The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) announced a total ban on swimming in the ocean until a toxic algae bloom subsides. Over the weekend, MDEQ added Pascagoula Beach West and Pascagoula Beach East to the list of beaches where swimming is prohibited; the list now includes all of the state’s 21 beaches. The blue-green Harmful Algal Bloom is almost certainly caused by massive amounts of fertilizers that entered the watersheds this year due to unusually high rainfall.
High rates of precipitation over the winter and spring months forced officials to open the Bonnet Carré spillway in Louisiana, which feeds into the Gulf of Mexico. A spillway is essentially a reservoir for excess water from dams that occasionally needs to be released into the ocean when they become too full.
This year, due to abnormally heavy rainfall, the spillway has been opened for a total of 104 days and counting. In comparison, the Bonnet Carré spillway was only opened for 23 days in 2018 and remained closed for all of 2017. Officials believe that the algae bloom will dissipate once the spillway can be closed again, because the bloom will be cut off from the likely source of fertilizer-contaminated freshwater.
The algae bloom is actual a type of cyanobacteria that feeds off of the nutrients from fertilizers, namely nitrogen and phosphorus. The bacteria creates a blue-green tint to the water and has a foul smell. According to a statement released by MDEQ, exposure “can cause rashes, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. MDEQ advises that those exposed wash with soap and water and to not eat fish or any other seafood taken from affected areas.”
Recreation along the beaches and coastlines is still permitted; however, officials prohibit anyone from entering the water and advised “people and their pets to avoid water contact such as swimming or wading, because exposure to the blue-green HAB can be harmful.”
Image via Phil Whitehouse