Florida algae – out of sight, out of mind?
Out of sight, but probably not fully out of mind. The google trend chart below shows the relative number of searches for the word “algae” in the United States. It’s clear the peak searching was last summer at the height of the algae disaster. That’s quite understandable; however, the disaster didn’t end with the relatively cool winter weather and the visible, macroscopic retreat of the algae. Both were temporary.
Algae thrives in warm water – no mater where
Climate Change may be the preferred name for the results of our baking of our planet, but the term Global Warming explicitly conveys that the problem is not regional. To be sure, the problems in Florida last year were extreme, but looking at a few of the recent headlines from Australia will quickly show that algae blooms are wrecking havoc in parts of the world where it’s currently mid-summer.
Huge algae blooms swarm Beachmere’s foreshore, December 12, 2018 
‘Nature bites back’: Algal blooms trigger mass fish deaths in western NSW, January 7, 2019 
More Darling River fish kills from algal blooms likely as heat builds, January 8, 2019 
Mass fish deaths in Australia set to continue, January 17, 2019 
Heat Waves Are Causing Mass Fish Deaths in Australia. January 17, 2019 
The successive government failures behind the fish kills, January 31, 2019 
Australia’s extreme heat is sign of things to come, scientists warn, February 1, 2019 
These recent photos from Australia are all too reminiscent of Florida in 2018.
Will the Florida summer of 2019 be as awful as 2018? No one knows the answer to that, but there has been no change in the factors that caused the outbreak last year. I had noted last year in “Algae blooms in Florida are a manifestation of a much larger problem,”  that while the conditions in Florida were extreme, they were in no way unique. The headlines from Australia are an unfortunate confirmation of that fact.
Climate change is everywhere, as are nutrient runoffs and water mismanagement. There is no indication that any of the major contributing factors in Florida have changed in the last nine months. That’s not surprising. A catastrophe that was decades in the making will take decades to remedy. One short-term variable is the weather. What can forecasters tell us about the upcoming summer in Florida?
El Niño is back
The El Niño Southern Oscillation (commonly called ENSO), that bulge of warm water in the Pacific that impacts weather in the United States, officially formed on Valentine’s Day. , Although there is an El Niño, forecasters believe it will be relatively weak and not have an extreme impact on weather.  A strong El Niño is typically associated with cooler temperatures in Florida and higher precipitation.  A strong El Niño would have a mixed impact for algae problems in Southwest Florida. Cool temperatures would tend to suppress algae growth while increased precipitation would increase nutrient runoff and increase filling of Lake Okeechobee. But the El Niño should be weak. Is that cause for celebration?
Hold the champagne
A weak El Niño may not be cause for celebrations. A better indication of summer conditions may be the official NOAA predictions. What they show for Florida in May, June, and July is above normal precipitation  and above normal temperatures.  If the forecast hold true (it’s weather after all) then above average precipitation brings Lake O discharges into play, and warm temperatures accelerate the growth of algae. 2018 déjà vu.
And… They’re back
A local news station in Fort Myers has reported that algae has already been observed at Franklin Lock in Alva , and water samples have tested positive for cyanobacteria.  FGCU professor, Dr. Toshi Urakawa tested the samples and offered his succinct, but ominous interpretation of the results, by stating: “This is microcystis aruganosa. They are coming back again.”
2018 in Florida was not an anomaly
As I observed in my posting from last year, algae blooms have been around for centuries and exist throughout the world. There is no reasonable expectation that they will disappear, or even diminish, in intensity. To the contrary, all evidence indicates they will only intensify as the root cause of their existence has yet to be addressed.
To make big changes, every voice counts – no matter how small. Climate change is real and it’s here now. Speak up, let your representatives know it’s a critical issue that will impact all lives for generations to come.