Troubled Waters: Unveiling the Impact of Harmful Algal Blooms on Wildlife

“Harmful algal blooms can have horrific impacts on wildlife, but there are solutions.”

In 2020, on Botswana's Okavango Panhandle, conservationists discovered the remains of 356 elephants. The mammals’ demise baffled local officials and scientists as there seemed to be no apparent cause of death. Ultimately, the cause was determined to be cyanobacteria, a microorganism that can be toxic to wildlife. 

Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Commonly referred to as blue-green algae, cyanobacteria occur naturally in all water bodies. When these microorganisms erupt into blooms, they can produce powerful toxins, including microcystins, a potent liver toxin and possible human carcinogen. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are typically triggered by nutrient pollution, high temperatures, and depleting oxygen levels in a water body. These toxic blooms suffocate aquatic ecosystems, often producing a  green muck and prompting fish and other aquatic organisms to vacate their habitats. 

Toxic algae block sunlight and can clog fish gills and hamper the food-finding skills of water-dwelling creatures, causing mass die-offs. This summer along the California coast, another type of algae known as Pseudo-nitzschia is poisoning hundreds of sea lions and dolphins with a neurotoxin called domoic acid. And in 2022, a massive outbreak of a marine algae known as Heterosigma akashiwo produced a red tide that killed thousands of striped bass, sharks, sturgeon, rays, and countless other fish and crabs in San Francisco Bay.

 Duck found in an Israeli reservoir by the BlueGreen team

HABs can also be deadly for birds and waterfowl. Experts say ducks can die after only ingesting 1.2 ounces of infected water. But it’s not just smaller wildlife who are at risk; cyanotoxins can move up the food chain. When larger animals like sea lions, dolphins, ducks, and manatees consume smaller fish and shellfish from an infected water source, they too can become ill. 

Livestock can get sick or even die if they consume or swim in infected water. And we’ve all seen the tragic reports of beloved family pets succumbing to toxic algae after swimming in an infected water body.

The CDC recently came out with a new report analyzing state data from 2021, concluding that more animals are being impacted by HABs than ever before. In fact, researchers found most toxic algae related animal illnesses occur in August, a peak month for HAB outbreaks. They also noted that the most commonly reported signs of exposure in animals were dark urine followed by vomiting in wildlife and lethargy in domestic pets. 

Credit: Justin Henry / Flickr

“It is crucial that we take steps to protect our wildlife and water sources as they are an essential part of our planet’s ecosystems,” says  BlueGreen CEO Eyal Harel. “Harmful algal blooms can have horrific impacts on wildlife, but there are solutions”. 

Increased awareness and monitoring of water quality and cyanobacteria levels are a great first step to preventing more outbreaks and, in turn, animal casualties. 

There are also various products and technologies on the market that can track, monitor and treat infected bodies of water. BlueGreen Water Technologies offers a suite of water formulations that target and cure toxic algal blooms. But before treatment comes a diagnosis. BlueGreen uses cutting-edge data science analytics to detect, analyze and predict water quality issues in any body of water, no matter how big or small.

The mass deaths of the elephants in Africa- an already endangered species -was an environmental and conservation tragedy. With HAB prevention, monitoring, and awareness,  we hope to see an end to wildlife deaths.. 

Mountains above a clear lake

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