Why are there so many toxic algae blooms this year

A father shows his son the awful smelling algae hugging the shoreline of the St. Lucie River on July 11, 2016 in Stuart, Florida.

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A father shows his son the awful smelling algae hugging the shoreline of the St. Lucie River on July 11, 2016 in Stuart, Florida.


Several lakes, rivers and coastlines around the United States are choked with green muck.

The cause are giant clouds of algae — known formally as “harmful algal blooms” and they can shut down fisheries, dampen tourism, and cause serious health problems in humans and animals alike. They are, at root, a natural phemomenon, but scientists who study them say they have become more common and more severe in recent years.

An algal bloom blankets Lake Erie, and a bloom has spread around a lake in Utah, forcing officials to close it to visitors, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Recent news reports have also documented the algae bloom that has spread through Lake Okeechobee in Florida and clogged the waters around state’s tourism-heavy coastline with the slime. Other blooms have been reported in Idaho, and in two lakes in California.

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Small Lake Erie Algae Bloom Predicted, But Work Isn’t Done

Researchers hone plans to cut phosphorus and mitigate future blooms.

A satellite image captured on July 15, 2016 shows the beginning of an algal bloom. Forecasters predict this summer's bloom will be much smaller than the record-setting bloom last year.  Image courtesy MODIS / NOAA CoastWatch

By Codi Kozacek
Circle of Blue

A year after the most intense bloom of toxic algae on record engulfed Lake Erie, the lake is set to get a reprieve this summer. Federal forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict this year’s bloom will register a 5.5 in severity, about half the level recorded last year and significantly less than the bloom in 2014 that shut down water supplies for nearly half a million people in Toledo, Ohio.

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Lake Erie, S. Florida algae crises share common toxins and causes


Several parallels exist between the putrid algae that has sickened South Florida and the green goop that has appeared in western Lake Erie nearly every summer since 1995.

Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and western Lake Erie are both huge, but shallow, bodies of water. That shallowness keeps Lake Okeechobee warm year-round. It allows western Lake Erie to warm up relatively quickly each spring.

Both are especially prone to algal growth because of heavy agricultural runoff that gets into their tributaries.

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Uncertain Forecast for Fight Against Algae

Every Thursday night, Bill Korbel, a veteran meteorologist, offers his standard weather forecast to viewers on a Long Island cable channel. Then he follows up with his outlook for toxic algae.

On a map, Mr. Korbel points out areas with high concentrations of algae — natural gatherings of microscopic plankton that, while often innocuous, can degrade water quality and even be dangerous.

“Brown or red tide is much catchier than harmful algal bloom,” Mr. Korbel joked about the right wording to use in his broadcast. It’s a relatively new topic for him, something that was never part of his decades-long career. Nor was it part, he said, of his meteorology training at New York University. “That was down the hall, in oceanography,” he said.

Mr. Korbel may not be an outlier for long. If a growing number of scientists have their way — and can get federal funding they say is desperately need to protect the public — algae forecasts could become as common as weather reports, and as essential.

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A Menace Afloat


Miles of Algae and a Multitude of Hazards


The stench of decaying algae began rising from coastal waterways in southeastern Florida early this month, shutting down businesses and beaches during a critical tourism season. Officials arrived, surveyed the toxic muck and declared states of emergency in four counties. Residents shook their heads, then their fists, organizing rallies and haranguing local officials.

In truth, there was little they could do: The disaster that engulfed the St. Lucie River and its estuary had been building for weeks. In May, a 33-square-mile algal bloom crept over Lake Okeechobee, the vast headwaters of the Everglades. After an unseasonably wet winter, the Army Corps of Engineers was forced to discharge water from the lake to lower water levels, flushing the ooze along channels to the east and west until it coagulated along the shores of the famed Treasure Coast.

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