Proliferation of microalgae and enterococci in the Lake Okeechobee, St. Lucie, and Loxahatchee watersheds

E. Kelly, M. Gidley, C. Sinigalliano, N. Kumar, L. Brand, R. J. Harris, H. M. Solo-Gabriele

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


This study is an analysis of relationships between microalgae (measured as chlorophyll a) and the fecal indicator bacteria enterococci. Microalgae blooms and enterococci exceedances have been occurring in Florida's recreational waterways for years. More recently, this has become a management concern as microalgae blooms have been attributed to potentially toxic cyanobacteria, and enterococci exceedances link to human infection/illness. Since both the microalgal blooms and bacterial exceedances occur in regions that receive managed freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee, we hypothesized that both the blooms and exceedances are related to excess nutrients from the lake. Two experimental sites, on Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River (downstream of the lake), plus a control site on the Loxahatchee River (which does not receive lake flow) were evaluated. The hypothesis was evaluated through three study components: 1) analysis of available long-term data from local environmental databases, 2) a year-long monthly sampling and analysis of chlorophyll a, enterococci, nutrients, and physical-chemical data, and 3) microcosm experiments with altered water/sediment conditions. Results support the hypothesis that excess nutrients play a role in both chlorophyll a and enterococci levels. For the St. Lucie River, analyses indicate that chlorophyll a correlated significantly with total Kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN) (R2 = 0.30, p = 0.008) and the strongest model for enterococci included nitrate-nitrite, TKN, total phosphorus, orthophosphorus, and turbidity in our long-term analysis (n = 39, R2 = 0.83, p ≤ 0.001). The microcosm results indicated that chlorophyll a and enterococci only persisted for 36 h in water from all sources, and that sediments from Lake Okeechobee may have allowed for sustained levels of chlorophyll a and enterococci levels. Overall similarities were observed in chlorophyll a and enterococci relationships with nutrient concentrations regardless of a Lake Okeechobee connection, as underscored by a study of flow out of the lake and downstream areas. This suggests that both nutrient-rich lake water and untreated surface water runoff contribute to microalgae blooms and enterococci exceedances in southeast Florida.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number115441
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - Mar 15 2020


  • Blue-green algae
  • Chlorophyll
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Enterococci
  • Phosphorus
  • Total Kjeldahl nitrogen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


Dive into the research topics of 'Proliferation of microalgae and enterococci in the Lake Okeechobee, St. Lucie, and Loxahatchee watersheds'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this