South Florida is facing a new environmental crisis: a "guacamole-like" sludge is spreading along Florida's normally-scenic southern coast and it's not only disgusting looking, but it's also causing a vast array of problems, ranging from giving residents allergies to threatening marine life. From the aerial footage, the putrid invasion looks like an oil spill, but it's not-- it's actually algae and it's been spreading since June, without stopping. The disgusting algae is the result of overflow of polluted water that made its way into the ocean. Four Florida counties have declared a state of emergency this week, including Martin, St. Lucie, Palm Beach, and Lee counties. All four of these counties are connected to the state's largest freshwater body, Lake Okeechobee, which has seen unprecedented levels of toxins over the past few months. Unusually high levels of rainfall this year resulted in the government having to "back-pump" billions of gallons of polluted runoff into the lake in order to save crops and reduce risk of flooding in the area. But a new problem arose from this back-pumping-- the lake started to overflow itself. Officials were faced with a very tough choice: open a series of levees that surround the lake, dumping excess waters into the rivers and estuaries that lead into the ocean, or let the lake continue to rise, posing great danger to the surrounding area. They chose to open the levees.
Many people are pointing fingers, placing blame on the federal government, irate about the amount of pollution that plagues Lake Okeechobee. Residents are most concerned about plugging their noses to avoid the putrid smell, business owners are worried about how this will affect tourism in the area, and marine conservationists are terrified about how this will affect the already-fragile marine ecosystem. We can only hope that people in positions of power can somehow work on rectifying this awful situation.
As always, reduce, reuse, recycle, and conserve. Small, everyday changes can make a big difference.