You can see Florida’s state-of-emergency level algae bloom from space

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The blue-green algae bloom is visible in this image of Lake Okeechobee, acquired on July 2, 2016

The blue-green algae bloom is visible in this image of Lake Okeechobee, acquired on July 2, 2016

An algae bloom in southeast Florida has grown so large it’s visible from space. A NASA satellite snapped an image of the algal bloom in early May as it festered across 33 square miles in Lake Okeechobee, which drains into Florida coastal waters.

This blue-green algal bloom has persisted into July, and its swift spread prompted Florida Gov. Rick Scott last week to declare a state of emergency to reduce damage to coastal communities. The bloom suffocated tourism and local commerce during what’s normally a busy Fourth of July season. In response, U.S Army Corps of Engineers mobilized to reduce the flow of water from the contaminated lake in hopes of stopping its spread downstream and into the Atlantic Ocean.

Algal blooms are common, not just in Florida but across the country in as many as 20 states. Their presence is typically spurred by nutrient runoff from farms and lawns, but researchers say this year’s blooms in Florida spread widely because of large rainfalls over the winter. The extra precipitation forced local officials to drain Lake Okeechobee’s contaminated water into the St. Lucie canal and subsequently the Atlantic Ocean.

Scientist warn, if left unchecked, algae blooms could harm pets that play in the lake, fish or other wildlife. Dense blooms in 2013 killed more than 120 manatees. People are also advised to avoid swimming in water with algae blooms as it can be harmful if ingested.

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