Fixing the Lake O algae problem could lie well below the surface
LAKE OKEECHOBEE, Fla. (WBBH) — The key to fixing the algae problem on Lake Okeechobee lies well below the water’s surface, according to research from three Florida Gulf Coast University professors.
Two weeks ago, a team from FGCU took NBC2 out on the big lake to illustrate their work. The captain dropped in the boat near the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam on the east side of Lake O and navigated to its center.
Despite rough conditions in the middle of the lake, professor Serge Thomas managed to scoop a water sample. The water was brown and murky, in large part due to the strong winds, Thomas explained.
“The algae actually makes clumps. You can see them, right. It makes those little clumps here and there,” he said, showing the sample.
After that, Thomas had the captain head to calmer waters to collect a sample of something else. Using a large tool that can penetrate the lake floor, Thomas gathered what he calls ‘fluid mud’ from the lake.
He also brought a bucket full of the mud that he’d already gathered as part of their research.
“That’s the fluid mud — it flows like water,” Thomas said. “The fluid mud has been too long overlooked. And it’s time to look at it.”
Back at the lab at FGCU, that’s exactly what other members of the research team have been doing.
The so-called ‘water doctor’ professor Barry Rosen previously looked at the fluid mud underneath a microscope. He showed NBC2 the slides from when he examined it, and then explained why the mud is such a big concern.
“The phosphorus is pretty high in these sediments,” Rosen explained. “You can control all the nutrients coming into (Lake Okeechobee) that you want, but then you’ve got this huge reservoir of nutrients on the bottom.”
Professor Tom Missimer, the third member of the research team, showed NBC2 an older sample of the fluid mud that’s now settled out.
With their work and the research of others before them, the professors recently published a review paper that presents a clear conclusion: the fluid mud is a huge nutrient source feeding blue-green algae, and a huge problem for Southwest Florida.
“You have the mud stirred up, the algal blooms occur through a long time period, and then end up in the estuary system and they end up in our backyard,” Missimer explained.
“Unless you get the fluid mud out of the lake, the algal bloom problem in Lake Okeechobee is not going away,” he continued.
But is ridding such a massive lake of all this mud even possible? Missimer said a private company has been working on a solution for several years, though he wouldn’t go into too much detail.
“There are some technical ways that this mud can be taken out of the lake, and we’re going to be revealing some of the ideas coming up soon,” Missimer explained.
They’re ideas that can — hopefully — fix the algae problem on Lake Okeechobee and end the region’s water quality nightmare.
“There’s ample nutrients found in these sediments to feed blooms in the lake for a very, very long time,” Rosen said. “You will never solve the problem in Lake Okeechobee until you have a handle on these sediments.”
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