On the River – Nov. 2013

Fingers are crossed this month that toxic algae blooms will no longer be coating our river with green slime. Unfortunately, October was a different story with the “Green Monster” rearing its ugly head and releasing toxins that were harmful to recreation, wildlife, pets, fisheries, businesses and even human health.
Sampling the Green Monster
In late October, St. Johns Riverkeeper, a nonprofit advocacy group for protection of the St. Johns River, took algae samples from the St. Johns at Jacksonville University. Test results detected exceptionally high microcystin toxin levels that posed serious health risks. These alarming results prompted the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) to do more sampling at Doctors Lake Marina in Clay County. The SJRWMD’s samples showed toxin levels that were up to 200 times higher than the recommended recreational exposure threshold from the World Health Organization (WHO).
The blooms were a startling reminder that our St. Johns River is still sick and continues to need our help. Hopefully, this month we can all get back out on the water to enjoy the river. Still, we must continue to take precautions and avoid any algal blooms, fish kills, or anything that appears out of the ordinary.
What is in an Algae Bloom?
Algae blooms often occur as a result of excessive concentration of nutrients in our river and waterways. Too much nitrogen and phosphorous feeds the growth of algal blooms that can deplete oxygen in the water needed by fish, reduce light that is essential to submerged vegetation, and threaten the health of both humans and aquatic life. Excess nutrients result from lawn fertilizers, failing septic tanks, manure, wastewater discharges and stormwater runoff that regularly washes into the river.
The Florida Department of Health in Duval County recently released a statement with these safety tips: “Blue-green algae toxins can affect the liver, nervous system and skin. Most problems happen when water containing high toxin amounts is ingested. Abdominal cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting may occur if any untreated surface water is swallowed. Direct contact or breathing airborne droplets containing high levels of algal toxins during swimming or showering can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat. Rashes can develop when skin is exposed to the algae. Individuals should avoid coming in contact with a blue-green algae bloom, especially children and pets. DOH-Florida also recommends that fish caught in or near the bloom not be consumed.”
Getting On the River
As the weather cools and the “Green Monster” hopefully goes into hibernation, we can again look to events and experiences on the St. Johns River. The good news is that we all can make a difference by reducing our use of fertilizers, preventing runoff, maintaining septic tanks, and adopting other River Friendly practices. The City of Jacksonville, too, can do much more to protect this great resource if we continue to advocate for this resource in our downtown. Learn more and take the River Friendly Pledge at www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org/river-friendly.
Being reminded of the beauty and the countless benefits that the St. Johns provides to our quality of life and local economy adds to the disappointment felt in our community as we watch it suffer. Our river may be sick, but it is far from a lost cause. By working together, we can send the Green Monster packing and have a river that is never unsafe for fishing, swimming, boating or events and activities along its banks.

About Shannon Blankinship

Shannon Blankinship is the Outreach Director for St. Johns Riverkeeper and contributes regularly via the “On The River” column building awareness for the many issues that impact the St. Johns River. Shannon received her B.S. from Purdue University in Natural Resources Economics and Policy and her J.D. from Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. She is currently an elected official in Duval County serving on the Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a board member for the local nonprofit The Girls Gone Green and regularly contributes articles affecting animals and health. She is a Springfield resident and works to promote all things great in the urban core neighborhoods.