In an afternoon social media announcement on Tuesday, July 2, Pinellas County health officials confirmed that a bloom of blue-green algae had been identified in Gulfport.
On the morning of Wednesday, July 3, local- and county-level government officials provided additional details to the Gabber.
Its technical name is Lyngbya (pronounced: ling-BY-ah) and it can appear in the form of a floating solid mat or in separate clumps located either on or near the surface of calm, hot water, said Kelli Hammer Levy, division director for Pinellas County Environmental Management.
“The way it looks, if it’s not like a big mat – if it’s blobs just here and there then people are like, ‘Oh, my gosh! I think there’s a sewer spill out here!’” said Hammer Levy. “It can kind of take on that appearance.”
The current bloom is located at the back of one canal that is adjacent to private property bordered on one side by the Town Shores condominium complex and by private homes in the Pasadena Yacht and Country Club area on the other, said Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly.
“This will not affect any activities planned for the Fourth of July,” he said. The bloom has been confined to the water area near Town Shores and Skimmer Point Drive South, said O’Reilly. “We have not had any complaints from people using Gulfport Beach or from city staff at the Recreation Center” where programs for children are being held.
Each city is the primary for reporting algae issues and “we’re their backup and support,” said Hammer Levy. “City officials know their areas the best. We work well with all of our cities – it’s a partnership.”
In addition to Gulfport, the cities of Treasure Island and South Pasadena have also recently contacted the county about water issues, said Hammer Levy. In each case, it has been a Lyngbya algae bloom.
When a water quality issue is noticed in a saltwater bay, the Gulf of Mexico or even a pond on private property, any citizen or city official can notify county health officials via the phone or email, she said.
Pinellas County also offers the SeeClickFix web-based and mobile app tool that allows people to report environmental and other issues, said Tony Fabrizio, the county’s public information officer. For more information, visit seeclickfix.com/pinellas_county.
Once reported, county health officials take action, said Hammer Levy.
“We want to make sure the public health is protected. We’ll collect a sample and bring it back here to our offices,” she said. “We’ll look at it under the microscope. We will identify it then let the folks know what it is.”
This is the workflow that happened in early June for the same area in Gulfport.
When photographs were recently sent to the county by Gulfport city officials for the early July occurrence, “visually, it is exactly the same as what we had before,” said Hammer Levy. “There was really no point in coming back and collecting another sample to reconfirm what we already knew.”
The Gulfport bloom “has been coming and going since May,” she said.
When open saltwater is hot and calm, is fueled by grass clippings, pet waste and the material that was left over that sunk into the sediments from the 2018 red tide outbreak, “it’s perfect conditions for algae blooms to form,” said Hammer Levy.
When one heavy rainstorm with wave action occurs or “when we get into a period with the regular afternoon rainfalls, the bloom disappear,” she said.
“The traumatic red tide event did a lot of damage that people can’t see. It didn’t clear from the Pinellas County shoreline until mid-December of 2018 but it’s going to take a while for the environment to recover,” she said.
Health Tips During a Bloom
In the meantime, when a Lyngbya algae bloom is identified as being present, “do your best to stay away from it,” said Hammer Levy. “It doesn’t bother some people but it does bother others.
“Pets should not be near it. It can make them sick if they were to eat it or get it onto to their fur and lick it off.”
Hammer Levy cautioned that “some types of algae are extremely toxic like the discharges from Lake Okeechobee. We haven’t typically seen that in Pinellas County.”
To learn more details about harmful algae blooms, visit oceanservice.noaa.gov/hazards/hab.