Tag Archives: harmful algal blooms

Harmful Algal Blooms: New York State Takes Action in 2018!

There has been a lot of activity in New York State this spring regarding Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)!  In an effort to raise awareness regarding HABS, Governor Cuomo called together four HAB Summit Meetings across the State (February 27 in New Paltz, March 6 at SUNY ESF, March 20 in Ticonderoga, and March 26 in Rochester).  Leading experts from the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Department of Agriculture and Markets (DAM) and other state and national experts convened to discuss and address the causes of algal blooms in 12 priority waterbodies across the state.  The meetings were the first step in the development of action plans to address HAB occurrences in each waterbody.  Of the 12 priority waterbodies chosen as part of the Governor’s initiative to combat HABs, five of them are the home of State Park’s beaches, marinas, or campgrounds (Conesus Lake, Honeoye Lake, Chautauqua Lake, Cayuga Lake and Lake Champlain).  The action plans will be used to implement monitoring and treatment projects related to HABS.

What’s the problem with HABs?

You might see a couple of different terms used in association with HABs, but they mean the same thing: cyanobacteria and blue green algae are used interchangeably.  The term “blue-green algae” is a misnomer; it is not truly algae. It is a type of bacteria called cyanobacteria that is capable of photosynthesis. An algal “bloom” consists of cyanobacteria in great enough numbers of cells to be seen by the naked eye.  Some algal blooms can produce toxins, but not all do.  When an algal bloom produces toxins, it is called a Harmful Algal Bloom.  HABs can thrive when certain conditions are met, including warm weather, stagnant water, and sufficient nutrients in the water body.  The bacteria can form dense mats on the surface of a lake or can be suspended in the water column. The blooms can be brightly colored and look like pea soup, spilled paint, or an oily scum/sheen that coats the lake surface.  The blooms move around the lake in response to wind and currents, tend to accumulate at shorelines, and can move vertically in the water column to find the perfect nutrient and temperature conditions to flourish.  Blooms occur most often in waters high in phosphorous and/or nitrogen, and research is ramping up to determine the exact causes of algal blooms.

Because of the potential for blooms to produce toxins, it is important to keep people and pets out of the water during a bloom.  The toxins can make people and animals sick, and toxin exposure can cause a range of symptoms, including rashes, respiratory irritation, gastrointestinal troubles, and effects on the liver. HABs may also impact drinking water and recreational activities, and can cause unpleasant odors.

It is State Parks Policy to follow the DOH protocol and close bathing beaches when a HAB is present.  To re-open a beach at a State Park, the beach must be free of any signs of a bloom for 24 hours, and a water sample must be submitted for toxin analysis.

The Big Message for the 2018 Beach Season

Know it, Avoid it, Report it.  Learn what a bloom looks like, avoid it, and make sure to report it to the Park Manager if you see a potential bloom at a State Park.  You can also notify the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, or harmfulalgae@health.ny.gov

HAB Photos from State Parks:

HAB

Below are a few links to learn more about HABs!

NYS Department of Health: Harmful Blue-Green Algae Blooms

Environmental Protection Agency: Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms in Water

NYS Department of Environmental Conservation: Harmful Algal Blooms

Floating Treatment Wetlands at Rockland Lake State Park

You may have noticed something new in the water at Rockland Lake State Park.  These are floating treatment wetlands!  Read our post below to find out more about these water treatment platforms.

Why are they here? 
In recent years, harmful algal blooms have become common in Rockland Lake. These algae blooms are largely caused by an unhealthy increase in nutrients such as phosphorous in the lake.  The nutrients come from many sources nearby, including excess lawn/garden fertilizers that wash into storm ditches after a rainfall, then drain into Rockland Lake.  One culvert (inlet) with consistently high nutrient levels is located near Parking Field 5 and it was chosen as the location for a new floating treatment wetland.  The goal of adding a floating wetland to the lake is to reduce the amount of nutrients – and by extension, harmful algal blooms – in the lake.

What are they?
Floating treatment wetlands (a.k.a. floating wetlands/islands) help to bring the benefits of natural wetlands to polluted water. They filter water to improve water quality and they provide important habitat for a variety of plants and animals. Floating wetlands can come in different shapes and sizes, but in general, wetland plants are supported atop a buoyant platform, with roots exposed in the lake water below.

What do they do?
Floating treatment wetlands help to create the right balance of submerged and non-submerged wetland habitat based on each individual site’s needs. As the plants grow, they use-up excess nutrients in the water. In addition, communities of beneficial bacteria form a film around the roots, further helping to filter nutrients and pollutants. Higher/lower elevations create areas with varying oxygen levels, promoting these different biological filtering methods. The floating platform blocks sunlight, preventing the growth of algae. Lastly, fish and wildlife enjoy the new addition to their habitat.

This is the first time that floating treatment wetlands have been used in New York State Parks.  Environmental staff will determine the effectiveness of this project by monitoring water quality changes over time (e.g. harmful nutrient levels and algal blooms by the inlet as well as lake-wide).  If successful, then floating wetlands may be used to help treat stormwater pollution and improve other aquatic habitats in New York.

Post by April Brun, Gabriella Cebada Mora, and Erin Lennon.

Rockland photos by Gabriella Cebada Mora, Aissa Feldmann, Matt Brincka, and Erin Lennon.

Resources

Floating Island/Wetland images and information

US Environmental Protection Agency information on nutrient pollution and harmful algal blooms:
(Website)                   (Video)

NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation information on fertilizers and how to reduce nutrient runoff:

(Website)                   (Video)

Harmful Algal Blooms: Keep you and your pets safe: Know it, avoid it, report it!

A group of tiny bacteria has been making a splash in New York State waters, and not in a good way. Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs, also known as cyanobacteria, Blue-green algae, BGA) are actually a type of bacteria rather than algae. If the right conditions are met, the bacteria can form what are called “blooms”, or massive amounts of floating material on the surface of a lake or pond. These blooms can look like brightly colored paint, oil, or scum, on the surface and at the shoreline of lakes and ponds. The blooms can move around a lake with wind action, or currents, and can appear, and even disappear, in a matter of hours.  Harmful algal blooms have been spotted at an increasing rate around the US in the last several years, including within some New York State Parks’ waterbodies.

The worst part about these colorful phenomena are that some species of HABs are known to produce toxins that are harmful to both humans and animals. Humans can be affected through swallowing water while swimming, touching blooms, and wading in blooms.  If the HABs are producing toxins, some swimmers can experience a range of symptoms, from simple rashes, to stomach issues, and even to muscular paralysis.  New York State Park bathing beaches are closed when a HAB is present. NYS Parks follows NYS Department of Health criteria when reopening the beach, which requires that the HAB bloom be visibly absent from the swim area for 24 hours.

Dogs are also particularly susceptible to these toxins and should not be allowed, under any circumstance, to drink or swim in a bloom.  Dog owners are encouraged to educate themselves on identifying HABs, to protect their fur-kids from harm.  Dogs exposed to HAB toxins can experience severe illness and in some cases, fatal effects.

NYS Parks posts HAB alert signs near waterbodies where HABs have been seen.

HAB Sign
State Parks HABs alert sign. If you see this sign up, do not swim in the water!

One of the best ways to recognize HABs on a lake surface is to be aware of changes to the surface of the lake. Take a look at the pictures below of HAB blooms that have been seen in NYS Parks.

HAB Paddle
HABs can look like paint, oil or foam. HABs can also coat objects as a film, photos by Karen Terbush, State Parks
HAB Green
HABs can occur around docks and have debris caught within them., photos by Karen Terbush, State Parks
Blue HAB
HABs are not always green, and can appear as smaller clumps on the surface, suspended in the water column, or sitting on the bottom. HABs can appear foamy, coat the entire surface of a lake or move around in a smaller area, photos by Karen Terbush, State Parks                                                     
HAB Dense
HAB Bloom, photo by Karen Terbush, State Parks

Be on the lookout for HABS in stagnant or still, nutrient-rich waters, when the temperatures start to rise. HABs are influenced by time of year, climate and nutrient loads.  The best way to prevent HAB growth is through watershed management. Reduce your own runoff by following NYS fertilizer guides, and help to report any evidence of HABs to the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation HAB hotline.

There are some HAB look-a-likes out there. Duckweed, other algae such as Cladophora (a form of clumpy, stringy algae), and pollen can easily be mistaken for HABs, especially in the spring.

Pollen Duckweed

Post by Keleigh Reynolds, State Parks

Cover image from freeimages.com.

Visit the links below to learn more about HABs!

NYS Department of Environmental Conservation: Harmful Algal Blooms

NYS Department of Health: Blue-green Algae and Health

Environmental Protection Agency: CyanoHABS