Be prepared for seasonal blue-green algal blooms

24 December 2013

Blue-green algal blooms are seasonally-common right now!  (Photo: Bill Harding)

Blue-green algal blooms are seasonally-common right now! (Photo: Bill Harding)

It’s that time of year in South Africa again – temperatures have warmed up and so have nutrient-enriched dams and ponds.  Many have developed algal blooms that could be toxic, so beware!

Droplets contains lots of useful information about blue-green algae and their toxins.  In the USA, the Centre for Disease Control has produced a very useful facts sheet that provides all the essential background.  South Africa does not have any resources focussed on algal blooms (!) or where to get help should one develop problems after being in contact with toxic algae.  DH Environmental Consulting can be approached for guidance and we have ability for rapid on-site toxin testing and algal identification.  Algal blooms pose a threat  to humans, pets and livestock.  They should not be underestimated.

We will shortly be releasing an App that will enable users to send us details of algal blooms they come across so that we can build a geographic database of bloom occurrence.  In the meantime you are welcome to email us information and photographs of what you saw, to

Merry Xmas!

Breakthrough Discovery Links Blue-Green Algae With Motor Neuron Disease

17 October 2013

(This press release was made by University of Technology, Sydney and is repeated here verbatim as part of Droplet’s information program on the possible links between BMAA and motor neuron disease – search Droplets for ‘BMAA’ for more information).

In summary:

  • For the first time UTS and US research has found a link between toxins produced by blue-green algae and motor neurone disease
  • Over 90 per cent of motor neuron diseases have had no known cause or cure

A recently identified link between a toxic amino acid found in blue-green algae and several motor neuron diseases could help researchers devise a therapy for the fatal conditions. Read more »

Blue-green algal blooms close Lake Erie beaches

17 July 2013

All beaches in the Chatham-Kent area of Lake Erie (Canada) have been closed as a result of dense cyanobacterial blooms. There is a stunning photo of a bloom off this shoreline at this link.

The Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit is advising the public to avoid exposure to the blue green algae.

  • Do not swim or wade in any water when a noticeable green surface scum or green discolouration of the water is present

  • Do not use the water for drinking, bathing or showering

  • Do not allow children, pets or livestock to drink or swim in the water.

  • Do not boil the water or treat it with a disinfectant, as this will release more toxins into the water

  • Eating fish caught in water where cyanobacterial blooms occur is not recommended. Read more »

A Little P can cause Big Problems

1 March 2013

Herewith a few CyanoAlerts to start off March!

A newcomer to Droplets CyanoAlert is Ella Lake – which is in Northern Ontario, rural Canada, one of dozens of lakes just south of the Trans Canada Highway.  Ella has a reported blue-green algal bloom – despite having very low levels of phosphorus (see graphic below) – illustrating the important fact that a little nutrient enrichment can cause a big problem.  Such low levels of Phosphorus is the stuff of dreams for us here in South Africa! Read more »

Research shows the way to fix Iowa’s eutrophication problem

7 January 2013

The US state of Iowa featured a lot in these posts during 2012.  Many Iowan lakes are enriched with nutrients, a lot of which comes from agriculture – not just suspected of coming from agriculture, actually shown to be.  So, how to deal with a big portion of the problem is clear – throw effort at the polluted agric runoff and get it down to acceptable levels.  OK, it may not be that simple as a press report today suggests:

First, unlike the approach used for cities, the strategy continues to rely on all-voluntary farm conservation programs, which have fallen short of protecting our waters in the past. Even though research clearly shows significantly increasing farmer participation in conservation programs is critical for success of the plan, the document does not set timetables or goals to ensure that this will happen. Read more »

Algal blooms hotting up down south

18 December 2012

And you thought that Spielberg character made up aliens that look like me? (Empusa guttula, female. Photo: Bill Harding)

Things are hotting up down here in the Southern Hemisphere and through the heat haze from my veranda I am kept awake by the regular fall of over-ripe plums from a tree that has become a veritable wildlife sanctuary for all sorts of birds, bees, beetles and the handsome guy in the picture above, well he was just passing through!

The increasing seasonal heat is closely associated with the increased number of algal bloom reports. Read more »

DHEC surveys links between toxic algae and motor neuron disease

29 May 2011

In a first for South Africa, Dr Bill Harding from DH Environmental Consulting (DHEC) will conduct a research survey to test for links between cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and neurodegenerative diseases (Motor Neuron Disease, MND; Parkinsons Dementia Complex, PDC;  and Alzheimers). Read more »

Not all toxic algae float…

23 May 2011


Typical blue-green algal scum in a farm dam (Photo: Bill Harding)

The commonest form of blue-green algal blooms in lakes and ponds are of the floating, scum-forming variety.  These are easy to spot as the water is very green, often paint-like, scums form at the edges, either in the water or on the rocks. Read more »

Blue-green algae, Alzheimers and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease)

18 March 2011

Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) are on the increase globally.  HABs occur when large masses of potentially toxic algae develop in freshwater or marine environments. Typically these blooms are fuelled by increasing human pollution of our water resources, most commonly inadequately-treated wastewater, leading to high concentrations of plant nutrients in our dams and rivers.  A large percentage of South Africa’s water resources are already impaired by the sustained presence of blue-green algae.

Blue-green algae produce a large variety of toxins, singularly or in combination.  Recently it has become apparent that all types of blue-green algae produce an unusual neurotoxin, called beta-methyl-amino-alanine, BMAA.  BMAA in nature is only produced by blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). BMAA is neurotoxic and destroys nerve neurons (e.g. Vyas and Weiss 2009).

Research during the past 40 years has sought to link BMAA with motor neuron disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and Parkinsons Disease (the so-called ALS-PDC, ALS/Parkinson’s Disease Dementia Complex).  This research has focussed on three locations in the western Pacific where considerably higher than normal incidences of these diseases occur (e.g. Bradley and Cox 2009).  BMAA has been measured in the brains of ALS-PDC cases, but not in control brain tissue, in the aforementioned clusters, as well as in Canada and elsewhere (e.g. Banack et al. 2009).  The effect of BMAA in Parkinson’s symptoms has been confirmed by dosing rats with the toxin (Bradley and Mash 2009).

Read more »


29 December 2010

From Sri Lanka we hear the disturbing news that cyanotoxins have been linked to kidney disease.  3150 deaths have been reported during the past 14 years in the North Central Province. This further compounds the complications already posed not only by the direct toxicity of these compounds, but also those linking cyanobacterial to ALS and Alzheimers (more on this on this blog in the New Year).  Worryingly, a comment made re this announcement was “hope she won’t lose her job” – referring to the scientist responsible! Here in SA we have seen a few people lose theirs for telling the truth!

Although not a freshwater incident (it could be), 11 people in Zihuatanejo, Acapulco have been poisoned by saxitoxins accumulated in clams.