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Sewer-scented algae revisit beaches

The lyngbya algae may smell bad, but experts say they are safe and naturally occurring. The bloom may be caused by lack of rain.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 11, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- Smelling and looking a lot like sewage, lyngbya algae blooms are popping up in St. Petersburg again this year. The slimy brown muck is stinky but safe.

The blooms have been reported in waters near Bahama Shores and Snell Isle, according to the Florida Marine Research Institute. Earlier reports also were made along Florida's west coast from Sarasota Bay to Tampa Bay.

"This is the first I heard about it in Snell Isle," said City Council member Bill Foster, who represents District 3, the northeastern part of the city. "But I was just in Pinellas Point and it was bad there, so I figured it was coming this way."

It was little more than a year ago when southern sections of St. Petersburg's waterfront encountered the same species of algae. Starting in May 1999, the smell and the sight led to speculation about its origins and potential dangers.

"The first reports we had last year were that someone was out throwing dog feces in the water," said Kevin Riskowitz, city lab supervisor for water quality. Riskowitz, who helped manage last year's algae blooms, said the lack of rain both years probably contributed to the problem. This year's blooms are expected to last between between eight and 10 weeks.

Mike Connors, city engineer and storm water director, said the volume of algae in 1999 was much higher, and he has not received any complaints this year. Since the winds and tide can push the large floating mats around, the city will likely wait for nature to take its course to clean up the blooms, said Foster, the City Council member.

"I know we don't have any money budgeted," he said. "It's one of those freaky things that only happens once in a while."

In the meantime, the marine research institute is urging people not to worry. Algae are a naturally occurring event throughout Florida, and there is no evidence that blooms poses any long-term threats, said a press release from the institute. Even so, the sight and smell have many residents recalling last year's encounter with the large blooms that lasted into July.

"Bloom is not the word I'd use. They make you sick," said St. Petersburg resident Jonathan Wolff, who was at the beach near North Shore pool Friday afternoon. "When I'm out walking around, I almost pass out because of the fumes."

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