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St. Andrews group monitors blue-green algae in Chamcook Lake

posted Sep 26, 2015, 4:57 PM by SOS SaveOceanScience   [ updated Sep 26, 2015, 4:58 PM ]

Citizen scientists are 'boots in the water' in the tracking of blue-green algae in Chamcook Lake

By Catherine Harrop, CBC News Posted: Sep 24, 2015 2:02 PM AT Last Updated: Sep 24, 2015 3:46 PM AT

  • Underwater 'milky way.'
  • Underwater 'milky way.' (Tim Foulkes)
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Chamcook Lake is the water source for the St Andrews and is one of eight lakes listed as having blue-green algae, a number that gradually grew throughout the summer.

Brian Glebe, a retired federal scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, was the first person to identify the bacteria in the lake.

"I was the discoverer of cyanobacteria in this lake five years ago and that's what piqued my interest. I identified it, notified the provincial government and I've been interested in it ever since," he said.

The alga releases its toxin when it rises to the surface and starts to die, usually creating a scum on the water. It can poison pets that drink it and make humans sick.

algae

Eight lakes have been listed as having blue-green algae in New Brunswick, a number that gradually grew throughout the summer. (Michelle Leblanc)

While it is under the surface, it's not a danger.  

The algae doesn't stop Tim Foulkes from swimming in the lake. He is also a retired scientist and has recorded the small globes of algae underwater.

"They look like the Milky Way as you swim through them," said Foulkes.

He has also filmed the lake from his small plane. What stood out most was the pea-soup green of a neighbouring body of water, Wheaton Lake.  

That lake is filled with a different type of blue-green algae and is now undrinkable and not safe to swim in.

According to Glebe and the Canadian Rivers Institute, it's unlikely any marine life is left alive in Wheaton Lake.

Scientists say the blooms can be fed by sunlight, fertilizer run-off, human excrement and warmer temperatures leading to warmer and shallower water. Heavy rains can also send more nutrients into the system.

Glebe and 39 others involved in the Chamcook Watershed Landowners Association are keeping a look-out.

"It could get worse or it could get better," Glebe said.

"So it could get worse, so I'm maintaining my vigil to make sure it doesn't get worse," he said.

Glebe says his group sends its findings to the province's environment department  He said he thinks the department could be relying more on volunteer citizen groups like his.

"They can provide some 'boots in the water,' sampling and so forth, and work with them," he said.