In places throughout the United States blue-green algae has been spotted in saltwater and fresh waters. Notably, the coastal states of New England, Gulf of Mexico, West Coast, and even states around the Great Lakes are affected by these harmful algal blooms. The cyanobacteria (Microcystis aeruginosa), also called phytoplankton, starts to become a problem when they intensely multiply, blocking out sunlight and taking up food in the water. The other lifeforms in the water start to die off due to starvation and lack of sunlight. People will start to notice the water turning a nasty green color (or other discoloration) and maybe even a noxious smell as fish start to die and the water becomes lifeless and stagnate.
Harmful Algal Booms are usually made up of phytoplankton in the genus of dinoflagettes. And they are photosynthesis plants whose growth is encouraged by the phosphorous that often runs off into already polluted water from factory farms along with nutrient dense waters. The dinoflagettes produce a neurotoxin that can have dire affects on other wildlife in the area as well as human health. In the 1960s it first came to the attention of the public that Lake Erie had uncontrolled algal blooms growing in it, posing a threat to environmental health, human health, and the local economy. The response was to greatly reduce the amount of phosphorous in the lake along with efforts to keep it out in the future. One way phosphorous was reduced was by introducing zebra mussels to the lake. They naturally filtered the water though also changing the local food chain. For almost thirty years the algal blooms were not seen. However, in the 1990s the cyanobacteria came back. Some reasons for its reappearance might be increased water pollution, relaxed phosphorus regulation, continuously hot summer days that caused the water to stagnate, or even more likely the mussels themselves were excreting the phosphate they ate. Something that was overlooked the first time they were released into the lake.
Zebra mussels are an exotic species and not native to the Lake Erie region so they probably did as much harm as good. And the health of the lakes still isn’t optimal so they are already vulnerable to the destructive algal blooms. Many other regions in the United States are at risk, too. Minnesota, with its hundreds of lakes, are filled with many different algae so the bad kind can easily get missed, but in 1985 the MPCA began monitoring the lakes. And thanks to this Minnesota hasn’t had too much trouble with Harmful Algal Blooms. But in Maryland its a different story. Harmful Algal Blooms along with other kinds of algae have caused major problems, especially in 1997 when commercial fishing went down by 10% due to algal blooms. In all $43 million dollars in productivity was lost.
The Gulf of Mexico has always experienced a dead zone period every year, but this year its much worst thanks in part to the oil spill. And it will probably be a dead zone for many years to come. In economical terms, as much as $20 million can be lost when a red tide, a form of algae, strikes the coast of Florida, killing and contaminating commercial fish. Red tide is the biggest algae threat to coastal states while inland water bodies mostly are affected by dinoflagettes.
So how are Harmful Algal Blooms cleaned up? Well, the best thing to do is prevent them in the first place and that’s best done by industrial farms limiting their phosphorus run-off. Unfortunately, large industrial farms ignore this. Fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and other water pollutants can encourage Harmful Algal Blooms to grow. Honestly, this is a pollution issue more than anything else. Algae are totally natural. It can also occur if the water’s ecology is out of balance. Or maybe a septic system is leaking somewhere. Most of all, research monitors should be looking out for other forms of algae in the first place. These can indicate a problem as well.