Orange Lake, the largest lake in North Central Florida and one of the region’s premier fishing spots, was hit with a public health alert.
On Friday, the Florida Department of Health announced that a toxic blue-green algae bloom had sprung up on the lake after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection tested the water on Tuesday.
People can continue to fish in the lake. But the Health Department has issued a litany of precautions.
The department advised avoiding the lake, including no boating, swimming, or other activity where the water could get in a person’s eyes, nose, or mouth. People were advised to keep their pets from the area.
The department did say people could eat fillets from healthy fish caught in the lake, despite the bloom. But anglers must rinse those fish fillets with tap or bottled water, throw out the guts, and cook the fish well.
The Health Department notes that for some people, blue-green algae can cause rashes, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Those highly sensitive to smells can develop respiratory irritation. On some occasions, high exposures to algae-related toxins can affect the liver and nervous system.
Health officials say that anyone who comes into contact with blue-green algae should get out of the area and wash off with soap and water. Also, see a doctor if it appears blue-green algae has made you sick.
Blue-green algae blooms are caused mostly by extended sunny days, warm water temperatures, still water conditions, and excess nutrients.
The department noted that the advisory was a bit out of season, since algal blooms are more common in the summer and early fall.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Orange Lake, which sits in Alachua County just south of Gainesville, but which is also accessible from neighboring Marion County, spans 12,550 acres.
Largemouth bass, bluegill, Redear sunfish, and black crappie are the primary species of fish caught there.
The fishing website Guidesly.com rates Orange Lake among the 10 best lakes in Florida for bass.
“While not as large or with as flashy a reputation as many of the other lakes on this list,” Guidesly said in a review, “Orange Lake remains one of Florida’s best bets for trophy bass.”
Such health alerts last about 30 days until DEP can reassess the water quality.