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Algae vacuum cleans house at Weeki Wachee Springs

Tallahassee, FL (December 4, 2020) – Suck it! That’s the thought the Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park had when contemplating solutions to their algae problem.

For years, volunteers and staff at Weeki Wachee have been combatting an invasive algae threatening to take over the world-famous springs. Lyngbya algae feeds on excess nutrients resulting from runoff in the spring. It has no nutritional value for manatees and other Florida wildlife, and in fact frequently smothers eelgrass and other native vegetation. The algae attaches itself to plants and the bottom of the spring, thereby decreasing habitat for fish. When these mats break loose, they prevent light from reaching below, which further diminishes the water quality and causes extreme fluctuations in dissolved oxygen levels, stressing aquatic life. And for tourists, it’s lousy to look at. Previously, the algae was removed by hand bagging, which was slow, difficult and inefficient. Volunteers had trouble keeping up and the algae threatened to clog the spring.

Enter nonprofit Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida. In October 2017, the Foundation awarded the Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park $40,000 to purchase a large vacuum system to remove Lyngbya thoroughly and efficiently. The device sucks algae up a 50-foot hose into custom-made net bags attached to a pontoon barge. Once filled, the bags are removed from the spring and emptied at ecologically appropriate locations where the algae decomposes harmlessly.

“Our aquatic team have been pulling the algae by hand in small bags for years,” said Andrew Brusso, dive safety officer for Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. “Lyngbya is a stubborn algae that will continue to invade our aquifer system. Hearing that we received this grant for our new system was a dream come true.”

The scale at which algae can now be removed means the past buildup of algae throughout the main spring and adjacent swimming area can be eliminated in the next few months. After that, the vacuum system will be used to keep the springs virtually Lyngbya-free.

Funds for the grant came from the Foundation’s Protect Florida Springs license plate, which contains the image of a scuba diver. Twenty-five dollars from each purchased plate supports conservation of Florida’s unique springs.

“We’re excited when a newly-applied technology solves a persistent conservation problem,” said Foundation President and CEO Andrew Walker. “Weeki Wachee Springs is known the world over and loved by thousands of people. We are pleased this innovative project helps ensure that future generations experience its unique beauty.”

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