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Toxic Algae Outbreaks in Florida

Many of Florida's postcard-perfect blue waters are coming up green and choked with nasty, toxic algae. The culprit behind this environmental and economic crisis? Pollution caused by inadequately treated sewage, manure and fertilizer.

  • A toxic algae outbreak on the Santa Fe River in May 2012.

    Boaters, anglers and swimmers heading to the spring-fed Santa Fe River near Gainesville, Florida, for the 2012 Memorial Day weekend were in for a rude surprise: pollution from sewage, manure and fertilizer sparked an outbreak of nasty green slime.

    John Moran / Earthjustice
  • A toxic algae outbreak on the Santa Fe River in May 2012.

    Toxic algae fouls the Santa Fe River in May 2012. The Santa Fe is normally a tannic river, with world-class springs and a river bottom filled with limestone and sand. It is a wildlife haven, with fish, turtles, manatees, and a wide array of birds.

    John Moran / Earthjustice
  • A toxic algae outbreak on the Santa Fe River in May 2012.

    Toxic algae fouls the Santa Fe River in May 2012. Locals said they had never seen algae as bad as this sliming the river. The weeked before Memorial Day, boaters witnessed water that looked like thick, fluorescent green pea soup near Poe Springs, a county park.

    John Moran / Earthjustice
  • A toxic algae outbreak on the Santa Fe River in May 2012.

    Toxic algae fouls the Santa Fe River in May 2012. Algal blooms can look like a thick mat or foamy scum. Blooms can change the water color to blue, green, brown, orange, or red and may give off an unpleasant odor.

    John Moran / Earthjustice
  • A toxic algae outbreak on the Santa Fe River in May 2012.

    Toxic algae fouls the Santa Fe River in May 2012. "This green slime is disastrous for tourism, especially on a holiday weekend. This is a health threat and people want it cleaned up," said Earthjustice attorney David Guest.

    John Moran / Earthjustice
  • A toxic algae outbreak on the Santa Fe River in May 2012.

    Toxic algae fouls the Santa Fe River in May 2012. A drinking water plant on the Caloosahatchee River that serves 30,000 people was shut down due to the pollution.

    John Moran / Earthjustice
  • A toxic algae outbreak on the Santa Fe River in May 2012.

    Toxic algae fouls the Santa Fe River in May 2012. Local health authorities recommended that no one swim, fish, or drink water near the outbreak.

    John Moran / Earthjustice
  • A fluorescent green toxic algae outbreak on St. Johns River on November 12, 2013.

    A fluorescent green toxic algae outbreak on St. Johns River on November 12, 2013. The sickening toxic algae outbreaks now ruining some of Florida’s most lovely coastal communities come from sewage, manure and fertilizer runoff.

    Photo provided by Iola Washington
  • A fluorescent green toxic algae outbreak on St. Johns River on November 12, 2013.

    St. Johns River on November 12, 2013. Earthjustice has been working since 2009 to enforce legal limits on these pollutants, which are wrecking Florida’s famed aquatic ecosystems as well as killing wildlife.

    Photo provided by Iola Washington
  • A fluorescent green toxic algae outbreak on St. Johns River on November 12, 2013.

    St. Johns River on November 12, 2013. In 2013, the biggest manatee die-offs on Florida’s east and west coasts were linked to algae outbreaks, which are worsened by sewage, manure and fertilizer runoff—the subject of our continuing legal fight against polluters.

    Photo provided by Iola Washington
  • St. Lucie River in Stuart, FL on August 1, 2013.

    St. Lucie River in Stuart, FL on August 1, 2013.

    Photo provided by Dick Miller
  • St. Lucie River in Stuart, FL on August 1, 2013.

    St. Lucie River in Stuart, FL on August 1, 2013. A massive toxic algae outbreak covers southeast Florida’s waters with fluorescent green slime during what should have been the prime-time of summer fishing, surfing, and swimming season.

    Photo provided by Dick Miller
  • St. Lucie River in Stuart, FL on August 1, 2013.

    St. Lucie River in Stuart, FL on August 1, 2013.

    Photo provided by Dick Miller
  • Sarasota County work crews remove hundreds of dead fish littering the public Blind Pass Beach on Manasota Key on January 3, 2013.

    Sarasota County work crews remove hundreds of dead fish littering the public Blind Pass Beach on Manasota Key on January 3, 2013. The fish kill was due to red tide, which is worsened by sewage, manure and fertilizer pollution.

    Steve Reilly / Charlotte Sun-Herald
  • Toxic algae outbreak on southwest Florida's Caloosahatchee River in June and July 2011. Photo taken at Franklin Lock.

    Toxic algae outbreak on southwest Florida's Caloosahatchee River in June and July 2011. Photo taken at Franklin Lock.

    Photo provided by Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation
  • A large August 2011 algae outbreak on Tampa Bay.

    A large algae outbreak on Tampa Bay in August of 2011.

    Photo provided by Dorian Aerial and Architectural Photographics
  • A lifeguard sits near a red tide warning notice at a Volusia County beach during red tide event in October of 2007.

    A lifeguard sits near a red tide warning notice at a Volusia County beach during red tide event in October of 2007.

    Photo provided by Daytona Beach News Journal
  • Toxic algae outbreak on southwest Florida's Caloosahatchee River in June and July of 2011.

    Toxic algae outbreak on southwest Florida's Caloosahatchee River in June and July of 2011.

    Photo provided by Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation
  • A toxic algae outbreak on southwest Florida’s Caloosahatchee River in June of 2011 covers the area with green slime.

    A toxic algae outbreak on southwest Florida’s Caloosahatchee River in June of 2011 covers the area with green slime.

    Photo provided by John Cassani
  • A toxic algae outbreak on southwest Florida’s Caloosahatchee River in June of 2011, turned the water a freakish green, killed fish, and released a nauseating stench for weeks.

    A toxic algae outbreak on southwest Florida’s Caloosahatchee River in June of 2011, turned the water a freakish green, killed fish, and released a nauseating stench for weeks.

    Photo provided by Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation
  • A toxic algae outbreak on southwest Florida’s Caloosahatchee River in June of 2011 fouls waterfront property.

    A toxic algae outbreak on southwest Florida’s Caloosahatchee River in June of 2011 fouls waterfront property.

    Photo provided by John Cassani
  • Toxic algae bloom in Goodby's Creek at the St. Johns River, Jacksonville, FL. Photo taken on September 14, 2005.

    Toxic algae bloom in Goodby's Creek at the St. Johns River, Jacksonville, FL. Photo taken on September 14, 2005.

    Photo provided by Bill Yates / CYPIX 2005

Phosphorus and nitrogen poison Florida's waters during each rainfall, running off agricultural operations, fertilized landscapes, and septic systems. The poison runoff triggers algae outbreaks, which foul Florida's beaches, lakes, rivers, and springs in increasing quantities each year, threatening public health. This pollution is preventable. Now that we know how the nitrogen and phosphorus in sewage, manure and fertilizer tip Florida's delicate ecological balance, we have a responsibility to do something about it.

Related Video

Managing Attorney David Guest talks about the threat to the health and wealth of Florida's citizens posed by toxic algae outbreaks in Water Warrior.

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