December 19, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
30°F
test

Algae bloom spreads across Lake Erie coast

The thick blue-green algae bloom that for months has alarmed environmentalists in the western basin of Lake Erie has moved as far east as Cleveland, coating beaches along the way.

The algae mass is made up of cyanobacteria.

“Algae can grow into larger masses if the conditions are right,” said Dina Pierce, spokeswoman with Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. “It can look like a mat that can float and move around with wind and wave action.”

Boaters have been seeing the algae in the lake for months.

“You notice it all over the place,” said attorney Joe Grunda, an avid boater. “We didn’t have a good summer and we had a lot of rain. It seems to bring it out when it rains.”

Satellite images on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website show the latest migration of the algae, which now touches Cleveland’s coastline.

Pierce said the presence of algae blooms in the lake is nothing new. Every year from the mid-1990s, algae blooms have appeared in the western basin, which is basically the area from Toledo to Kelleys Island. It forms when normally present bacteria grow rapidly, and the recent rains that drained off into the lake provided the perfect mixture of nutrients to feed the algae’s growth.

“As it dies and decays, it can deplete the water of oxygen, damaging aquatic life,” Pierce said. “It can get on boats, can produce toxins that are both harmful to people and animals. It’s not a threat so much to swimmers now because we don’t have people swimming. But in the swimming seasons, swimming advisories are put out when the algae level is high.”

While natural, scientists are still mindful of the growth of algae blooms and are working on ways to slow down its growth.

But that will not help boaters this weekend as they will likely take their vessels out on the lake before winter docking and emerge with green slime from bow to stern.

“It gets everywhere, and getting it clean is not always easy,” Grunda said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.