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Algae Blooms of Summer

By Spider Rybaak

Algae blooms don’t stop fish from biting

Two of the state’s most productive lakes, Oneida and Neahtahwanta, are nestled in Oswego County. Their above average fisheries are attributable, in large part, to their shallowness, which allows the sun to warm them quicker, and reach bottom over a larger area than in neighboring bodies of water.

But all those wonderful factors breed a funky side, too: algae blooms.

Found in all stagnant and slow moving waters, algae are an essential part of the environment. Comprising one of the bottom links of the food chain, they’re the main dish of zooplankton, minnows, and tiny insects, which feed bigger fish, which ultimately feed man.

Come summer, however, high temperatures and intense light conspire with the carpet of nutrients on the lake’s floor to create ideal conditions for algae growth. What’s more, insecticides entering the water on run-off contribute to the devil’s brew by killing off vast numbers of the tiny animals that graze on the rootless vegetation. Next thing you know, there’s an algae explosion.

Like everything else that goes up, their numbers must come down; and always do in a spectacular die-off. Fortunately for Oneida Lake, it has a river running through it. When the bloom crashes, it’s quickly dispersed and swept downstream.

Lake Neatahwanta isn’t so lucky. Although it’s fed by a small stream and some underwater springs, evaporation draws off much of what flows in and there isn’t enough power left in the water to break up, let alone disperse, the thick film undulating on the surface like old split-pea soup with rancid pork. At this point, there are only two routes the dead algae can follow: decompose in place and sink to the bottom, or pile up on shore in jagged, blue-green cakes resembling dried river mud in a psychedelic nightmare.

According to Washington State’s Department of Ecology, pets and wild animals have reportedly died after intense exposure to algae blooms. And while people have been known to suffer bouts of stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting after swimming or water skiing in the stuff; and folks with a history of intense exposure–like drinking the water–have even come down with nerve and liver damage, there has never been a confirmed death of a human from algae bloom exposure.

So, while the lake smells and looks dead, it’s anything but. Terrestrial beasts and water fowl tend to avoid the liquid miasma because it can make them sick. But the fish don’t seem to mind a bit. In fact, the coating seems to provide shade from the sun, beckoning the fish close to shore.

Just about every lake angler with a few years of experience under his belt has come into contact with blue green algae. Many have even waded in it without any adverse effects.

However, public health officials worry blue-green algae can make you sick and suggest avoiding contact with it.  If some gets on you, they suggest you wash the area thoroughly with soap and water.

Use common sense – don’t drink water with scum floating on it, or any untreated surface water, for that matter. Be especially wary of water that looks like it has a blue-green paint slick on it, or looks like and has the consistency of split pea soup, and smells really nasty.

Close up of blue-green algae