Cold Temperatures Do Not Equate To Toxic Algae Extinction

With Winter fast approaching and lake activity all but halted, one might think that the soon to be frozen waters might not be a suitable living condition for plant life. According to research conducted by Grace College’s Center for Lake and Streams, blue-green algae is present in most Kosciusko County lakes. Blue-green algae contains a toxin called microcystin, which can be harmful to humans and pets alike.

Grace College undergraduate student Logan Gilbert labels water samples from Winona Lake to be analyzed for blue-green algae and it's microcystin toxin. (Photo Provided)

Grace College undergraduate student Logan Gilbert labels water samples from Winona Lake to be analyzed for blue-green algae and its microcystin toxin. (Photo Provided)

When speaking of the study, Nathan Bosch, the director of the Center For Lake and Streams, stated, “We found that blue-green algae and the microcystin toxin are present in most Kosciusko County lakes but usually in small amounts. So while they don’t pose an immediate health threat, their presence alone indicates that there is potential for problems in the future.” Bosch also said that despite the potential for future algae growth, currently, “There isn’t a lake in this county that I would not let my children swim in.”

Bosch explained that though most of the algae does die, some of it lives through the winter months, “In winter, some algae can still grow a bit under the ice without much snow because it can get some sunlight through the ice. Mostly, it dies and sinks to bottom along with weeds and starts to decompose. The only way to keep it from coming back is starving it of the nutrients it needs to survive – the problem is that all of our lakes have way too many of these nutrients.”

Grace College undergraduate student and Center for Lakes & Streams research assistant Alixandra Underwood collects water samples from Lake Wawasee. (Photo Provided)

Grace College undergraduate student and Center for Lakes & Streams research assistant Alixandra Underwood collects water samples from Lake Wawasee. (Photo Provided)

The microcystin cells themselves are not visible to the naked eye, and a concentrated area of them may only be detectable by giving the water a green hew. This is particularly true in areas such as bays and channels, where wind doesn’t blow as much and thus the water is more stagnant. The cells have been shown to sometimes cause skin irritations upon contact, usually in the form of a rash.

When ingested, most research shows that the liver is the most principally affected area. Bosch explains that such occurrences are more likely to occur with dogs licking large amounts of water off of their fur than from a person simply swallowing a mouthful by accident while skiing or tubing.

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