If you see a body of water that used to be a clear and beautiful lake, but it is now a thick, pea soup coloured green mass, you are probably seeing the results of lake algae. The algae growth look scummy, smells horrible and is no longer pleasant to look at or to be near. Under normal circumstances, some algae in a lake is beneficial. The other forms of life in the body of water require the algae and phytoplankton to form the body link of the food chain.
When there is too much algae, or of certain kinds of algae, the dissolved oxygen in the lake water is depleted. The fish die off because there is not enough oxygen. The coverage of the water surface by algae blocks the sunlight from getting through to other plants so they tend to become stunted or die. Some kinds of algae such as blue-green algae release toxins into the water as well as grow rapidly enough that they can clog intake pipes.
Excess algae is caused by excess nutrients introduced into the water. When there is an abundance of food in the water, the algae grows out of control. Nitrogen is one of the nutrients that can increase the production of algae. Phosphorus is another cause of increased algae. Both these things are getting into the lakes in higher levels.
Some of the reason for increased presence of these compounds in the water is increasing population in areas that used to have only a few homes. Sometimes vacation homes around a lake became year around homes. More people moved into the area to live and the septic systems and waste water plants did not keep pace. Sometimes untreated waste water goes into the lake and before long the lake is dying.
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Excess algae growth can be the result of phosphorous from fertilizer runoff. When algae inhibits recreational activities in lakes, cities, counties and parks lose the benefit of water based activities. This can cut back on fees for park usage and increased fees for treating the body of water.
There are some new and innovative methods of treating lake algae to get rid of excess growth without having the problem of dead algae to deal with. One way that has shown some promise is to use microbes that consume the nutrients normally used by the algae. This causes the algae to starve to death.
The lake algae is normally a good thing since it can form the basis of the food web, but too much of it can also be problematic.
Landing in Flamingo Beach
Image by Lanzen Lake Chitu is a small crater lake near the larger Lake Shalla in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia. Thousands of Lesser Flamingos are usually hanging out here grazing on the Spirulina cyanobacteria (or "algae") which grow only in very alkaline lakes like this one. With a pH of around 10.5 and oxygen only in the very top layer, there are no fish here, however.
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