Algae blooms

Blue green algae commonly grow around the world! In fact, it was one of the initial organisms alive.

Microscopic, plantlike organisms called algae thrive on the excess nutrients—like nitrogen and phosphorus—found in fertilizers that make their way from backyards and fields, producing blooms that can sometimes be seen from space.

When a lake or water bed is quarantined as an area of algae bloom, that means the water over there is filled with toxins and is unsafe to touch or use.

Pic courtesy – National Geographic

Picture from the National Geographic about the extent of spreading algae blooms. Read the full article ->

Some of the lakes having algae blooms that have been marked as off-limits from public usage.

Lake Hopatcong in New Jersey, USA

Fresh water algae blooms

Toxic algae water is extremely harmful!

Look for such signs near water bodies

Innumerable microscopic algae help anchor aquatic ecosystems; they turn sunlight into food, and themselves serve as food for water-dwelling frogs, fish, snails, and insects.

But under the wrong conditions—warm water, too much sunlight, and excess nutrients from agricultural or sewage runoff—some species of algae can multiply uncontrollably, forming green, red, blue-green, or brown masses that smother the surface of waters and can produce potentially dangerous toxins.

These are sometimes seen from space. There is a prediction and forecasting system that is used to predict the onset of the algae (influenced by rains, local weather, crop etc.) and guidance provided to coastal areas to close down beaches till the situation gets under control.

Algae blooms over Baltic sea as seen from space
Persistent algae blooms indicate the health of our planet

A view from space can make even algae blooms look beautiful!

Not all algal blooms are created equal. Some just stink up lakes and ponds, but others pose a health risk or have cost coastal economies millions of dollars, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Cyanobacterial bloom from Ukraine

Cyanobacteria’s impact has been researched to be quite powerful. They can produce hazardous toxins—notably the neurotoxin microcystin, which destroys mammalian nerve tissue.

In 2014, a harmful blue-green algae on Lake Erie, near Toledo, Ohio led to microcystin levels in high enough concentration that officials advised half a million residents not to drink tap water for three days. In 2018, officials in Iowa found microcystin in the raw water supplies of 15 out of 26 public water systems tested.

How do they affect us?

Harmful algal blooms can:

  • Produce extremely dangerous toxins that can sicken or kill people and animals
  • Create dead zones in the water
  • Raise treatment costs for drinking water
  • Hurt industries that depend on clean water
Toxic algae blooms in Michigan

Drinking, accidentally swallowing or swimming in water affected by a harmful algal bloom can cause serious health problems including:

  • Rashes
  • Stomach or liver illness
  • Respiratory problems
  • Neurological effects

Stormwater runoff can carry nutrients directly into rivers, lakes and reservoirs, which serve as sources of drinking water for many people. When disinfectants used to treat drinking water react with toxic algae, harmful chemicals called dioxins can be created. These byproducts have been linked to serious health problems, including reproductive and developmental health risks.

How does this affect the environment?

  • Algal blooms can reduce the ability of fish and other aquatic life to find food and can cause entire populations to leave an area or even die.
  • Harmful algal blooms cause thick, green muck that impacts clear water, recreation, businesses and property values.
  • Nutrient pollution fuels the growth of harmful algal blooms which have negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems.
  • Harmful algae blooms sometimes create toxins that are detrimental to fish and other animals. After being consumed by small fish and shellfish, these toxins move up the food chain and can impact larger animals like sea lions, turtles, dolphins, birds and manatees.
  • Even if algal blooms are not toxic, they can negatively impact aquatic life by blocking out sunlight and clogging fish gills.
  • Acid rain, caused by nutrient pollution in the air, damages lakes, streams, estuaries, forests and grasslands across the country.

What can we do?

We can all take action to reduce nutrient pollution through the choices we make around the house, with our pets, in lawn maintenance, and in transportation.

  • Choose phosphate free detergents, soaps and household cleaners for use at home.
  • Revisit your stormwater and waste water management process at home. If you do not have one, set one up that caters to the needs of your home.
  • Remove pet waste after them.
  • Be aware of water body issues in your local community and increase awareness

The amount of fertilizers used, the landscaping done to your yard can all lead to excess nitrogen and phosphorus being washed away into the local water bodies during rainy season.

Algal blooms can be toxic.

Keep people and pets away from water that is green, scummy or smells bad. 

Simple changes in our lifestyle choosing healthier products that have lesser downstream impact can slowly trigger and address the larger issue. Awareness is key.

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