First, some vocabulary: Algae is a simple, nonflowering plant. And an algae bloom is when a population of algae rapidly increases and changes the color of the water it lives in. A “Harmful Algae Bloom” is when the balance of algae increases to the point of changing the ecology of the water and can cause fish die offs, and harm to human health.
Because phytoplankton (micro algae) forms the basis of the marine ecosystem in our ocean, the ocean is susceptible to Harmful Algae Blooms. You may be familiar with the phrase red tide, which is a form of HAB, but is not limited to just that phenomenon. It is not entirely clear why Harmful Algae Blooms occur; sometimes they are because of natural causes, but scientists have deduced that other HAB’s are caused by manmade factors. Coastal cities with major run off from farming activity experience frequent and increasing in size algae blooms, as the nitrates and phosphates associated with fertilizer can increase the production of phytoplankton. Rising water temperatures are also linked to an increase in Algae Blooms.
You can read my past blog on the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico for why an increase of phytoplankton is not good for an ecosystem-but basically all the decaying algae matter uses up all the oxygen in the water. This oxygen depleted water is inhospitable to life, and affects fishing communities and marine ecosystems in kind.
I mention this now because the state of Florida has declared a state of emergency in 7 counties due to a large scale Red Tide event the has lasted more than 9 months. Both North and South Carolina have been affected by Hurricane Florence, and flooding in those farming communities are probably about to increase algae blooms in the area. There has been a massive die off of marine wild life, and humans have reported negative health affects to their doctors. People with preexisting respiratory problems are more predisposed, but even people without them have been admitted to emergency rooms with symptoms of exposure to toxic algae blooms. Exposure can cause organ damage, and even death.
Eventually the floods will dry, but the algae blooms can last and have continuing consequences into the future. They are increasing in frequency and endurance, and our population and communities will have to adjust accordingly. Our drinking water supplies are beginning to be contaminated.
Right now, Oregon and Ohio are the only states to require water be tested for toxins due to algae blooms. This was after a scare in May of 2018 where an algae bloom infiltrated drinking water in Salem, OR and panic ensued. Bottled water immediately sold out, and the National Guard had to be called in to distribute water and calm worried communities. If we continue on this same trend, all drinking water will need to be monitored for toxins. And we seem to be continuing on this same trend-
How can you make a difference? Algae blooms are an indicator of the health on land and in the sea- so if we are seeing an increase in their frequency, it means that humans and governments need to make adjustments to slow down rising water temperatures and global warming. REDUCE- Use less, buy less. RESUSE- repurpose everything you possibly can, and finally RECYCLE- as a final and last option, recycling items that can’t be repurposed. Watch what you use to fertilize. Watch what you pour down the drain. Make informed judgements in your consumption. Stop using plastic. Walk more, drive less. Do SOMETHING.
One person can’t stop Harmful Algae Blooms or global warming, but every one person can make significant changes that amount to a whole lot of difference when added together.