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Surf Shop Petition To Stop 'Big Sugar' Sales Gains Traction

Ohana Surf Shop

The toxic blue-green algae plaguing the Treasure Coast has inspired people to take action against one of Lake Okeechobee's largest pollutants: Big Sugar. Last week, a surf shop in Stuart started a petition asking Publix to stop buying from Florida Big Sugar.


“Publix is a Florida-owned company so it's got to be affecting them, the owner, in some way,” said Brent Meinhold, one of the managers of Ohana Surf Shop.


Meinhold and his co-workers started a petition on change.org asking Publix to stop buying from Florida Crystals and Domino Sugar. Environmentalists blame runoff from these sugar factories for the pollution in Lake Okeechobee that sparked the algae bloom.


A 2015 report from the South Florida Water Management District points to pollution from other agricultural farms north of the lake as the main source of phosphorous pollution.


Although Big Sugar has contributed less runoff recently, it still has a murky history with the lake. A 1992 study found Big Sugar used to contribute to 28 percent of the phosphorus in Lake Okeechobee.


Credit Martin County Health Department
A lifeguard took this photo at Stuart Beach.

Meinhold grew up in Stuart and says the community there has been aware of the link between Lake Okeechobee and algae all his life.

“My parents would tell me, 'Oh, you can't go out on the boat because they released the water and it's possibly going to have blue-green algae.' In fact, in that day it was a possibility of blue-green algae. Now when they release, you can guarantee there is going to be the toxic algae in our rivers,” said Meinhold.

Publix has not yet responded to the petition; which has received almost 15,000 signatures from all over the world, including even Publix employees. Publix also hasn't responded to repeated requests from WLRN for comment on the petition.

Meinhold can't imagine Publix CEO Todd Jones will be able to ignore the algae much longer.

“I'm sure if I was the owner of a multi-billion-dollar grocery store [chain], I would probably live on the river and have a boat and want to enjoy it,” said Meinhold.

In a statement on its website, Florida Crystals says the water in the region experiencing the algal blooms doesn't come from their basin.

Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in the counties affected by the algae bloom, but insists the source of the pollution is caused by leaky septic tanks and sewer systems.