Protesters demand answers about Florida's poisonous algae bloom

STUART, Fla. -- Protesters are demanding answers and action over a toxic mess in Florida sparking health concerns and affecting holiday plans. A poisonous algae bloom is plaguing four Florida counties, all now under a state of emergency.

The algae bloom has already taken a toll on the busy holiday weekend in the region. One beach would normally be packed, but has been closed to swimmers, reports CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca.

Protesters -- rather than sunbathers -- filled Florida's Stuart Public Beach on Saturday.

"These people need to put their money where their mouth is," congressional candidate Brian Mast said.

"We're losing our way of life here," protester Allie Preston said.

People blame state politicians for allowing polluted water to be released from Lake Okeechobee into the Saint Lucie Estuary, one of the areas that has been covered in algae.

Bill Louda, a research professor at Florida Atlantic University, has been helping collect and test the algae that has wreaked havoc along Florida's Treasure Coast.

"If I was in government, I would say we've got to stop the pollution," Louda said.

Lake Okeechobee is the largest freshwater body in the state, but is polluted with runoff containing human waste, animal feed and fertilizer -- all nutrients that algae thrive on. To manage flooding, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases the lake's water into surrounding rivers and lagoons.

"We just are putting way too much nitrogen and phosphorus into our natural waters, and they respond," Louda said.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio saw how badly the water responded on Friday and described the situation as a catastrophe of epic proportions. He is calling for an emergency declaration from Washington.

"To allow emergency funds to assist the businesses that have been wiped out by this, have the healthcare agencies come down here and look at the long term impact of this bacteria that's now present," Rubio said.

Louda said there's no quick fix for the problem, at least not one without a disastrous domino effect.

"If you kill this algae, you're going to kill the sea grass, the macro algae, all the good phytoplankton that the fish need, everything else," he said.

The algae also moves quickly, shifting with the winds and the tides, making it difficult to predict where it might show up next. The final total of how much local businesses have lost has yet to be determined, but talking to people here, it has been devastating. It could take weeks for this algae to wash away.