Lake Erie’s algal blooms: a cause for concern

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

A view of algae-infested Lake Erie. Photo courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory.

A view of algae-infested Lake Erie. Photo courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory.

In a story from the Great Lakes Echo, Lake Erie has yet again produced record-high algae blooms. In 2011, the amount was the worst ever recorded with 2013 coming in close.

Lake Erie has been used as a source of water for farming and drinking and the increasing toxicity poses harm to the environment.

According to Discovery News, algae blooms are a natural part in the life of an aging lake, but have been greatly increased due to human activity.

An explanation of algae

Rick Stumpf, oceanographer from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration examines a water sample from Lake Erie. Photo by Karen Schaefer  courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Rick Stumpf, oceanographer from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration examines a water sample from Lake Erie. Photo by Karen Schaefer courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Algae are common members of aquatic communities. Often in the form of green plants like seaweed, these plants grow and are green because they contain chlorophyll. Algae usually doesn’t pose problems in bodies of water, but algae blooms are of greater concern. These green-blue scum masses are full of harmful cyanobacteria, containing threatening cyanotoxins.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines cyanotoxins as “a diverse group of chemical substances that are categorized by their specific toxic effects. In humans, cyanotoxins can affect the nervous system, gastrointestinal system, liver and increase tumor growth.

Click here to read the fact sheet which includes symptoms of cyanotoxin consumption and contact and treatment.

The toxic dangers in Lake Erie

The problem facing Lake Erie is not only that it’s turning a pernicious green color, it’s under silent attack by toxins in water runoff making their way into the lake. Fertilizer from agricultural practices in recent years has contributed to this issue. Climate change may also be contributing to the issues surrounding Lake Erie, causing more storms, higher water temperatures and less control of fertilizer runoff.

A boat speeds through algae blooms in Lake Erie, 2011. Photo by Peter Essick, National Geographic.

A boat speeds through algae blooms in Lake Erie, 2011. Photo by Peter Essick, National Geographic.

Nutrients in the fertilizer runoff have contributed greatly to the growth of cyanobacteria, fertilizing the toxin rather than the intended on-land crops. Not only is this bacteria harmful for humans to consume in drinking water, it creates “dead zones” in different areas of lakes. A dead zone happens when the bacteria consumes most of the oxygen in a particular area of a lake, so that other organisms are deprived of that oxygen and die.

A plan of action 

In Michigan, scientists hope to continue monitoring the water, although the high amount of algae blooms has been a great cause of stress and concern. Recently, President Obama reauthorized a federal law which allocates $82 million for studying and monitoring algae blooms. This time, the Great Lakes were included.

 

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Asian carp, algae blooms and the Kirtland’s warbler: this week in environmental news

Every Friday, MNA shares recent environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here’s some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

The Kirtland's warbler. Photo by Cindy Mead.

The Kirtland’s warbler. Photo by Cindy Mead.

Asian carp spawning moves closer to Lake Michigan (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel): New evidence shows that spawning Asian carp have been found nearly 100 miles upstream from their previous spawning sites, putting them closer to Lake Michigan. Last month, President Obama introduced efforts to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp, including upgrading electronic barriers.

Huron Pines receives grant to help fund Kirtland warbler efforts (Alpena News): Huron Pines has received a $171,000 grant to continue its work building a support network for the Kirtland’s warbler. The organization will use the funds to continue to build relationships between federal, state, regional and private partners to support the bird when it’s removed from the Endangered Species List.

Lake Erie algae bloom intensifying (ABC 13): A new report shows that the algae bloom in Lake Erie is intensifying. At Ohio’s Maumee Bay State Park, a health advisory posted at the beach indicates there are unsafe levels of bacteria in the water. This bloom is not as large as Lake Erie’s 2011 bloom, but it is larger than last year.

Speed limits affect birds’ behavior (Conservation Magazine): A new study shows that European birds fly away from cars sooner on roads with higher speed limits. The study, conducted on roads in France, observed 134 flights by birds from 21 species, mainly carrion crows, house sparrows, and common blackbirds. It was noted that the actual speed of the vehicle did not affect the birds’ flights.

Catch a close view of some iconic fish (Up North Live): On Friday, August 30, the Black River sturgeon hatchery will be offering public tours from 9 a.m. to noon. During the tours, researchers from the DNR and Michigan State University will discuss lake sturgeon biology, reproductive ecology, and research. The hatchery is located in Cheboygan County on the Upper Black River. Tours are free of charge.

 

Asian carp, rising water levels, and a pet deer: this week in environmental news

By Allison Raeck, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares recent environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here’s some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

Great Lakes event seeks more data on Asian carp (Journal and Courier): Asian carp and other invasive species were one of the main topics of discussion last Monday at the Conference on Great Lakes Research at Purdue University. Presenters emphasized the Asian carp’s negative impact on the Great Lakes and focused on better understanding the species. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn also suggested a separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems as a possible solution to eliminate Asian carp.

Lake Superior level jumps 9 inches in May (The Daily News): Though Lake Superior usually only rises about four inches each May, its water level jumped nine inches last month. The rise is a result of cold spring temperatures and late snow, which held back runoff until melting. Lakes Michigan and Huron are also quickly rising from near record-setting low water levels last winter and these higher lake levels could have positive outcomes for both recreational boaters and the Great Lakes shipping industry.

Plastic bags harm Duluth streams, Lake Superior (Great Lakes Echo): Duluth city councilor Emily Larson has teamed up with the organization Bag It Duluth to decrease plastic bag use across Minnesota. Because they are unable to fully decompose, grocery store plastic bags often clog drainage pipes, causing backflows. Bag It Duluth hopes to combat this by spreading public awareness and encouraging shoppers to recycle or reuse bags. Though the project is still in its first stages of development, it has begun to generate community interest as both citizens and businesses are looking to get involved.

Belle Isle project improves fish habitat, opportunities for anglers (Detroit Free Press): The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has offered $2 million in grants to Belle Isle park in hopes of improving fish habitat in the area. The majority of this money supports the Blue Heron Lagoon, a 41-acre wetland on the east side of the island, in hopes of improving the fishing experience at the park. Workers are expanding fish spawning areas and planting both submerged and emerged plants to diversify the lagoon’s biosystem and promote a healthy community of wildlife.

ImageLake Erie’s Record Breaking Algae Bloom of 2011 May Be a Sign of Things to Come (Great Lakes Now): A recent study from the University of Michigan revealed what may have been the cause of the harmful algae bloom on Lake Erie that occurred in 2011. In October of that year, algae covered approximately 2,000 square miles of the lake, negatively impacting its water quality and biodiversity. By using computerized climate models, researchers found that high levels of spring precipitation combined with an abundance of dissolved phosphorus from no-till farming contributed to the bloom, and the team is looking into ways to avoid the issue in the future.

Pet Deer, Lilly, Sparks Legal Battle For Michigan Family (Huffington Post): A Genesee County couple is facing controversy over their pet deer, Lilly. The couple acquired Lilly when the deer’s mother was hit by a car five years ago, and they have kept her in their home ever since. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently notified the owners that the deer must be released into the wild, complying with laws regarding the use of wild animals as private property. The couple has hired a lawyer in an attempt to keep the deer.