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Wet spring could increase algae problems for Bay of Quinte

By John Moodie

An increase of April showers raises concern over the spread of blue-green algae for the Bay of Quinte.

More rain showers means more phosphorus running into the Bay of Quinte.

“If phosphorus levels were to rise I think we might see the presence of blue-green algae more often,” said Christine McClure, water resource technologist for Quinte conservation.

McClure is doing a report studying the link between the increased flow of water and concentration of phosphorus.

Phosphorus can come from fertilizers, agricultural run-off, wastewater from sewage treatment plants and septic systems. Blue-green algae thrive in shallow water and warmer temperatures. The blooms tend to occur in late summer or early fall.

“It is difficult to predict location and frequency of blooms. There are too many factors to consider,” said Michael Finn, senior regional communication advisor for the Ministry of the Environment.

In recent years, blue green algae levels have remained consistent.  According to AccuWeather.com there will be higher than normal levels of precipitation.

“If it is a wetter year than others, there will be more nutrients washed into the water, there may be some effect,” said Andrew Landy, senior health inspector at hasting-Prince Edwards county health unit.

Landy’s role is to educate and inform the public of the dangers of blue-green algae.

“We are currently monitoring the flow, water levels and the water chemistry of the tributaries,” said McClure.

Blue-green algae is better known as “pond scum”. The name reflects its slimy appearance and putrid smell. Its scientific name is Cyanobacteria.

The growth of algae depends on the availability of phosphorus. When algae begins to decompose it depletes the water of oxygen.

“Fish require oxygen to breathe.  If the water is depleted of oxygen it has a negative effect aquatic life,” said McClure.

In addition to the negative impact blue-green algae have on the environment it is also harmful to people’s health. It sometimes produces a toxin that is harmful if ingested.

“People should avoid it keep pets and livestock away from it. Do not eat the organs of fish caught during the bloom of blue-green algae,” said Landy.

When skin comes into contact with blue-green algae it can also cause skin irritation.

“If you come into contact wash yourself with soap and clean water. If the rash persists contact a physician,” said Landy.