Researchers find that cyanobacteria release more toxins in response to increased salinity.
U.S. Geological Survey scientists tinkering around with freshwater blue-green algae from Lake Okeechobee have made a simple, yet potentially significant discovery: the amount of salty water needed to transform the tiny organisms from benign to toxic as they travel toward busy coasts.
With the right planning, the discovery could help water managers prevent the kind of foul sliming that spreads along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers with every rainy season.
“Our findings open up the possibility that water managers may eventually be able to help reduce the algal toxins reaching coastal waters by manipulating salinity,” said the study’s lead author and USGS biologist Barry Rosen.
Blue-green algae naturally occur in fresh water, including Lake O, and provide the foundation for the food chain that has made the lake a destination for bass anglers and birders. But fed by too many nutrients flowing mostly off farms and ranches to the north, Lake O’s algae can explode into dense blooms that block light, smother life and sometimes release toxins that can make people and wildlife sick.