The B.C. government has launched a new platform in order to help people better understand where and when algae blooms in lakes happen around the province.
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change says it has developed the ‘Algae Watch’ website in order to help people recognize potentially harmful algae blooms in lakes as well as differentiate algae blooms from other natural phenomena, such as foam or pollen.
“The website can help us track changes over time and identify areas of the province that are getting more algae blooms. We can then start investigating what’s causing these changes,” said Mike Sokal, a water quality limnologist for B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “It’s really encouraging to see people interested in what’s happening at their lake. Some of those concerned citizens become champions for the lake and start local sampling programs.”
Ranging in size from microscopic single cells to large seaweeds, algae are a natural part of all aquatic ecosystems, notes the government. The Province says algae can provide food for fish as well as supplying oxygen for breathing.
Prolific growth, however, can cause a dense mass in lakes around the province. These masses or blooms are mostly harmless, according to Sokal, but some species have the potential to produce toxins that can be dangerous to people, pets or livestock.
The new website is intended to serve as a hub in order to help people understand what might be occurring in their local lake and whether the water is safe.
People are invited to contribute information to the new platform in order to help create a comprehensive picture of B.C.’s algae situation.
“Lakes are susceptible to impacts from all kinds of human land uses and activities, so it’s really important that there’s some vigilance on those activities. If there are any changes that might be occurring in a lake, citizens can be an early detection or early warning mechanism,” said Norm Zirnhelt, executive director of the B.C. Lake Stewardship Society (BCLSS).
On Vancouver Island, Elk Lake and Beaver Lake have been known to produce algae blooms at various times throughout the year — sometimes leading to the Capital Regional District urging people to avoid swimming.
Anyone with immediate concerns related to drinking and/or recreational water use is asked to contact their local health authority.