Reducing Harmful Green-Algae Blooms Is Crucial to Protecting Aquatic Life

Algae blooms are essential in maintaining a healthy body of water and a great deal of attention has been brought to them in the past number of years. This is because of the harmful impact they can have on the environment, human health, aquatic life and animals. Not all algae blooms are harmful. It is crucial to know which ones are so we can create strategies to ensure our environment and all the beings living on it are protected. Keeping our waters clean is ever more important. We use water for everything from cooking to drinking to cleaning and much more.

What is blue-green algae?

Blue-green algae is a kind of bacteria known as cyanobacteria. It is naturally occurring and a component found in freshwater environments. It’s considered crucial for maintaining a healthy body of water because it produces oxygen. Not to mention, it’s also a source of nutrition for particular marine animals. Responding to certain conditions, Blue-green algae could undergo a population explosion known as blooms.

These conditions involve slow or still-flowing water, warm days with lots of sun and high amounts of nutrients, in particular phosphorus and nitrogen. These blooms occur under natural conditions. Blue-green algal blooms can have an appearance similar to that of spilled green paint or pea soup and are not always uniform. They can sometimes be small and cover less of a lake with visible algae present. Blue-green algal blooms are also not always dense and large. When the cells break down, they create a swamp-like odour.

What’s the problem with algae blooms?

Areas where aquatic creatures are unable to survive due to low oxygen levels are known as dead zones. Generally dead zones are caused by substantial nutrient pollution. Primarily, they are an issue for lakes, bays and coastal water because they are provided with additional nutrients from upstream sources.

The additional phosphorus and nitrogen results in overgrowth of algae and this occurs in just a short period of time (algae blooms). They block sunlight and consume oxygen from the underwater plants. Once the algae finally dies, the oxygen within the water is consumed. Since the oxygen is widely reduced, this makes it very challenging for aquatic creatures to live.

The biggest dead zone within the United States, for example, is the Gulf of Mexico. It is roughly 6,500 square miles and occurs each summer. This is as a direct result of the nutrient pollution that occurs in the Mississippi River Basin.

Some of these algae blooms are known as harmful algal blooms. These blooms are considerably large and produce toxins or chemicals. They typically occur in reservoirs, ponds, bays, rivers, coastal waters and lakes.

Beyond the threats to water quality and aquatic life, algae blooms also have implications for humans, other animals and the environment. When they occur, they interfere with other uses of the water. This can impact human health and has implications for the economy and the planet. They impact water quality by creating unpleasant odours and tastes in addition to scum and discolouration.

It can also be toxic. In other words, contact with large amounts of blue-green algae can cause irritation to the skin and eyes. In serious situations, they can damage the human nervous system and liver. Exposure to blue-green algae blooms has been linked to the death of livestock, pets and wildlife.

As the bloom becomes less intense, decaying and dead algae can lower oxygen levels within the water. This has a direct effect on aquatic animals, causing them to experience stress or could even result in fatalities. During times of drought, algae blooms can severely degrade aquatic ecosystems.

Not all algae blooms are deemed harmful. Some examples of harmful algal blooms that pose implications for aquatic ecosystems, human health and the economy include red tides, cyanobacteria and blue-green algae.

What actions can I take to prevent being harmed by algae blooms?

There are a number of actions you can take to protect yourself from the impacts of green-blue algae blooms. Firstly, if you come into contact with this kind of algae, you should wash your skin thoroughly afterwards. In addition, you should steer clear from using untreated river or lake water for cooking, drinking or brushing your teeth. Many treatment steps are required to remove algae toxins. Therefore, a simple treatment will not cut it. The water could be contaminated and cause irritation to the skin. Another way to prevent yourself from being harmed by algae blooms is to not eat fish from these algae-laden waters.

Is there a way to get rid of harmful algae blooms?

There is no way to fully remove blue-green algae from lakes. This is because while they are harmful, they are an essential component of the overall algal community. Rather than thinking about ways to remove them, we need to think about how to control the frequency and intensity of harmful algae blooms. Controlling the water temperature is out of our means. Therefore, the best action we can take is to lower the number of nutrients that enter these waters. Lowering the nitrogen and phosphorus levels within man-made sources is one of the best ways to accomplish this. This reduction will not occur overnight, but taking this approach is the best long-term solution to lowering the intensity of frequency of these blooms.

A solution does exist

Toxic algae blooms are a global issue and they are accelerating at a frightening rate in our rivers, lakes, reservoirs and oceans. The results of these blooms in our waters can be extreme. They are wiping out aquatic life, threatening human and animal health and our planet. Not to mention, they are impacting local communities and industries like tourism and fishing. While there is no way to entirely eradicate these blooms, we can work to control them. There are actions we can take as individuals to protect our own health. Not to mention, there are also ways we can reduce the intensity and frequency of these blooms by reducing the phosphorus and nitrogen levels in man-made sources.

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DataShark can be configured with different sensors to help monitor temperature, depth, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, blue-green algae, crude, refined oils and more. Any data you collect is immediately available for reporting and analysis through the WasteShark Data Portal.

Whether you run a smart city, water district or an organization, the DataShark helps ensure that data collection is quick and accurate ensuring our waters are safe for everyone.