ENGLEWOOD — Monday proved to be a good day to go to the beach.
The presence of large mats of algae floating throughout Lemon Bay is not a reason to stay away from the Gulf of Mexico. Just stay away from the algae, Sarasota County Health Department spokesperson Steve Huard cautioned Monday.
“Be aware of the conditions around you,” Huard said. “Steer clear of the algae.”
State officials say the algae is lyngbya, which forms in brown mats that can stink like rotten eggs when it floats on top of the water. Residents have reported seeing — and smelling — the algae for more than two weeks.
Huard also encouraged the public to check Mote Marine Laboratory’s beach reports. Mote posts beach conditions for 25 different public beaches at visitbeaches.org. The reports Monday suggested it was a good day to be at local public beaches.
Other state wildlife and environmental officials also encourage the public to steer clear of algae blooms.
“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,” the Florida Department of Environmental Protection stated. The FDEP and Sarasota County posted cautionary signs at Indian Mound Park in Englewood and Blackburn Point in Osprey.
The FDEP identified the blue-green algae bloom as lyngbya wollei, what researchers call a “filamentous algae.” According to officials, the algae in Lemon Bay differs from the blooms that blossomed in the Caloosahatchee River and were due to the nutrient-rich discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
And unlike the 2017-18 red tide algae that plagued Gulf shorelines from Pinellas south to Collier counties in all summer and into the fall, the algae mats in Lemon Bay now have not killed fish or other marine life.
Algal blooms are naturally occurring to Florida, FDEP officials said, but it is not uncommon for dead end residential finger canals to feed the algae with elevated nutrient levels in the water due to lawn fertilizer use, failing and poorly performing septic systems, or stormwater runoff.
An algal bloom’s location and characteristics can change rapidly — sometimes within hours — due to wind, currents, weather and other conditions.
Esther Horton, whose family has multi-generational roots in Englewood, cannot remember algae mats on Lemon Bay in the 1940s, ‘50s or ‘60s like the thick mat she is seeing now in a finger canal behind her home. Last week, wading birds could walk across the mat without getting their feet wet.
When the algae cells die, they can release a hydrogen sulfide stench that stinks like sewage. The stench, Horton said, has been horrible.
State officials encourage the public to report algal blooms through the FDEP’s hotline at 1-855-305-3903 or through the online reporting system found at https://floridadep.gov/dear/algal-bloom.