Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
In the summer, one of the most essential activities is going to the beach. It’s a great way to spend time with friends and family as well as cool off in the water. However, for some, that hasn’t been an option. In Mississippi, for almost a month all 21 of its coastal beaches have been closed down due to the dangerous algae blooms in the waters. It still stands to question: how are these blooms caused? Are they really that dangerous to humans?
Despite the name, beach algal blooms are not made of algae. Despite the name, algae blooms are actually made of cyanobacteria (News Star). In high concentrations, the algae bloom patches look blue green, but they can also be bright green, brown, or even red (Science Daily). These blooms multiply very quickly and consume much of the dissolved oxygen in the water, causing any fish and aquatic life to die. Humans can’t swim in the water either, as consumption of this algae water can cause vomiting, sore throat, and head aches two to four hours after consumption (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency). Health officials recommend that you also don’t consume any fish found in the algae bloom, even if it’s cooked.
How do these algae blooms come about? Often, algae blooms need a certain set of conditions to thrive and multiply. Cyanobacteria likes low levels of salt and oxygen in the water and high levels of heat and light, and they are a relatively common part of freshwater lake ecosystems. In Mississippi’s case, scientists think the blooms were caused by the opening of Louisiana’s Bonnet Claire spillway, which pumps freshwater into the oceans. The spillways have been open for much longer this year than historically normal because the Mississippi River has been flooding lately. However, because the spillway is pumping freshwater into the ocean, it makes the ocean in that area less salty and creates a great environment for blue-green algae to thrive. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, we can’t get rid of algae blooms altogether, but we can try to control the frequency and size of the blooms. Most notably, officials can try to control how much phosphorus is put into the water such as controlling the dumping of fertilizer into the water, since fertilizer contains a lot of nutrients to help algae blooms thrive.
In the summer, as the heat rises, lakes and beaches all over the US have blooms of toxic algae, closing them off from swimming. This summer, notably, all of the Mississippi beaches are closed due to the toxic blooms, partially caused by the pumping of freshwater into the oceans. It is exceedingly important to not try your luck with trying to swim or catch fish in the algae blooms, as it can get you extremely sick. You can’t tell from the look of the algae bloom whether or not it’s toxic, and it’s not a good idea to find out through trial and error. If you really must see the ocean, the sandy areas are often still open (they're just closed for swimming). Be sure to follow any health and safety protocols form your local health services, as they’re only trying to make sure you have a safe and cyanobacteria-free summer.