CDC launches public website to track algal blooms

If poor water conditions in Florida Bay trigger a harmful algae bloom, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants to know.

The national health agency has unveiled a new website that serves as “the first national reporting system for harmful algal blooms,” with links to symptoms of illnesses caused in people and animals as a result of the blooms.

“The website — www.cdc.gov/habs/ — provides information on how to recognize these blooms and what people can do to protect themselves, their families and their pets,” says a CDC release. “Evidence suggests that harmful algal blooms are increasing in frequency and severity as a result of climate change, farming practices, storm and wastewater runoff, and other environmental issues.”

A massive seagrass die-off occurring in northern Florida Bay creates more decaying organic matter that scientists fear could trigger an algal bloom similar to the one that stained waters for several years in the early 1990s. Effects of that bloom on water quality and fish life lingered for decades.

Some algal blooms, both in fresh and saltwater, create health problems.

“Toxins released by harmful algal blooms can cause a variety of illnesses in people or animals,” the CDC says. “Breathing in these toxins can cause coughing or respiratory problems, and swimming in water with a harmful algal bloom can cause skin rashes or other symptoms. “

Exposure to harmful algal blooms “can result in symptoms that affect the skin, stomach and intestines, lungs and nervous system,” the website says. “People also can get sick from eating fish or shellfish contaminated with the toxins.”

“The One Health Harmful Algal Boom System, known as OHHABS, seeks to compile data on harmful algal blooms and associated illnesses.

Along South Florida shores in the Gulf of Mexico, residents keep watch for red tide (Karenia brevis).

“As red tide blooms approach coastal areas, breaking waves can cause their toxins to become mixed with airborne sea spray,” says the Florida Department of Health. “People in coastal areas can experience varying degrees of eye, nose, and throat irritation. When a person leaves an area with a red tide, symptoms usually go away.”

Currently no red tides are reported in Florida waters, but summer is the season typically is the season when they begin to bloom.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206