Algae Blooms threaten Lake Erie
March 26, 2013
I’d like to offer an apology of sorts for this photo. It goes like this: “I’m really, really sorry that I sometimes have to blog photos of the ugly things that threaten what’s beautiful in Michigan. I wish I didn’t have such a good reason to!”
Michigan has only the tiniest sliver of Lake Erie shoreline, so little that we sometimes forget that it is one of the lakes that define our Great Lakes State. Lake Erie served once at the canary in the coal mine for pollution of the Great Lakes, and it may once again be sounding a warning call. A recent front page of the New York Times featured scary news about algae blooms on Lake Erie:
For those who live and play on the shores of Lake Erie, the spring rains that will begin falling here soon are less a blessing than a portent. They could threaten the very future of the lake itself.
Lake Erie is sick. A thick and growing coat of toxic algae appears each summer, so vast that in 2011 it covered a sixth of its waters, contributing to an expanding dead zone on its bottom, reducing fish populations, fouling beaches and crippling a tourism industry that generates more than $10 billion in revenue annually.
…Dead algae sink to the lake bed, where bacteria that decompose the algae consume most of the oxygen. In central Lake Erie, a dead zone now covers up to a third of the entire lake bottom in bad years.
“The fact that it’s bigger and longer in duration is a bad thing,” said Peter Richards, a senior research scientist at the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University in Ohio. “Fish that like to live in cold bottom waters have to move up in the thermocline, where it’s too warm for them. They get eaten, and that tends to decrease the growth rates of a lot of the fish.”
Read on for a whole lot more including how farming practices are intersecting with invasive zebra mussels and climate change to magnify the dangers.
More Lake Erie on Michigan in Pictures.