It’s that time of year --- algae season. No, not “allergy.”
While troublesome jellyfish infestations are on the increase in our oceans, harmful algal blooms are growing in size and frequency in fresh water during summer and early fall.
And there’s even one of the latter now plaguing the salty water of Florida’s Biscayne Bay, according to the Miami Herald:
“Biscayne Bay, famed for its clear water and trophy bonefish, has been tainted by an algae bloom that may rank as the largest ever recorded in the bay.
“The bloom, which has left large swathes of the bay looking like pea soup and smelling like a Porta-Potty, appears to pose no human health risks and hasn’t produced any noticeable fish kills — at least not yet.
“But if it persists too long, it could damage fragile sea grass beds, disrupt the marine food chain and make boating, fishing and sand-bar bikini parties considerably less pleasant.”
Meanwhile, in Kentucky, the first alerts ever have been issued for blue-green algal blooms, according to the Courier-Journal:
“First, it was Taylorsville Lake to get a warning — the first such alert ever for a Kentucky lake. Now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Kentucky Division of Water area warning recreational users of potentially toxic situations at Rough River Lake and Barren River Lake.
“According to Naturally Connected, the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection blog, there’s a difference between different type of algae:
“The more typical green algae, which are not harmful to humans or animals, come in many forms and may look like underwater moss, stringy mats or floating scum.
“Cyanobacteria, on the other hand, looks like slicks of opaque, bright-green paint, but closer inspection often reveals the grainy, sawdust-like appearance of individual colonies of bacteria. The color of the algae may also appear as red or brown.
“All three lakes remain open, but these precautions are recommended:
- “Avoid contact with visible algae and do not swallow water while swimming.
- “Take a bath or shower with warm, soapy water after coming in contact with water in ponds and lakes, especially before preparing or consuming food.
- “Prevent pets and livestock from entering the water or drinking untreated water from these sources. Livestock, pets and wild animals can be poisoned by the toxins produced by some algal blooms. Small animals can ingest a toxic dose quickly. Dogs are particularly susceptible to blue-green algae poisoning because the scum can attach to their coats and be swallowed during self-cleaning.
- “Remove fish skin and organs before cooking and do not consume or allow pets/animals to consume the organs or skin.”
Finally, NOAA is telling us that blue-green blooms in western Lake Erie will be worse this year than last:
“NOAA and its research partners predict that the 2013 western Lake Erie harmful algal bloom (HAB) season will have a significant bloom of cyanobacteria, a toxic blue-green alga this summer. The predicted bloom is expected to be larger than last year, but considerably less than the record-setting 2011 bloom. Bloom impacts will vary across the lake’s western basin. This marks the second time NOAA has issued an annual outlook for western Lake Erie.
“Harmful algae blooms were common on western Lake Erie in the 1960s and 1970s. After a lapse of nearly 20 years, they have been steadily increasing over the past decade.”
What’s happening that’s encouraging jellyfish and algal blooms in our waters worldwide? Opinions among scientists vary. But one reason almost certainly is that these blooms are being fed by nutrient overload that pours into our rivers and oceans as runoff from agricultural lands and discharges from sewage plants.