SPRINGFIELD, Mo- Over the weekend three dogs died from exposure to blue-green algae in North Carolina.
What are blue-green algae?
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources says, “Blue-green algae are not actually algae, but cyanobacteria. Like algae, these bacteria can “bloom” when the conditions are right. Cyanobacteria are especially concerning because they are capable of producing toxins that can be harmful, even lethal, to humans, livestock and pets,” according to their website.
I spoke with Lynn Milberg, the Water Quality Monitoring Section Chief for MoDNR, to see if Missouri has had any cases of this alga popping up.
“We have seen them. We’ve had a few reports this year of them. None of them have turned out to last very long at least what was reported to us. So yes they can occur anywhere you have a water body. Typically they are in lakes versus streams just because the lakes are slow-moving, they’ll get warmer as they sit, but it could possibly be in rivers,” says Milberg.
Milberg goes on to talk about the science behind the blue-green algae. They are scientifically known as Cyanobacteria. They behave similarly to algae making their own food through photosynthesis. Warmer heat brings lots of nutrients for the algae which then creates a bloom where the algae feed. The ones making headlines though are producing toxins. The algae causing the toxins can cause many health effects to both humans and animals.
For more on the health effects click here.
As for blue-green algae sightings, Milberg says they have had 11 reports sent to them throughout the state from big lakes to smaller private lakes, she says there may be more that have not been reported.
“We do see it occur each year, we have been tracking it more consistently. It’s hard to say if we’re seeing more of them or if we’re just getting more reports that have actually come in.”
The lifespan of this algae varies from just minutes to maybe a month.
“They’re a very interesting creature. It could be there for a matter of hours, we’ve had reports. We’ve gone out to have someone go investigate and by the time they get there they can’t find it. Other times they can last for days and weeks and even months if the conditions are right. Thankfully in Missouri, we don’t see those long-lasting ones, but head over to Kansas and they’ll have some of their lakes have warnings most of the summer. It just depends on the conditions.”
The blue-green algae are easily moveable. It can be moved by the wind from boats or waves on bigger lakes. Lynn also says that they can dive into the water to search for more food, so you may see it on the surface but then turn back and it’s not there, which means it’s looking for more food underneath the surface.
When in the water, be on the lookout for bright green, blue-green, white or brown colors, those are what blue-green algae commonly looks like. The water may look like pea soup or the surface may look as if green paint has been spilled on the water. And to tell if it’s toxic, check if there is thick foam or scum around the top.
If you do spot this blue-green alga, Lynn says they advise, “When in Doubt, Stay Out” and report it to them if possible.
On the MoDNR website, you can also find information on a useful app called, BloomWatch. This allows you to take a picture of potential blooms and report it. You can also see where blooms have been reported to help you avoid those areas.