Photo Courtesy: US Fish & Wildlife Service
“Lake Mattamuskeet is beautiful and tranquil on the surface, but it is troubled beneath. The lake is in need of healing.”
Spanning 40 thousand acres, the shallow tea-colored waters of Lake Mattamuskeet are a fishing, hunting, and bird-watching paradise; bald cypress trees punctuating the surface, with largemouth bass, black crappie, and channel catfish negotiating the shallows below. More than 200 bird species, including egrets, great blue herons, snow geese, and dabbling ducks seek sanctuary at Mattamuskeet. Tundra swans fly in from the Arctic to winter on the lake and rest and feed on its surrounding wetlands.
But food can be hard to come by these days. The underwater grasses that provide feeding grounds and filter the lake’s turbid waters have disappeared. The once thick beds of wild celery, redhead grass, and sago pondweed began dying off in the late 1990s. By 2017, virtually no aquatic vegetation could be located. And when the submerged plant life dies, the algae move in.
Every year, as if on cue, Lake Mattamuskeet suffers harmful algal blooms. The familiar red and white signs return, warning: “Avoid contact with water and wash skin immediately…keep children and pets away.” The decline in water quality has become so worrisome that, in 2016, the EPA added Mattamuskeet to its list of impaired North Carolina waterways.
For years researchers have been studying and monitoring the lake. They have learned that over time, Mattamuskeet has changed from an ecosystem dominated by submerged aquatic vegetation to one overtaken by planktonic algae. Increased nutrient levels and decreased sunlight penetration have resulted in frequent harmful algal blooms.
“As the water becomes more murky due to suspended sediments, the grasses that provide habitat for fish and crabs and serve as a vital food source for waterfowl are unable to photosynthesize,” said Dr. Moshe Harel, CSO, BlueGreen Water Technologies (BlueGreen). “Over time, this cycle has created a dominance of cyanobacteria within the algal community.”
“We are excited to be working with UNC scientists to try to figure out, once and for all, how to reduce the dominance of harmful algae and restore the healthy ecosystem that once thrived here.”
On a chilly January morning, water scientists with BlueGreen Water Technologies skimmed across Mattamuskeet’s shallow waters in a boat. They were joined by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Institute of Marine Sciences.
“Lake Mattamuskeet is beautiful and tranquil on the surface, but it is troubled beneath. The lake is in need of healing,” said Eyal Harel, CEO, BlueGreen. “We are excited to be working with UNC scientists to try to figure out, once and for all, how to reduce the dominance of harmful algae and restore the healthy ecosystem that once thrived here.”
The team has launched an extended research project, deploying 38 floating water quality sensors that will detect a variety of data. The project is a collaboration between UNC-Chapel Hill and BlueGreen.
“The data we gather is going to help us determine the best treatment regime for Lake Mattamuskeet,” said Dr. Jessica Frost, U.S. Scientific Director, BlueGreen. “Multiple data points are being collected around the clock and integrated into our analytics engine.”
BlueGreen uses high-tech tools and advanced analytics to diagnose troubled water bodies and to prescribe an exact treatment to reduce harmful algal blooms and restore balance and biodiversity to the ecosystem.
BlueGreen has an arsenal of treatment products, but in the case of Lake Mattamuskeet BlueGreen will be using Lake Guard®️ Oxy as it is more environmentally friendly as opposed to other harsh chemicals commonly used in the commercial industry.
“Lake Mattamuskeet holds important cultural and historical meaning for the people of the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula, “ said Eyal Harel. “Its waters support a rich diversity of habitats for fish and crabs as well as wintering migratory waterfowl along the Atlantic Flyway. This natural jewel must be restored and protected for generations to come.”
In spring, researchers will begin testing BlueGreen’s unique, floating algaecide to determine whether it can be effective in reducing Lake Mattamuskeet’s harmful algal blooms and give this natural treasure hope anew, and its precious aquatic grasses a fighting chance by improving water clarity to allow sunlight to reach the benthos.