The Good, the Bad and the Algae
While they might sound like something pretty and delicate, algae blooms are not sweet smelling flowers that blossom in the Chesapeake Bay. In fact they have much to do with the nature of algae (plural, pronounced AL-jee) and the way people use the land around them.
What Are Algae?
Macroalgae include seaweed and the slimy, green, hair-like stuff that grows on rocks and the sides of aquariums. Microalgae are too small to be seen without a microscope. Most are phytoplankton, single-celled organisms that live suspended in the waters of oceans, bays, rivers and ponds all over the planet. When abundant they give water a color, usually green but sometimes red or brown.
Because different species thrive as waters vary from warm to cold and fresh to salty, algae blooms occur throughout the Bay and throughout the year. However most blooms appear in summer, when sunlight and nutrients are plentiful.
Depending on the species, blooms can form scum, clumps or mats that float near the surface or grow on the bottom. Blooms in the Chesapeake are most often greenish, red or brown.
We Control Blooms?
Upgrading sewage treatment plants to remove more nitrogen will help. Maryland currently plans to improve 66 large plants. Using fertilizers more carefully on farmland and in our yards will also reduce nutrient pollution.
Restoring forests and wetlands is another way to reduce the flow of nutrients into waterways. The trees and vegetation soak up nutrients much like a sponge, acting as nutrient-storage devices. Planting forested or vegetative buffers along waterways also helps slow runoff, allowing more nutrient-laden water to filter through the ground. Restoring populations of algae-eating organisms, particularly oysters and menhaden, is yet another important way to counteract algae blooms in the Chesapeake.
So there you have it: The good, the bad and the ALGAE!
For more on algae blooms, visit the DNR website at www.dnr.maryland.gov/bay/hab/index.html