How dangerous is blue green algae?

Jun 02 2017


Craig Harrison

on behalf of Aquaread Limited

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Blue green algae is one of the popular parameters that can be tested using the water monitoring equipment. It is a common water pollutant that can have a severe impact on ecosystems and plant and animal life. We are going to explain in detail just how dangerous blue green algae is, and why it is so important to track. 

What is Blue Green Algae?

For those who don’t know, blue green algae is photosynthetic bacteria that can develop in both fresh and marine water. It often occurs in slow moving bodies of water, such as ponds, lakes and some streams, where the water is warm and nutrient rich. 

In most cases, blue green algae development is easy to spot, floating on the water’s surface. It often gives off an unpleasant odour and can form a layer of scum known as algal blooms. The appearance of visible blue green algae is quite distinctive, but It is also worth noting that there are not always visible signs that the bacteria is present. This makes regular testing essential. 

Why is it Harmful or Dangerous?

During the summer, blue green algae is often in the news, and outbreaks regularly appear in warning signs surrounding water bodies. Dog owners are often specifically singled out in these warnings, and told to take extra care with their pets, due to the toxicity of the substance. 

When owners take their dogs on walks during warmer months, not only is blue green algae more common, but dogs will sometimes drink from the bodies of water where they form to rehydrate. The algae is incredibly toxic to dogs and other animals, and can be fatal to the animal within as little as 15 minutes. 

Already this year there have been a number of news articles about outbreaks of blue green algae around the country, and it is certainly something to look out for when living in areas with small animals - or where dog walking is common. 

It isn’t just in the UK where blue green algae is an issue however; outbreaks of the bacteria pose a serious threat in various locations all around the world. Recently, the Captain Cook memorial fountain in Australia (pictured above) was shut down due to fears that the high powered fountain would spread high levels of blue green algae. In addition, Pinto lake (in California), Windamere Dam, Lake Eppalock, Laanecoorie Reservoir, Tullaroop Reservoir, Hepburn Lagoon, Blampieds Lagoon and Gum Lagoon and many other lakes, reservoirs and rivers around the world have also reported blue green algae issues in the last few months alone. 

This all goes to show how prevalent this pollutant is around the world, and the potential threat that this bacteria presents. 

Other Risks

Blue green algae also presents a number of other risks to ecosystems and environmental life, that may not always be as easily identifiable. 

One of these issues is due to the fact that it is not eaten by any other species. This means that, left unattended, blue green algae will continue to grow and spread throughout bodies of water. The knock on effects of this are numerous. 

Firstly, the physical mass of blue green algae on a body of water can prohibit penetration of sunlight and dissolved oxygen, which can have a massive effect on plants which require this sunlight for photosynthesis. Over time, this can have a dramatic impact on the aquatic organisms and become a serious issue for the ecosystem as a whole. 

Additionally, when blue green algae dies, the cells of the bacteria sink into the water and get broken down by microbes. This process requires oxygen and can lead to decreased overall concentrations of oxygen in water, which can also have an adverse impact on fish and other aquatic life. 

Is it Dangerous to Humans?

Blue green algae presents a risk to humans who are directly exposed to, or consume the algae. Symptoms can include skin/mucosa irritation, flu-like symptoms, and gastrointestinal illness. Severe cases could include seizures, liver failure, respiratory arrest-even death, although this is rare. If these are observed, seek professional advice immediately.

Monitoring Blue Green Algae

Monitoring blue green algae levels using water testing equipment makes it easy to identify and take action, before it causes severe damage to ecosystems, animals and other organisms. During the hotter months, it is especially important as the temperature makes the bacteria growth more common. 

Blue green algae can be monitored easily, and over long distance, using the blue green algae sensor, which is an optional optical electrode that is suitable for use with any of the Aquaprobe products.
Monitoring blue green algae is an important priority for many individuals around the world.


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