Riverkeeper takes samples of algae bloom in St. Johns River

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Alphonso Benjamin usually spends every other afternoon fishing along San Marco's River Road and gives his catch away.

"Every now and then I eat a fish," he said.

But he wasn't planning to eat the three croakers in his cooler Monday, thanks to the algae that surfaced on the water.

On the other side of town, the St. Johns Riverkeeper put gloves on.

"Just in case there are dermatoxins, you don't want to get it on your skin," Lisa Rinaman said.

She went to the water's edge to get a sample of the green slime that is algae, screwed the top on tight, and planned to ice it down and send to a lab in Palatka.

There, experts will identify the species of the algae and whatever toxins it may carry. Rinaman said there's a nutrient pollution problem that stretches across the state and needs to be controlled.

"If you use too much fertilizer on your yard, if you fertilize during a rain or right before a rain, those excess nutrients wash off into the storm drain and they come into the St. Johns (River), and that leads to nutrient pollution, which causes these green algae outbreaks," Rinaman said.

The outbreaks can be harmful to humans, fish and wildlife.

"When you see green slime like this, you don't want to touch it, you don't want to eat fish out of it, you want to stay away from it," Rinaman said.

If you don't, it could lead to skin, respiratory or even liver problems, depending on the species and toxicity of the alga, which isn't always easy to see in the water.

"The wind will churn it up and sometimes pull it up under, and so the algae may be present," Rinaman said. "Even if you don't see it on the surface, they can be mixed into the water column."

Benjamin may not eat his catch, but he doesn't plan on leaving this chair anytime soon.

"I'm going to come down here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and fish," he said. "I love fishing, so that's it."

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