Can you vacuum up toxic algae? One Florida county will try


Blue-green algae in Stuart, Florida, July 27, 2018. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

With South Florida under siege this summer by blue-green algae and red tide, one county is testing a new approach at combating the toxic scum.

Lee County in southwest Florida got permission from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on Wednesday to vacuum up blue-green algae collecting in marinas and dead-end canals.

RELATED: Red tide is on a killing spree in Florida 

It will then take it to the North Lee County Reverse Osmosis Plant to have the solids separated from the liquid. The solids will go to an landfill, while the disinfected water will be put into a deep injection well.

“It’s not pretty right now,” said Kurt Harclerode, operations manager at Lee County’s Division of Natural Resources, about the blue-green algae in the Caloosahatchee and the red tide hugging the coast.

Record May rains in Florida are largely to blame for the blue-green algae that grew this summer in the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie Estuary as high amounts of nutrients were washed in from the watershed. Discharges from Lake Okeechobee exacerbate the problem, adding algae and diluting the brackish waterways.

Deputy Stender is helping the manatee breathe until help arrives. pic.twitter.com/aHS3uiC1Nv

— Charlotte Sheriff (@CCSOFLSheriff) August 1, 2018

The red tide, which grows offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, has drifted toward the coast and is being blamed for killing scores of animals, including manatees, turtles, and thousands of fish.

RELATED: Lake O discharges reduced as algae issue heats up in D.C.

Harclerode said the vacuum solution will only be used on the blue-green algae, and in the beginning on the hardest hit areas identified by aerial surveys. It’s being paid for with $700,000 from a $3 million state grant.

These are current pictures of the beaches of South West #Florida. The GOP, @FLGovScott , and @adamputnam are responsible. Red tide and run off from agriculture have destroyed the environment. Florida is toxic. pic.twitter.com/B5RHh8KhZW

— Eliza200 (@rudybird100) July 31, 2018

The red tide in Lee County has been joined by red drift – a type of seaweed that detaches from the bottom of the ocean and washes up along area beaches. Red drift is not toxic, but can smell bad when as it decomposes.

“We’re seeing a triple whammy,” Harclerode said. “We’re certainly  not going to be able to remove all the blue-green algae but it’s a pilot program and maybe we can learn from it.”

The vacuuming could begin as early as Saturday.

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