Conservation Wildlife Management

Lake Erie Suffers Worst Algae Blooms in History

Eerie news this week about … Lake Erie.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources reports that Lake Erie’s toxic algae blooms are at the worst levels in history and that fish and billions of dollars in tourism revenues are at risk. Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, is common in the lake but record rainfall in the past year has washed unprecedented amounts of farm fertilizer, manure and sewage into the water causing substantial growth and expansion of algae blooms. Blue-green algae excrete liver and nerve toxins that can kill pets, wipe out fish populations, and sicken humans.

On some parts of the lake the algae is so deep that Jack Madison, general manager of a marina in Ottawa County tells The Columbus Dispatch “People could set beer cans on the algae. It is that thick.”

Another indication of just how bad the blooms are comes in the change in questions anglers ask the Lake Erie Waterkeepers, a group advocating preservation of the watershed. President Dave Spangler says, “It used to be, years ago, that people would call and ask, ‘Are the fish biting?’ Now, the first question is, ‘How bad is the algae?’ We had a bloom in October that was so thick that it slowed our boats down.” Spangler says this has resulted in a 30 percent drop in business this year alone.

The state spent $3.5 million this year to spray alum on the lake in an effort to counteract phosphorus, the chemical in the runoff that feeds the algae but more and greater measures are needed to halt the problem. Scott Nally, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, says his office will submit a proposal to counteract the Lake Erie pollution to Ohio Gov. John Kasich by February.

We need some firsthand info! Have any of you seen this algae up close? Is it as bad as media reports indicate?