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Water concern

Cape couple has health worries because of recent algal blooms

July 17, 2018
Lehigh Acres Citizen

Walking along the dock at Rosen Park's boat slip, you'll find the blue-green algae that has been making its way across Southwest Florida bodies of water over the last month or so.

You'll also find Will and Mikayla Zariske, aboard their sailboat "Hello Sunshine"-though things haven't been so sunny for the two in recent weeks.

Surrounded by cyanobacteria, which can potentially produce toxins harmful to the human body, the Zariskes are most concerned with the health of the baby they are expecting soon, as Mikayla is seven months pregnant.

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Rosen Park Marina residents Mikayla and Will Zariske are concerned about the health of their baby who they’re expecting in a few months because of the blue-green algae blooms in the water around their live-aboard sailboat.

"It's caused a lot of breathing problems, sinuses, allergies," Will said. "My wife, she complains when we go out that when we come back, her stomach is upset and the breathing problems persist. I hear it in her sinuses a lot."

"The past few days I've been feeling really sick I can feel it in my face, my nose has been really agitated compared to just normal allergies," Mikayla noted. "I'm doing this (wipes nose) way too much."

The couple was preparing for a doctors appointment for the baby and to inquire about any negative possibilities the bloom could have on their child.

The Zariskes made the move to Rosen Park's boat slip last September due to some financial issues-which are continuing the keep the couple on their boat- and don't recall ever seeing any algae present in the water.

"It's relatively been clear, until about going on three weeks now-green stuff started trickling in and pocketing really thickly during the high tide," Will said.

These algal blooms have been running amuck from Lake Okee-chobee down to the Caloosa-hatchee causing Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency in Lee County July 9.

The blooms have also prompted the city of Cape Coral to post temporary advisory signs at Rosen Park, Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve, Horton Park, Jaycee Park and the Yacht Club Beach.

Cyanobacteria is a type of algae naturally present in freshwater environments.

It is a microorganism that functions similarly to plants in that is feeds through photosynthesis and obtains energy from the sun.

A contributing factor to algal bloom can be increases in nutrients that amplify the extent, duration and intensity of these blooms.

Other factors can include warm temperatures, reduced water flow and lack of animals that eat algae.

The summer and fall seasons can procure this kind of algae in Florida waters. High temperatures and lots of sunlight, combined with runoff from almost daily rains can bring nutrients into waterways and provide the perfect conditions for blooms.

According to the Florida Department of Health, some blue-green algae produce chemicals called cyanotoxins. In high concentrations, these toxins can affect the liver, nervous system and skin.

Other than drinking the affected surface water, it is difficult to get cyanotoxins into the body as they do no become easily airborne and do not pass through the skin readily, according to the DOH.

Rae Ann Wessel, Natural Resource Policy director at the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, put it succently: "If you see green water - stay out of it."

"It's an indication of poor water quality. Don't swim, don't boat, don't kayak through it. It may have central nervous system and liver impacts," she said.

An amino acid of this blue-green algae, BMAA, is being researched for potential ties to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and ALS.

A recent article from the American Council on Science and Heath notes the dangers of neurotoxins produced during blooms, which they say are not to be taken lightly.

The article breaks down three of these deadly-to-the-nervous-system neurotoxins that can be produced by blue-green algae: Anatoxin-a, Lyngbyatoxin-a and Saxitoxin.

Anatoxin-a also eerily goes by the name VFDFVery Fast Death Factor.

Essentially, these are poisons that can bring about skin irritation and rash, respiratory distress, headaches, dizziness, loss or coordination and more.

In some serious instances-especially if ingested-seizures, tumor promotion, paralysis, coma and even death can result due to the affects of these neurotoxins.

All of these reasons contribute to why out of the 20 slips at Rosen Park, only about three or four residents still remain on their boats.

For those that do, such as the Zariskes, the short- and long-term health effects are a real concern for the couple, as well as live-aboard residents across the Cape.

Since the July 4 holiday, they have seen the algae levels rise and their boating community dwindle.

"The lady on slip 10, her and her husband had to get out of here-she tried oxygen, but couldn't take it," Will recounted.

He said the potential effects the bloom can have on his family's health, especially his child, is "scary."

"We're around it every day. If we can get out of here for a day, you notice it," he described. "You're breathing better then you come back and feel it again."

The Zariskes are discouraged with the way Gov. Scott has been handling the situation in Southwest Florida-as well as the lack of community support.

"I really wish Gov. Scott would hold to his word. If he's gonna shut the levies off, then shut em' off. That means keep them off, don't turn them back on," expressed Will.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the releases, has resumed discharges due to the threat of breaching the Herbert Hoover Dike.

The Corps and South Florida Water Management District are working together to allow some water to flow south, instead of just east and west.

A recently approved project for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee should hopefully allow more water to flow south and ease the burden of nutrients into the Caloosahatchee's waters.

Will has reached out to Sen. Bill Nelson and Gov. Scott's offices, only to be referred to an organization such as The Red Cross or Emergency Management.

"They have no knowledge of the algae situation. They have no answers," Will reported.

"My question to them-and I want to hold them accountable- is where are the millions of dollars going? Where's that money going? What are they doing? That's my question."



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