Algae (Cladophora) Problem Along Lake Ontario

Algae (Cladophora) Problem Along Lake Ontario

A vile-smelling algae is raising a stink along the southwestern portion of the Lake Ontario shoreline from Niagara County to Oswego County. The gag-inducing culprit is Cladophora, a threadlike algae that grows on rocks on the lake bottom.

“What’s happened is the temperature of the lake is just about perfect for algae growth,” said Chuck O’Neill, a senior extension associate with New York Sea Grant. “This stuff grows on the bottom, breaks off and forms mats that float in to shore, get caught on rocks and docks, and start to rot. It really stinks,” he said, likening the smell to a manure holding tank.

The warmer-than-usual weather of late has contributed to the problem. Dr. Joseph Makerewicz, Professor of Biological Sciences at the State University College at Brockport said, “It seems more prevalent this year, though there’s no hard evidence to support that.” He said the cause is not fully understood, but didn’t think a change in the lake’s temperature was a major culprit. “It’s not really true that the lake is warmer this year,” he said. Possible contributing factors include phosphorous abatement programs, and the spread of zebra mussels have helped make the lake clearer, allowing sunlight to penetrate deeper. “More light makes it to the bottom, and sunlight is what triggers algae growth”, O’Neill said. Makerewicz also suspects upwelling, a phenomenon where cold, nutrient-rich water deep in the lake moves up, displacing warmer surface water.

The nutrients in the water, as well as phosphorous and nitrogen produced by zebra mussels, provide food for the algae growth, Makerewicz said. Beaches in Monroe County have been especially hard hit, said Rick Elliott, director of environmental health for that county’s health department.

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.