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Toxic Slime, Algae Make Some Florida Beaches a "Ghost Town"

Photo: Coast near Sewell's Point. Courtesy: Thurlow-Lippisch
Photo: Coast near Sewell's Point. Courtesy: Thurlow-Lippisch
August 29, 2013

SEWELL’S POINT, Fla. – The thousands of Floridians and tourists planning to enjoy the last of summer on this Labor Day weekend will find toxic algae and slime, particularly on waterways and beaches along the southwest and southeast coasts of the state.

It's a constant problem, according to local leaders and environmentalists – made worse by heavy rains this summer.

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a city commissioner for Sewell's Point, says the murky, toxic water is driving people away.

"It is like a ghost town, and you're lucky if you see two or three boats,” she laments. “And I mean normally in the course of a summer you would have hundreds of boats throughout the course of the day."

This Sunday citizens will rally on Jensen Beach where dead manatees, dolphins and pelicans are washing up on the sand.

Environmental groups say it's because of the algae and slime. A large contributor to the problem, according to the Earthjustice and other organizations is the agricultural waste dumped into public canals in central and south Florida.

Earthjustice attorney David Guest says the government needs to step up.

"The government knows how to stop this problem by simply telling the agricultural industry, 'You can't use our canals unless the pollution is below a specific limit,’” he says.

Guest adds limiting the amount of phosphorous and nitrogen waste from manure and fertilizer would have an immediate impact on the levels of algae and slime and would not cost any public dollars.

Sanibel Island City Councilman Mick Denham says while the algae and slime create health and environmental concerns, it's the impact on the economy that he is most concerned about.

"It's an economic issue, affecting jobs, affecting property values,” he explains. “This is critical to us. If we lose the tourism industry, then a lot of jobs are lost in this area."

According to state officials, tourism has an economic impact of $67 billion a year, employing more than a million people.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - FL