Compared to how common algae blooms are across the country in the summer months, you don’t hear about the potential hazards of algae all that much. But a recent article in Beef Magazine caught my eye because it involved the death of four cows that were killed from contact or most likely ingestion with a toxic form of algae.
Before we delve into this topic I want to stress that this is not something to panic over or get crazy worried about. Toxic algae is nothing new. It’s been a part of our world since, well the beginning or pretty close to it. The vast majority of algae will never develop toxicity or cause this kind of problem however it’s important to note that the risk exists and what you can do about the algae if it shows up.
In the article you’ll see that a few specific things were talked about. Blue green algae and cyanobacteria were mentioned and specifically a species called microsystis was highlighted. What’s interesting to note is that in many of our algae tests and samplings sent to us from around the country, microsystis is probably the most common algae that’s found in nearly every pond or lake. So obviously it doesn’t always produce toxins, and researchers still don’t know why it starts to in particular cases. Ultimately the only sure fire way to deduce that toxicity is present is to test for it after it’s created.
It’s likely, that in most cases, it’s also a matter of density. When populations of this blue green algae are high and abundant, the chances of toxin production are likely to increase. What you’ll see in the water may vary from a green or brown tint turning into a much thicker, paint like appearance to floating slicks or masses. Colors may also vary from green and brown to red and blue.
It’s virtually impossible to visually tell the difference between a toxic bloom and one that is relatively harmless. But if you’ve gone swimming in an area where algae growth is present and you come out with a rash or other symptoms, it’s probably a good idea to avoid these areas in the immediate future. If livestock or pets are acting lethargic or off, consult a vet immediately and notify proper authorities so testing can be made to confirm the problem. Ultimately the best defense is to avoid or restrict areas where suspected toxic algae may exist.
What Can Be Done To Prevent Toxic Algae Blooms?
Despite the scary idea that algae isn’t always benign and can in fact be dangerous, to control such growths is not impossible. Keep in mind that in most of the investigations where toxic algae became a problem there were a few comments that stood out. First of all the water is often kind of stagnant…which means there is very little movement to it, no inflow or outflow of water, etc. Also in order for the algae to grow “exuberantly” which is term used by the CDC, there must be ample or dare I say, abundant nutrients to feed this growth. And conditions must be right to support the bloom which basically means abundant sunlight, warmth and the usual conditions found in the summer season.
For the situation in Georgia, several rounds of algaecide have been applied, and it may take a bit more to bring everything under control. There’s no question that where a quick remedy is required, an algaecide probably would be the best bet to go with. We have our own preferred algaecide that we like to use but any targeted chemical application should reduce the amount of algae fairly quickly. It’s important to remind everyone again that during really high temperatures, when you treat with an algaecide of any kind, and attempt to reduce a large algae bloom, it’s best to have robust aeration going to protect any fish in the pond. As the algae dies off it will pull oxygen from the water.
Getting Ahead Of The Growth
The ideal remedy of course would be to attempt to keep a pond cleaner and to lessen nutrients in the water before any type of algae begins to bloom out. Although this won’t be an effective solution in each and every case, it’s a pretty simple proposition. The lower nutrients go, the less the algae will grow and likely not become a problem.
Our standard protocol of using beneficial bacteria in some form to keep a pond in better shape can be applied in this situation and may be useful for limiting or restricting any unwanted blooms.
And finally, many blue green algae, including microsystis are generally controllable using ultrasound technology for ponds. Certain conditions in the pond may support this, such as having a reasonable depth of the water (3 to 6 feet or more) and a relatively clear and unobstructed path across the pond. Overall, ultrasonic control has been proven to be effective in field tests and real world experience, from 70% up to 100% effective on this common algae. Success has been achieved when treating existing algae blooms and then retarding any new growths from forming in many situations.
So there are viable options to keep even the dangerous kinds of algae from becoming a big problem in any pond. Rather than fear it, with a bit of eduction and if necessary, some proactive steps, you can still enjoy your pond and keep it safe for people, pets, and other animals.
Oh, and one last thing. People are sure to ask about fish health. In general the common blue green algae are not highly toxic to fish but this doesn’t mean they are immune to all types of HAB’s or harmful algae blooms. Numerous reports exist where red algae, golden algae, etc have produced toxins that can be lethal to fish and other aquatic creatures.
For additional information on harmful algae blooms visit the Center For Disease Control website.