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.

 

Fishing for plastic, algae threats and California’s drought policies: this week in environmental news

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

A University of Michigan research scientist and her research assistant sift through debris from the water. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

A University of Michigan research scientist and her research assistant sift through debris from the water. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Researchers troll for plastic on Great Lakes fishing boat (Great Lakes Echo): Captain David Brooks of the Nancy K boat headed out to Lake St. Clair in pursuit of catching bits of plastic in the water. His curiosity was piqued by the fact that a sweater he owned was made of plastic and bits of plastic washed down the drain when he cleaned it. His intention with the plastic hunt in the water was to find out how harmful these bits of plastic can really be to the environment.

Bracing for Lake Erie algae threats to drinking water (Great Lakes Echo): The 2011 all-time high record of the algae blooms in Lake Erie was followed up by a close second high in 2013. Scientists and government organizations are becoming more concerned about the dangers posed by the toxic algae crowding the lake. Researchers take a closer look at the water, algae and problems surrounding it.

California approves forceful steps amid drought (New York Times): State officials have moved forward with implementing harsh repercussions for over-using water. Citizens could be fined $500 per day for simply washing a car or watering a garden. Still, convincing urban residents of the seriousness of the drought has been a difficult task.

3-D images captured with help from a panda, California condor pair and a dugong,.

3-D images captured with help from a panda, California condor pair and a dugong,.

Animals live in 3-D, now scientists do, too (Conservation Magazine): Finding animals’ home ranges have been part of recent studies. These home ranges would help scientists study animals and their habitats and employing 3-D mechanisms has helped them to get a closer look at animal life.

Still poison: Lead bullets remain a big problem for birds (Conservation Magazine): The Bipartisan Sportsman Act of 2014 may have given different parties a chance to unite in support, but would have had other implications for birds during hunting season. The bill would have called for an exemption for lead ammunition and fishing tackle from “longstanding regulations.” Recent studies have shown a growing issue with lead poisoning leading to the death of birds.

 

Algal blooms in the Great Lakes, wolf hunting in the U.P., energy legislation: this week in environmental news

By Kary Askew Garica, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

A fish flops dead on the shore, due to an increase of algae. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

A fish flops dead on the shore, due to an increase of algae. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

Public trust demands Great Lakes phosphorus cuts (Great Lakes Echo): A team of United States and Canadian citizens known as the International Joint Commission, or IJC, have come together to create a public trust to protect the Great Lakes from “excessive nutrient runoff.”. This has created toxic algal blooms in the lakes, adversely affecting the ecosystems and causing beach closures.

Second ballot proposal to stop gray wolf hunt in U.P. approved (Detroit Free Press): A proposal to end hunting of grey wolves in the Upper Peninsula will appear on the ballot on Nov. 5 and could possibly repeal a law passed in 2012. The proposal was pushed by Keep Michigan Wolves Protected and is among three other proposals about the wolf hunt that will also be on the ballot.

Scientists propose new classification system for invasive species (Conservation Magazine): Researchers across the globe came together to create a new classification scheme to better understand risks and threats to biodiversity on the planet. Rather than using a system that points out species who are endangered, they’re classifying invasive species by the adverse effects they impose on the communities they invade.

Obama pushes climate rules despite Dems’ midterm election concerns (Huffington Post): The Obama administration is set to reveal new emissions caps for factories throughout the nation to democrats’ dismay in energy-producing states during the midterm elections. Obama must start now with making an energy efficient nation, a major component to his campaign, otherwise new legislation won’t be enacted before his term ends.

Extensive Great Lakes ice and El Nino equals cooler Michigan summer  (Macomb Daily): Michigan’s frigid winter could continue to impact the state well into the summer. Extensive Great Lakes ice cover could mean higher lake levels, while the cold winter and an El Nino weather pattern mean cooler temperatures will likely continue. This could also delay severe spring storms.