other toxins.

“Residents and visitors are always advised to avoid coming into contact with algae and to stay out of the water where a visible bloom is present,” Khoury said in a May 9 email, adding the DEP will monitor and retest persistent blooms.

In Sarasota County, the DEP identified Lyngbya wollei, a large diameter cyanobacteria with the same thick sheath and dense mats, according to Stephannie Kettle, of Mote Marine Laboratory.

Lyngbya nuisance blooms are known to degrade water quality, damage beaches and shorelines, cause skin irritation, reduce biodiversity and impair habitat and food webs. “Mote doesn’t work with this type of algae,” Kettle said.

Mote, as well as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, research and monitor another algae, Karenia brevis, also known as red tide, which pushed into southwest Florida in high concentrations between August 2017 and January 2019, causing massive fish kills and deaths of manatees, dolphins and other marine animals and birds in the hundreds.

The current algae is not red tide.

Also testing the water in May was the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, a branch of the FWC.

Spokeswoman Kelly Richmond said volunteers sampled locations at the Rod & Reel Pier May 6 and School Key, known as Key Royale, May 1.

Results from the FWRI testing showed no harmful algal blooms, she said. Volunteers will continue sampling the water and may add other test locations.

Although the stench improved and no HABs were identified on Anna Maria Island the second week of May, some people living near the algal blooms expressed their disgust.

“Last week, after it sat in the sun, it was really strong. Like sewage. Even inside our house,” Holmes Beach resident Christine Wright said May 9.

Titsworth agreed, “People are hating it.”

She has asked Barney Salmon, the city director of development services, to research the outbreak.

“I firmly believe it comes from too much nutrients,” the mayor said, adding “It happens a lot.”

Reporting blooms

The DEP encourages the reporting of alga blooms to its hotline at 855-305-3903 or online.

4 thoughts on “Brown ‘gumbo’ algae invades island

  1. Janet Aubry

    It seem obvious to me that any one of us could take a sample of this brown stuff to a reputable university or a private lab and have a real scientist not employed by the county, state or other biased agency analyze it. Then, in a nominal amount of time, they could give us the independent information we paid for without the secretive, big mystery attitude. Kinda makes me wonder if this isn’t another one of those manipulated “there is no red tide” situations we had recently where everyone was gagging, coughing and – having experienced red tide symptoms for years – knew darn well it was out there. And then – guess what?” Right at the end of season we got a surprise announcement from whomever in the government announces such things that they did find some red tide blooms after all but it would be gone soon. Right. Does anyone actually believe this stuff? The emperor’s new clothes all over again.

    Reply
    1. Bonner Joy

      You seem to be relying on alternative facts — and not what was reported in The Islander as red tide progressed in 2018 — until today. There is no mystery and all one needs to do is read The Islander and follow the recommended gov’t sites (FWC) for “more” information. No mystery. Red tide is almost always present in normal, low concentrations, and it isn’t harmful until it reaches high levels — as we continue to report. As for brown algae — it is a whole other beast. Good luck with your independent testing. Keep us posted on your results. — Bonner Joy

      Reply
  2. Phyllis

    If this were on the East Coast their health departments would have postings on theirbeaches and likely closings as well.

    Reply
  3. marine scientist

    Mote does not work with this kind of algae…not unless they get paid several million dollars to do it. It shows how genuine Mote’s concern is for the local environment and citizens.

    Reply

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