BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — Marine and wildlife officials are keeping a close eye on a brown algae bloom in the Banana River as it becomes a growing concern for the entire Indian River Lagoon system.
The algae bloom is similar in size to a 2016 bloom that appeared months before a massive fish kill.
“Above and beyond my livelihood, this is where I was born and raised. This is who a lot of us in the area are, and it’s terrifying that we’ve lost an immense amount of sea grass,” said Capt. Alex Gorichky, of Local Lines Charters.
The Marine Resources Council is also keeping a close watch on the Banana River.
The nonprofit is finalizing a report card that will be released in April on the overall health of the Indian River Lagoon system.
Dr. Leesa Souto, the group's executive director, said the recent algae bloom provides reason for concern.
“We're looking at this brown tide as similar to the concentration and extent of the 2016 brown tide,” she said.“We're holding our breath.”
When the brown algae in the lagoon died all at once it caused the levels of dissolved oxygen in the water to plummet, which resulted in a massive fish kill.
“There's not a public health risk concern, but brown tide is a reason for concern for the ecosystem's health,” Souto said. “It is blocking the light from reaching the seagrass. It is clogging the gills of certain organisms. It's ugly. It looks like chocolate milk. It's kind of mocha today.”
Souto said on a scale of zero to 100, the current scores of the lagoon range from zero to 60.
“The goal of this report isn't just to tell everybody what they already know. Things are really bad right now. The scores are very low. It's more about looking forward, or about a hope for the future,” said Souto.
The results on the report card will help dictate a baseline for projects aimed at protecting the Indian River Lagoon.
“I can't accept that we can't figure out what we've done over the last 50-60 years to make it this way, and not come to a point where we can understand it and reverse that situation,” Gorichky said.
A half-cent sales tax has already generated $39 million for the Save Our Indian River Lagoon project plan.