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Algae bloom in St. Johns River threatens cancellation of swimming event

3:55 PM, Sep 4, 2013   |    comments
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  • Green algae blooms caused by high content of nutrients in water
  • St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman takes water samples with help of JU Biology professor Andy Oulette
    

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Plans for 10 swimmers to swim 10 kilometers down the St. Johns River Saturday morning could be cancelled if levels of algae in the river are too toxic.

Jim Alabiso runs an organization called Jumping Fish, an advocacy group for the St. Johns River. He promotes athletics in the river in hopes of boosting tourism and the economy along the river.

Alabiso is concerned that the river may not be safe for the 10 swimmers participating in the Up the River Downtown event.

"If we end up going in there, there could be some nausea, some toxic effects that go along with that," said Alabiso. "Obviously if there is a big sludge, a film and it is really dense, I am not getting in it. It can be toxic to some people at some levels and not to others, it is up to each individual swimmer, but we may call the swim if it looks bad."

The green algae is in full view around Jacksonville University where the race is set to start. Wednesday morning, St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman took samples with the help of JU biology professor Andy Ouellette to be sent to Greenwater Labs in Palatka to determine if it is safe to swim in the river.

"I did look at a sample this morning under the microscope and it confirms there are microsystic colonies," said Oulette. "And so the question is, are they producing toxins, and if they are, how much."

Rinaman is disappointed to see so much green stuff in the river, caused by too many nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous in the water.

"It just breaks my heart," said Rinaman.  "I went swimming earlier in Julington Creek with my kids. It was not visible on the surface but when we got out of the water, you could see it on your legs."

Rinaman said this is a reminder that everyone can chip in and help prevent this from happening and take better care of the river.

"If we use less fertilizer, if we plant native plants, if we pick up after our pet droppings, if we make sure our septic tanks are well-maintained, all these things lead to nutrient pollution. Don't pour anything down the storm drain, only rain down the drain, all these add nutrients, so if we all do our part, it can make a big difference for our river."

Results of the test will be available Thursday afternoon. The results could help decide if the swim goes on, a decision that will not be made until Saturday morning. Alabiso said if the swim is canceled, it is still an opportunity to get in boats and go down the river and urge everyone to take care of the river.

The event is a fundraiser for the Special Olympics swim team. It begins at JU and ends at the Riverside Arts Market. 

Alabiso is hoping next year to stage a race in the river that could attract up to 500 swimmers to Jacksonville to compete. Alabiso goes around the country competing in such events and said Jacksonville is missing out by not doing the same here and promoting tourism and improving the economy here along the river.

First Coast News

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