Lake Erie's health with algae
Good, scientific info:
Blooms typically start in the Toledo area, where the Maumee River, which is highly enriched by phosphorus and other nutrients applied to farmland, flows into warm and shallow western Lake Erie’s Maumee Bay.
Laura Johnson, Heidelberg University research scientist, said the annual input of 504 metric tons of phosphorus from the Detroit waste-water treatment plant is only about a sixth of the 3,000 annual metric tons from the Maumee River watershed, which is 73 percent agricultural.
Less than 8 percent of the Maumee’s phosphorus comes from sewage overflows, she said.
Tory Gabriel, Ohio Sea Grant fisheries outreach coordinator, found a couple of mayfly nymphs in the lake’s muck while taking a group of journalists out on a research vessel on Tuesday.
He said Lake Erie incurs a blow from every algae outbreak, but it is hardly close to being on a death knell.
Mayflies, he noted, are the sentinels of water quality.
“The blooms are a pretty concentrated phenomenon,” Mr. Gabriel said. “You can have a pretty healthy lake and still have algal blooms.”
The blooms shouldn’t be there. They’re a symptom of the lake being grossly overfed by nutrients, he said.
Microcystis is native to Lake Erie, but isn’t supposed to proliferate the way it does, Mr. Gabriel said.
“It’s not an invasive. It’s supposed to be here,” he said. “We’re feeding it way too much.”
There are more than 100 forms of algae in Lake Erie, most of them good for the food chain, Mr. Chaffin said.
“Lake Erie produces the most fish of all of the Great Lakes because it has the most algae,” Mr. Chaffin said, a reference to how healthy algae forms a basis of the food chain.
There are more than 80 varieties of microcystis, the main algae that produces toxic microcystin, Mr. Chaffin said.
But it turns out microcystis isn’t the only cyanobacteria classified as a harmful algae bloom that produces the toxin known as microcystin.
So does one called planktothrix, the subject of a major research project funded by Ohio Sea Grant.
“This is an overlooked species that’s often in Sandusky Bay,” Chris Winslow, Stone Lab associate director, said.
Microcystis, commonly referred to as “Mike,” is one of the lake’s notorious Big Three of Great Lakes toxic cyanobacteria — organisms that are actually bacteria but act like algae.
Cyanobacteria get their name from their blue-green hue.
Mike attacks the liver. The other two — “Annie,” short for anabaena, and “Fannie,” short for aphanizomenon, attack the central nervous system.
All three are believed to be 3 billion years old.
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