The scene at Pahokee marina on Lake Okeechobee last week was a warning sign: A thick mat of algae in various shades of green, brown, gray and fluorescent blue covered the area around boat slips. In some spots, the gunk was so dense it stuck out 2 inches above the water.
Elsewhere on the lake, the algae wasn’t as chunky, but satellite photos were just as shocking: NOAA monitoring images on Wednesday showed nearly two-thirds of the lake, or 500 square miles, were covered with blue-green algae, the potentially toxic stuff that has fouled rivers and canals in the west and east coasts of Florida in past years, killing fish and scaring tourists away. Green streaks of algae are already visible moving down from the Moore Haven lock on the Caloosahatchee River, which has received Lake Okeechobee water releases in recent weeks to lower lake levels.
Is South Florida in for another summer of slime? The answer has a lot to do with how much water will be flushed from the lake to Florida’s west and east coasts. Already, Lake Okeechobee is at 13.6 feet, 2.5 feet higher than what it was at this time last year. Forecasters are predicting a “well above average” hurricane season this year.