Closed Mississippi beaches due to toxic algae hurting local businesses

Toxic algae closes Mississippi beaches
Toxic algae closes Mississippi beaches 02:15

Last Updated Jul 9, 2019 6:55 PM EDT

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Gulfport, Miss. — With temperatures in the upper 90's Tuesday, it was a good day for a swim along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. But a toxic algae bloom has forced the state to close all coastal beaches for swimming. There's even a warning against eating local seafood.

The problem started upriver, where major flooding along the Mississippi forced officials to relieve pressure on levees by opening this spillway in Louisiana. The freshwater can alter the sea levels in the Gulf. It also carries agricultural runoff including fertilizer — which along with warming Gulf waters — could fuel the outbreak, which now extends along 40 miles of Mississippi coastline.

The algae blooms can cause a host of ailments including rashes, nausea and diarrhea in people and animals. Alison Robertson, a researcher at Dauphin Island Sea Lab, said the water advisory is out of an abundance of caution.

"There's a very, very low chance of any human health effects associated with being in the water," Robertson said.


Still, business owners along the coast are worried. Tourism there accounted for more than $2 billion in 2018 and more than 28,000 jobs.

James Barney Foster's jet ski business in Biloxi thrives or dies by the water. Last year was good so he invested in 28 new jet skis.

"They came here on July 3 at 6 p.m and shut us down or we'd get arrested," Foster said.

But the warnings came before the Fourth of July weekend, so some vacationers have stayed away. He will now have to sell some jet skis to stay afloat.

Officials are also cautioning against eating seafood from the affected areas, at least for now. The spillway sending all that water could be shut off next week, but there's no telling how long the algae will linger.