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The white powder that ate the blue-green algae; North Fort Myers canal gets de-slimed

BGA After bayles.jpg
Tom Bayles
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A hydrogen peroxide-based powder sprinkled on top of a blue-green algae outbreak proceeds to "eat" the bloom. The water, which was filled with algae an hour earlier, will be crystal clear an hour after this photo was taken

It was a classic case of blue-green algae in a canal in Waterway Estates: a thick coating of slimy green bacteria, and blue organic matter swirled together atop the water.

A smell somewhere between rotten eggs and a backed-up sewer was wafting in the air.

A small boat pulled up and a pair of nonchalant guys started tossing out something resembling fine beach sand — like two guys fertilizing their lawns without a hand-spreader.

The tiny crystals landed on the matted algae – and nothing.

The men were spreading a hydrogen peroxide-based formula created by BlueGreen Water Technologies, a Fort Lauderdale-based company out to prove it has invented a way to make noxious algae blooms just disappear.

By extinguishing themselves, one-by-one. As in a mass suicide on a single-cell level.

“It’s sending a biological signal to all the cells, and that will encourage the cells to determine today is the day to die. And that signal will be transferred to all the cells,” said Lucia Ross, chief marketing officer for the water technology company. “They understand when water is not conducive to life for them and it is time to die off.”

So a sandy-looking, hydrogen peroxide powder is going to make organisms talk to each other on a cellular level – all the bacteria have is a cellular level – and say just go ahead and not just die, but die and disappear, too. And solve one of the biggest problems on the water, and not just in Southwest Florida but in places worldwide that are dealing with noxious algae outbreaks.

Nice trick. Keyword: Trick.

Enough time in the business and a journalist knows assignments like this are not going to end well for the company reps working so hard to get publicity for a product whose test phase is happening – or not happening – in real time in front of TV cameras. It’s always a bit sad.

And to think that Lee County environmental folks asked BlueGreen to come out and demonstrate their product to clear the canal of a particularly icky case of blue-green algae. How would they answer for wasting everyone’s time?

BGA BAyles.jpg
Tom Bayles
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The blue-green algae before BlueGreen Water Technologies' algae-eating powder was spread on it and destroyed the algae

There was a gurgle in the water. More like a watery hiccup.

“Is that, it working?”

“Yes,” Ross said. “Yes it is.”

About 20 minutes after the nonchalant men in the small boat spread the sandy-like powder, the greens and the blues started turning white. And then, little by little, the white disappeared.

Ross explained that it even gets better. Not only does the powder get rid of the blue-green algae, but it helps stave off global warming.

“The carbon that would normally be released in the atmosphere by the algae will fall down into the sediment and never be released,” she said, as the algae turned whiter and started to, well, just go away. “Eventually over millions of years it will become lime and never be released into the atmosphere.”

Two hours after the powder was tossed onto the floating mat of algae, there wasn’t much algae, or much anything floating anymore. The water in the canal was turning from a bright green to a more normal, dark-but-clear, tannin-color.

Ross, on a roll she knew was coming, continued:

“Cyanobacteria is a bacterial infection in the water and we are treating it with a hydrogen-peroxide-based product that floats on water rather than sinking into the water column and annihilating it,” she said, explaining how kind the product was on the water itself. “This is a pandemic in water.”

Canal-front resident Kristi Walkowski wasn’t going to believe anything until all of it was gone. And now, three hours into the “experiment,” nearly all of it was gone.

“Hopefully this works,” she said, tired of the stench that comes and goes as long as blue-green algae is around. “We’ll see what happens. It seems to be working really well. So we can just hope for the best.”

By 2 p.m., less than four hours after the powder was spread, the canal was clear. The water was clean. And nobody else was around to see that it actually worked. Even Ross left. Victorious.

BlueGreen’s magic bacteria powder ate the blue-green algae. The blue-green algae turned white like the powder. Then the white, and the powder, just – poof - disappeared.

“These guys are going to be rich,” the last journalist to leave said.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

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