Algae emergency empties Florida beaches on July 4th

STUART, Fla. (WSVN) — Four Florida counties experienced drops in tourism on the Fourth of July weekend, as the algae emergency on their coastal waters kept beachgoers away.

Martin, St. Lucie, Lee and Palm Beach counties typically see a spike in tourism during the summer holiday weekend, but some shop owners are outraged, saying that business is down due to the thick, blue-green algae.

“It’s devastating, it’s heartbreaking,” Trina Langstidd, a gift shop owner in Stuart, said. “We’re down at least 50 percent, over the week, 50 to 70 percent.”

“It makes your eyes burn. It feels like someone is sitting on your chest,” meteorologist Jennifer Gray said. “It smells like that. It smells like raw sewage. It looks like raw sewage. Any horrible thing you can think of, that’s what it smells like.”

Dr. Vincent Encomia of the Florida Oceanographic Society said the algae accompanied water releases from Lake Okeechobee, which is intended to protect nearby communities from flooding.

“It’s running off, so the nutrients are coming with the freshwater,” Encomia said, “so that combination plus warm temperatures is going to create the conditions to cause these kinds of conditions.”

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is sampling the algae blooms. They said most results indicate “low to extremely low levels of toxins” present in the water. However, the water still isn’t necessarily safe.

A manatee was found dead in the water, Saturday. Scientists claimed a lack of oxygen caused the death.

Double red flags are flying on beaches, signaling beachgoers to stay on land.

“This beach is usually packed, you usually can’t find a parking whenever we come,” said Stuart resident Rose Rosario, “and there’s nobody here.”

Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is calling on President Barack Obama to do the same to aid the affected areas.

In addition to driving away business, the algae can cause rashes, respiratory problems and, if ingested, liver and kidney damage.

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