Cyanobacteria: Keep a watchful eye out for this!

In the Neponset Watershed, and other developed areas, harmful blooms of cyanobacteria are often triggered by fertilizer laden stormwater runoff.

Blooms of cyanobacteria can look like wispy streaks of green paint in the water, or resemble pea soup.

NepRWA staff recently attended a special training seminar from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional 1 Mobile lab unit to learn more about the EPA Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program, as well as monitoring techniques used to track cyanobacteria blooms throughout New England.

What are Cyanobacteria? Cyanobacteria (often referred to as blue-green algae) – are microscopic unicellular organisms that can be found in many different environments from oceans to deserts. Cyanobacteria are one of the largest and oldest groups of bacteria on the planet. In Earth’s early stages, photosynthetic cyanobacteria  created the oxygen rich atmosphere we breathe today!

When environmental conditions are just right, many cyanobacteria flourish and grow rapidly, known as a “bloom”. In the Neponset Watershed, and other developed areas, harmful blooms are often triggered, or made worse, by Phosphorus and Nitrogen pollution associated with fertilizer laden stormwater runoff. Cyanobacteria blooms can be very dangerous because cyanobacteria species can produce toxins harmful to humans and wildlife.

Different species of cyanobacteria produce different toxins and these toxins can cause a range of symptoms from skin irritation and intestinal distress to acute liver failure and even death. Harmful blooms in Toledo, Ohio have shut down the city’s water supply on more than one occasion, and an on-going major bloom in Florida has wreaked havoc on the tourism-dependent local economy.

Harmful Cyanobacteria Blooms in Florida Have Triggered a State of Emergency

Harmful Cyanobacteria Blooms in Florida Have Triggered a State of Emergency

 

How to identify Cyanobacteria.  Often times Cyanobacteria group together and grow in colonies. These blooms can be seen on the surface area of stagnant water, such as ponds or lakes. These blooms can look like wispy streaks of green paint in the water, or resemble pea soup. Cyanobacteria can also cause the water to appear opaque, often resembling features like foam.

Duckweed is often misidentified as cyanobacteria. A quick way to tell the difference is, if you look closely, a duckweed patch is made up of many tiny little leaves, whereas cyanobacteria often forms a continuous mat.

DUCKWEED VS CYANOBACTERIA

Example of duckweed on left vs. cyanobacteria on right.

 

If you feel like you’ve found something that could be cyanobacteria, please make note of the location, date and time; take some pictures; and email the information to Environmental Scientist, Chris Hirsch at hirsch@neponset.org. Chris can also be reached at 781-575-0354 x302.

The Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program uses three coordinated projects, Bloomwatch App, Cyanoscope and Cyanomonitoring, to locate and understand these harmful cyanobacteria.  To learn more about these programs and how you can volunteer, visit cyanos.org.

–Anthony Motta, 2016 Summer Intern

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