Deadly Blue – Green Algae Wreaking Havoc in New Jersey

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By Pam Teel

You might have heard about the passing of six dogs this summer in both Texas and North Carolina shortly after being exposed to a potentially toxic algae in the waterways. The culprit, Cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue- green algae, has also played its part in shutting down water sports in local lakes in New Jersey this past summer. Lake Hopatcong still remains empty as algae bloom has led officials to warn residents against swimming or touching the bloom. Aside from Lake Hopatcong, Greenwood Lake on the NY / NJ border has also been affected, as well as Spruce Run Reservoir, Swartswood Lake, Rosedale Lake in Pennington, Lake Musconetcong in Stanhope, Deal Lake Park and Sunset Lake in Asbury Park, Budd Lake Beach, Mt. Olive, and the Manasquan Reservoir. (Keep in mind some of these lakes might be under advisory.)

Contact with the algae causes skin rashes and irritation, allergy like infections, flu like symptoms, gastroenteritis, and respiratory and eye irritation. As cyanobacteria levels rise, the algae can also cause serious health problems such as liver and neurological damage. In high numbers, the bacteria forms a toxic bloom that often creates a
thick mat that resembles pea soup on the surface. It looks like pond scum and grains of floating green sand. It smells enough to repel a human but animals sometimes lap up the water and ingest floating pieces of algae or eat dried up algae crust on shore, which most likely is fatal for a dog.

The algae has also killed fish, fowl, wildlife, and larger ocean animals. If your taking your dog to a lake or a pond, make sure it’s safe first. You also need to look out for stagnant bodies of water even as small as a puddle. Cyanobacteria grows well in still water and blooms are becoming more frequent in rivers that have been damned up for reservoirs.

Cyanobacteria exist in small concentrations in lakes, ponds, and waterways all over the world. They thrive in calm waters. With increased nutrients, heat and sunlight, they grow to create a pea soup like layer on top of the water. The nutrients, mostly phosphorus and nitrogen, could come from lawn fertilizers, family septic, hotter wetter weather, sewage systems, or animal droppings. New Jersey’s high rainfall this year helped wash huge amounts of these nutrients into the waterways.

The reports of blue-green algae in New Jersey began in early June and resulted in the closing of lakes and reservoirs throughout the state. In Lake Hopatcong, several people developed mild skin rashes after exposure to the water. Much of the lake still remained closed.

Different algae have different toxins but there are two main offenders, Microcystin and anatoxins. Microcystin affects the liver and can lead to vomiting, diarrhea and seizures in dogs. Anatoxin is neurotoxin that can cause excessive salivation, muscle tremors, and difficulty breathing. Both these species were found in Lake Hopatcong and Greenwood Lake. Bloom outbreaks this year have also affected other mid -Atlantic regions in New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland, as well.

Recently, this same blue – green algae, which originated in Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, covered nearby major river and canal systems causing the governor to declare a State of Emergency along the Florida Atlantic coast. This was all due to the pollution from wastewater, fertilizer, and other agricultural runoff that increased the nutrients in the waterways and fueled the growth of the toxic algae. The algae did a lot of damage. It suffocated over 30,000 acres of seagrass, threatened human health, and killed countless seabirds, manatees, and dolphins.

The Surfrider’s Eastern Long Island Chapter, is also dealing with the toxic blue- green algae. Widespread cyanobacteria have caused the closing of many local waterbodies to recreation and fishing. The surfrider’s Foundation is a grassroots nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans, waves and beaches.

Tips to keep safe if you come in contact with a waterway with the algae:

  • Don’t touch or drink the water.
  • Don’t fish there or eat any fish from there.
  • Keep all pets and livestock away from the water.
  • Don’t allow pets to drink or eat dried algae or groom themselves after coming in contact with the toxic water. If you come into contact, wash off immediately withfresh water.
  • Seek medical attention or a vet immediately if experiencing health effects after exposure to bloom. Remember it only takes a very short time for your pet to starthaving seizures after ingestion.If you suspect or identify a bloom in a local lake or pond, report it to the DEP hotline 1-877-927-6337 or send a mobile alert through the WARNNJDEP mobile app. You can also report it via: