Algal blooms in namesake lakes on opposite sides of the world

14 October 2012

Lake Windermere (UK) (Source: Wikipedia)

Just this week I reported on an algal bloom in Australia’s Lake Windamere, the phonetically-spelt equivalent of the lake of classics, Lake Windermere, in Cumbria, United Kingdom.  Well, not to be outdone, today see’s the appearance of a similar report for Windermere, home of the Freshwater Biological Association – an institution where so much research on algae has arisen.  As an algologist myself, my first pilgrimage to the FBA, then housing the formidable algal ecologist, Dr Colin Reynolds, was back in 1995.

The bloom has been reported near Harrow Slack, a boat launching area west of the big island (Belle Isle) in the northern half of the lake.

New Jersey River = “vilest swillhole in Christendom”

14 October 2012

I think you will agree that this is not the description that you would want for a river that you live near or, if your heart is in the right place, for any river at all.  Yet, this is how the poet William C Williams described New Jersey’s Passaic River back in 1956. Read more »

Swapping water plants for algae: the dangers of using herbicides in lakes

13 October 2012

Dudley Pond, Massachusetts, has fallen foul of an algal bloom!  This may have something to do with the prior eradication of aquatic macrophytes, Eurasian milfoil in this case, using herbicides.  The use of herbicides in a lake or pond that is biologically unstable (enriched with nutrients, for example) is contraindicated as it so often simply presses the alternate stable state ‘switch’ that propels that lake from plants with clear water to soupy algae (and, equally often, it stays that way).  The local water quality committee acknowledges that the pond is plagued by “issues with aging septic systems, fertilizer and garden chemical runoff and a planning for nearby development”.  All of these “red flag” the use of herbicides.

Using herbicides in lakes is effective, cheap and nasty.  It works in some cases, in many it spells disaster. Read more »

Diatoms used to track climate change response in world’s northernmost lake

13 October 2012

Lake Kaffeklubben Sø (Photo: D. Mazzucchi)

Diatoms provide an extremely powerful means of analysing historical conditions in lakes. The use of this group of algae has recently shown that climate change alone is responsible for marked alterations in the world’s northernmost lake,  Kaffeklubben Sø, in Greenland.  The lake has evidenced a recent reappearance of diatoms, indicating a change from perennial ice conditions under which cyanobacteria are the typical sole dominants.  The lake is now warming up after 2400 years of permanent ice cover. Read more »

Sunscreen may protect you from blue-green algal toxins

12 October 2012

Well, not entirely – but it got your attention!  Scientists in Ireland are examining whether or not they can use titanium dioxide (TiO2), a component of sunscreens, to catalyze the degradation of cyanotoxins (toxins produced by blue-green algae) in water.  I am not yet sure which group of toxins they are referring to, I assume its the hepatotoxins, or whether TiO2 can be utilized, cost-effectively, at the concentrations required.  Time will tell.  Of course, with any additive, there are likely to be  collateral impacts – its almost impossible to control one aspect of any ecosystem without impacting something else!  As the reaction is driven by sunlight, I wonder what will happen on cloudy days 😉 Read more »

Water quality threatens South African agriculture

11 October 2012

South Africa’s food security is based on a very fragile foundation, with water quality poised as the single biggest threat to food production, says the Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU).  Not that we need any more bad news – but this comes at a time when the unrest events of recent weeks and a general lack of leadership across a variety of levels, has reduced investor confidence.

…the single biggest threat staring SA in the face is that available clean water and productive agricultural land are now being degraded by the mining industry because of injudicious and uncontrolled mining practices. There is in addition no control over water pollution. Sewage flows freely in our rivers and dams, yet farmers are expected to produce safe and wholesome food.

This statement comes shortly after the warning announced recently by Water Affairs, stating the extreme levels of eutrophication in South African dams – and also the belated, yet positive admission of the problem contained in the revised National Water Resource Strategy (probably THE environmental statement of the year, as yet missed by environmental journalists).

Three Gorges Dam turns into massive algae-rich lake

9 October 2012

The gigantic Three Gorges Dam, built on a major yet (management-wise) enigmatic river, has been controversial since the idea was first conceived. Read more »

Algal warnings starting to come in from Australia & New Zealand

8 October 2012

As the northern hemisphere gets colder (or is it?), things down south are warming up and the focus of CyanoAlert switches to Australia and New Zealand (South Africa does not report algal blooms, at least not in any formal fashion – wait for the first incident of toxicosis and associated court case, then this will change): Read more »

Student realizes value of diatoms for water monitoring: wins trip to Sweden

8 October 2012

Sam Cook meets Princess Victoria of Sweden (Source: This is Dorset)

A Dorset school pupil recently won a trip to Sweden – after winning a competition in which he used diatoms for assessing the quality of water (clever kid).  This bodes well for UK education if this level of insight is promoted within school-level curricula.

Sam Cook represented the UK at the international Stockholm Junior Water Prize and was congratulated on his win by Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden. 

Sam’s project investigated populations of diatoms in freshwater habitats and their importance as indicators of water quality.

Diatoms are single-celled organisms invisible to the naked eye but very important because they can photosynthesise like plants and produce useful energy from sunlight in order to survive.

Sam worked with Bournemouth University academics Dr Genoveva Esteban and Dr Andréa Galotti from the School of Applied Sciences to win the Tomorrow’s Water competition organised by the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM).

South Africa’s Hartbeespoort Dam still has high algal toxin levels

7 October 2012

Hartbeespoort Dam (Photo: Bill Harding)

In a paper published this week, researchers from South Africa’s University of Johannesburg have published data showing extremely high levels of cyanobacterial liver (hepato-) toxins in the notorious Hartbeespoort Dam.  The worrying aspect of this is that there should be routine tests in this and many other SA dams – and the dams closed for recreation when the levels are high – but this never happens.  This begs the question: if private researchers are finding high levels of toxins – why are the authorities responsible for the dam and the associated public safety, not doing so and issuing the appropriate warnings as part of the Metsiame millions being spent to achieve so very little?
Read more »