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Lake Erie algal bloom extends into Colchester Harbour

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2019-08-07 CBC/Radio-Canada

Researchers from Canada and the U.S. are teaming up for the second annual 'HABs Grab,' heading out onto Lake Erie to collect water samples from 200 locations to map a harmful algal bloom (HAB) which now extends all the way to Colchester Harbour. 

"A few of the blooms are coming from the watershed, from the farmland," said Mike McKay, executive director of the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, and one of the researchers embarking on tomorrow's research mission.

A number of boats are heading out to cover the entire western basin of Lake Erie tomorrow to take images and "provide a snapshot" of the bloom.

McKay explained onsite research is necessary in order to gather data which can't be provided by satellite imagery.

"It will tell us how much biomass is there and how much toxin," said McKay. 

a close up of a tree: A harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie now extends all the way to Colchester Harbour. © National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science A harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie now extends all the way to Colchester Harbour.

Last year's 'HABs grab' didn't show anything in Ontario waters, but satellite images from the long weekend show the bloom reaching Colchester, Ont. 

It's the first time Canadian-based researchers will be joining the 'HABs Grab,' to look at algal blooms, which researcher Thomas Bridgeman called an "international issue."

"Discovering what triggers a bloom to start producing toxins would be a large step toward protecting people, pets and wildlife," said Bridgeman, the director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center. 

Cross-border concerns

Markie Miller is an organizer with Toledoans for Safe Water — a local group devoted to improving the water quality in Lake Erie. 

She recently visited Maumee Bay State Park and noted the water in the area is bright green. 

"It's not a pleasant sight to be around," she said. "It gives off a very strong smell."

In addition to the water, Miller noted both the sand and shoreline has been stained various shades of green. 

Miller echoed McKay, saying large-scale animal factories in the area are largely responsible for producing the nutrients which lead to algae blooms in Lake Erie. 

She said her organization hasn't noticed "any kind of reduction or limit on those manure inputs and that really needs to be reined in."

"It seems like we don't really have a good, strong idea of exactly how much is applied on fields or leaches out of lagoons, but we know that liquid manure is producing bio-available phosphorus," said Miller. "We need to get a reduction on that immediately, which, in my opinion, will be about reducing the amount of these large-scale farms in the area."

Despite the large body of research pointing blame at agriculture producers, McKay said it's been difficult to convince producers to adopt best management practices (BMP) to assuage the problem.

"The problem is that adopting some of these best management practices requires extra effort or will cost money," he said. "Farmers, as with anyone, would look at the bottom line of their operations and make decisions based on that."

McKay said, unless all parties act to adopt BMPs aimed at reducing harmful algae blooms, "we're not going to find a solution to this problem."

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