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Response and Analyses

 

Cyanobacteria Bloom Response

Cyanobacteria bloom response is not the responsibility of just one government agency. The potential for human health, wildlife, and environmental impacts requires staff from multiple state and local government agencies to coordinate their responses to a bloom event. In order to facilitate this coordination, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Health, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Water Management Districts have identified cyanobacteria bloom response team members that act as their agencies bloom contacts. The cyanobacteria bloom response team members have access to the Cyanobacteria Module with the Department of Healths Foodborne, Waterborne, and Vectorborne Surveillance System (FWVSS). Each time a new cyanobacteria bloom event is added or updated in the Cyanobacteria Module, an email is sent to all of the cyanobacteria bloom response team members notifying them of a new entry. The team members then coordinate their response activities, based upon the nature of the bloom event.

How Laboratory Analyses Inform Management Actions

When a bloom is reported, staff from one of the potential responding agencies will typically perform a site visit. During the site visit, agency staff attempt to determine the extent and severity of the bloom. Often, samples of the bloom-affected water are collected for laboratory analysis to determine what species of algae or cyanobacteria are blooming and, if necessary, to determine if toxins are present in the water. There are many species of algae and cyanobacteria that can form blooms and only a minority of those species are known to produce toxins. Knowing whether the bloom is a potential toxin-producing species or not can help the agencies to prioritize their response activities.

Cyanobacteria blooms have the potential to change very rapidly. Changes in weather, temperature, wind, and current can cause dramatic shifts in the physical characteristics of some blooms. Some species of cyanobacteria form blooms that occur mostly at the surface of the water. These blooms can rapidly change from very dilute, widely dispersed blooms to thick scum layers along shorelines due to the effects of wind and changes in atmospheric pressure. If the bloom happens to be producing toxins, these toxin concentrations can change just as rapidly. The occurrence or rate of algal toxin production can change unexpectedly as well. The factors that cause a bloom to produce toxins are not well understood at this time. This makes it difficult to use the results of toxin analyses in making bloom response management decisions. However, knowing that a bloom is producing toxins lets the responding agencies and the public know that they are dealing with a known hazard rather than a potential hazard.

Neither the State of Florida, nor the federal government, currently has water quality criteria for cyanotoxins. There are no safe thresholds for recreational exposure to these toxins. As a result, the Florida Department of Health simply advises people not to come into contact with bloom-affected waters and not to allow their pets or livestock to drink or come into contact with these waters until the bloom has disappeared. While this may be over protective in the event of a non-toxin producing bloom, it is the surest way to keep Floridians safe.

For more information on Sampling Procedures, please visit the Sampling page.

Last updated: September 21, 2011

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