By Sandy Bihn,Western Lake Erie Association
Visitors to portions of Lake Erie’s shorelines this summer have had to share the beach with another, unwelcome visitor. Lyngbya wollei, a toxic blue-green algae that appears as matted wool with hairballs and can be four to five feet deep, was first observed onshore late last summer after a seven-day northeastern storm. It was hoped that the winter freeze would kill it, but no such luck.
In early April the matted masses of algae washed up on the shallow shores of Maumee Bay and far western Lake Erie. As it washes on shore, grasses and weeds sprout in the algae on sand and rocks. Researchers say it was in deeper waters, but before last summer had never detached from the bottom and come ashore. Lyngbya has taken over marinas in Maumee Bay and farWestern Lake Erie. In deeper marinas the algae is less visible, but it has tied up boat motors and has been known to clogwater and power plant intakes in other areas.
Lyngbya is predominantly found in inland lakes of the southeastern United States. It is believed to have come to the Great Lakes via recreational boats.Howfar will it ripple along the shores of Lake Erie and the Great Lakes and how much worse will it get? Dr. Hans Pearl from the University of North Carolina said it will certainly spread and is a nuisance. In Florida it is sometimes mechanically removed. Dr. Pearl says the only way to really get rid of it is to starve it by reducing phosphorous levels in the water.
Most attribute the comeback of Lake Erie to taking phosphorous out of laundry detergent. But according to decades of testing by Dr. David Baker from Heidleberg College, dissolved phosphorus has been increasing in Lake Erie since the mid 1990’s. With lower water levels and increasing phosphorous loads, the integrity of Lake Erie is again at risk.
And since Western Lake Erie has the warmest, shallowest, most biologically productivewaters in the Great Lakes, these waters serve as an incubator and indicator for the rest of the lakes.
Sources of the phosphorous in Lake Erie include agricultural and urban runoff, zebra mussel excretions, lawn fertilizers, dishwasher detergent, and wastewater plants. Citizens can help: use only phosphorous free dishwasher detergent and, if lawn fertilizer must be used, apply only phosphorous free.
For more information, contact Sandy Bihn, Executive Director/Waterkeeper, Western Lake Erie Association, 419-691-3788 or visit http://westernlakeerie.org/index.html.