Algae bloom to be ‘significant’ again on Erie

Gibralter Island, Ohio — On  July 2, Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island, Put-in-Bay, hosted a gathering of invited media, agency personnel, research scientists and summer students followed by a public webinar to hear NOAA’s second annual harmful algae bloom prediction.

The take-home message: In 2013, Lake Erie algae blooms will be noticeable, but avoidable.

After presentations underscoring the importance of a clean Lake Erie given by state Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, and local state representative and Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern, D-Catawba, those in attendance were given an update on the size of the algae bloom that is expected this summer.

NOAA Scientists Mark Monoco and Richard Stumpf, with the help of Ohio Sea Grant/Stone Laboratory Director  Jeffrey Reutter, Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally, Lake Erie Commission Director Gail Hesse, and Heidelberg University National Center for Water Quality Research Director Peter Richards, presented their findings to a packed conference room of media representatives, researchers, and Stone Lab students. 

Reutter reported that Lake Erie is emblematic of global nutrient and harmful algae bloom problems. In the 1970s, phosphorous was reduced by two-thirds through the construction of sewage treatment facilities and industrial pollution controls.

Now, agriculture is responsible for the high levels of phosphorus that began to increase in the mid-1990s. The effort to reduce it will take just as much cooperation, but is achievable.

After much anticipation, Stumpf, of NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, made the announcement that the 2013 harmful algae bloom will be “significant.”

To put it into perspective, it will be about the average size of the blooms seen over the past several years, but only about one-fifth as big as the massive 2011 bloom that crippled the second half of the tourist and recreational boating season that summer.

The executive directors of the Ohio Travel Association and the Lake Erie Shores and Islands Center Melinda Huntley and Larry Fletcher respectively expressed concern about the tone of the language, specifically the use of the terms “significant” and “harmful algae blooms.” These words affect people’s reaction to the warnings with changes to their vacation and travel plans, they say.

Stumpf replied that “significant” was indeed the best choice of words for the level of the bloom and Harmful Algae Blooms (HAB) was an accurate depiction of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), as they contain a variety of toxins that can cause medical symptoms to people and pets when exposed to them in high concentrations.

Huntley stated that communities without an HAB problem are affected by media reports of them elsewhere on the lake and suffer an unnecessary loss of visitation. She asked the media in attendance to be careful on how they portray the problem.  

What’s at stake is a tourism industry along the eight-county Ohio Lake Erie shoreline worth $11.5 billion; 117,000 (9.8 percent) full-time equivalent jobs in those counties; and  $1.5 billion in tax revenue for federal, state, and local governments.

To help people to learn the locations of high HAB concentrations, there is a weekly bulletin that tracks them, so that boating or swimming plans can be adjusted. Stumpf suggested an Internet search using the words “NOAA Lake Erie HAB Bulletin” to see it.

Lake Erie Charter Boat Association President Rick Unger illustrated the economic effect that the algae blooms can have on the 700 Ohio licensed charter captains, supporting businesses and unrelated attractions that their clients may visit while in the area.

In 2011, he pulled out of Cleveland, where he usually fishes for yellow perch in September and October. He cited a loss to local hotels, restaurants, taverns, bait shops, fish cleaners, marine boat slip rental, and gasoline and ice sales. If his out-of-town clients don’t come to fish, other points of interest in Cleveland such as a baseball game, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Great Lakes Science Center, or Cedar Point, an hour west, lose out too.

The bad news about NOAA’s second annual Harmful Algae Bloom forecast is that there will likely be a “significant” algae bloom. The good news is that boaters should be able to avoid it, because it will be much smaller in area than the modern-day record bloom of 2011.

Categories: News, Social Media

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *