Understanding Algal Blooms


CLA Collaborates with Organizations in Support of Healthy Aquatic Environment

A healthy lake is a happy lake. The CLA has been collaborating with multiple organizations throughout the years to provide a natural response to unwanted vegetation, in-lake maintenance, and the removal and clearing of shoreline debris which clogs navigation. The CLA has also become deeply involved with studying, cataloging, and monitoring Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). In addition, the CLA informs the public and appropriate government agencies about the presence of algal blooms.

Algal blooms are a rapid increase in the population of algae in an aquatic system. Algae is always present in bodies of water, such as Chautauqua Lake, but only a few types can produce toxins. Toxin production can be stimulated by environmental factors such as light, temperature, and nutrient levels. The warmer water temperatures in the summer and excessive nutrients from fertilizers are some reasons why Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) occur.

Algal blooms are a natural byproduct of freshwater lakes. The CLA’s goal is to find a way to lessen the toxic component of algal blooms so that fewer harmful blooms will occur. Chautauqua Lake is classified as a Productive Lake due to the presence of algae. A Productive Lake is good and ecologically needed in order to support a healthy aquatic life community. Algae is also important for the fishery. Douglas Conroe, CLA executive director, notes that “A goal of our work is to find a balance that both protects the lake’s productivity and lessens HABs.”

No one has yet to concoct a formula for the perfect balance, although it is understood that reducing nutrient input is part of that formula. The CLA has been working with Greg Boyer, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Biology at SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse and who is also the director of the Great Lakes Research Consortium. The project has been observing and analyzing HABs since 2013 to help in devising such a formula. The CLA is also working with ESF on a second HAB-related project wherein Dr. Boyer is involved with Bowling Green State University’s Lake Erie Center for Freshwater and Human Health. That project has been funded by a National Science Foundation and National Institute of Health joint grant that is studying algae in Chautauqua Lake. In the meantime, the CLA is working with the NYSDEC to identify the presence of HABs in order to keep the public advised of such. Algal blooms are a part of every natural body of water. This work serves to differentiate for the public the difference between normal algal blooms and harmful algal blooms.

“We have been working with the various organizations to document and understand algal blooms,” Conroe said. “ Harmful algal blooms will likely always be with us. Our hope is to find a method to decrease the most serious ones without otherwise affecting the lake’s ecology that would cause other problems.”

The CLA has been involved with NYSDEC and New York State Federation of Lakes Association (NYSFOLA) for over 30 years in the Citizen Statewide Lake Assessment Program (CSLAP), which has also been observing HABs since prior to 2013. This ongoing effort is vital in assembling a database for current and future study.

“The blooms are there because there are too many nutrients in the lake,” Conroe said. “Simply said, plants remove nutrients. If the plants aren’t there to use those nutrients the only thing left to use them is algae. The algae then feast and bloom. In fact, Coontail is a non-rooted plant that derives its nutrients from the water so it is important that we maintain Coontail’s presence in the lake. And, Eurasian watermilfoil has been found by scientists to help with mitigating the harmful microsystin bacteria that is present in HABs.”

NYSDEC has a Harmful Algal Bloom reporting system called NYHABS. The CLA is an official trained observer and reporter to this system. Anyone can report a HAB, which then must be followed up and observed. The NYSDEC contacts the CLA to do this follow-up investigation into the report. Persons wishing to speed up the documentation process should call the CLA office to report possible HABs.