July 11, 2017

Algal Monitoring for Organic Pollution

I have had the honor of continuing my work on algal monitoring within the Adirondacks of NY,primarily on Lake George. My focus has been on the collection, identification, enumeration and application of targeted metrics to forms of algae found within the littoral zone to determine if organic pollution is present. In lay terms: using algae to help identify if a septic system is failing or under functioning.   

Fortunately I have been working with an organization that will always be near and dear to my heart, an organization that is innovative, collaborative, and understands that success is achieved through sound science and project implementation. The FUND for Lake George. I have worked along side the Lake George Waterkeeper for nearly a decade and am pleased with the projects underway. My heart and passion will always be in Lake George. The Lake, the area, the people will always be part of me. I am excited about the new Septic Initiative using algal biomonitoring to determine organic pollution.

In March of 2017, I presented at the FUND for Lake George's Septic Summit on utilizing algae in biomonitoring efforts. The video and slides are below.  The work done on Lake George can be easily translated and replicated on other bodies of water around the Northeast.

Download slides here

For a little more information on algae in the nearshore areas, please read below.  Algae is impacted and connected to so many things within the aquatic ecosystem.

Algae, the base of the aquatic food web is important to our aquatic ecosystems. They provide food for
many organisms and create oxygen and shelter. Algae remove nutrients directly from the water column. If excessive nutrients enter our waterways, the nearshore algae will respond by blooming. The more nutrients that enter, the more algal growth there will be. Generally 1 pound of phosphorus will grow 500 pounds of wet algae. Phosphorus is not the only nutrient needed, nitrogen and carbon are needed to cause a bloom.

When excessive amounts of algae cause negative impacts to other organisms, water quality, recreation or the economy, they are deemed a Harmful Algal Bloom. If a toxic condition is formed it is then classified as a Toxic Harmful Algal Bloom. Not all toxic conditions are formed by cyanobacteria; other forms of algae produce toxins too. Some forms of algae will produce toxins in response to excessive nitrogen.
An algal bloom is not only caused from the addition of excessive nutrients, but are spurred on from climate change, acid rain, removal of riparian and shoreline cover, and the addition of sodium chloride to our water ways. Anything that happens within the watershed can impact the water quality of our bodies of water and potentially feed algal growth.

The nearshore algal growth that covers rocks, docks, and available substrate, cause taste and odor issues, and clog intake pipes, while unsightly and a nuisance, does service a purpose. Without the littoral algal growth taking up the excessive nutrients, there would be a readily available food source for the phytoplankton and cyanobacteria to cause lake-wide blooms, possible toxic algal blooms can cause a greater impact on overall water quality.

The nearshore algae removes the excessive nutrients, before it can impact the lake as a whole. A tipping point can be reached, when there are more nutrients available than what the littoral algae can feed on. This is when the lake clarity starts to decrease and deep water algal blooms form. When deep water algal blooms die off, they sink to the bottom of the lake and are fed on by bacteria. During this process the bacteria use up the oxygen, creating “dead zones” where aquatic organisms can’t survive.

The nearshore algal growth has another important quality; it can be utilized as a bioindicator. Forms of algae present within a given area can indicate heavy metal concentrations, impacts from sodium chloride, nutrients, and organic pollution. Periphyton (benthic algae), monitoring of the littoral zone of lakes is a useful tool for determining anthropogenic disturbances and changes in water quality, before they can be detected in offshore monitoring efforts.

While Lake George is showing signs of being resilient and clean, the nearshore areas are experiencing excessive algal growth. It is only a matter of time before the tipping point is reached and what we do on land impacts the lake as a whole. That is why I partner with the FUND for Lake George. By understanding the science, and making changes now, we can protect our lake.

For more information on algae monitoring, please visit: Avacal Biological

Corrina Parnapy is the lead Phycologist/ Aquatic Biologist for Avacal Biological, a freelance environmental writer with articles in the Adirondack Almanack, Adirondack Outdoors Magazine, her own blog Sense and Wonder and has had articles featured within numerous print papers in Vermont in addition to being the District Manager for the Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District. 

Corrina's passion is water quality protection through understanding the science, and identifying solutions to project implementation.  

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