Thoughtful Thursdays: Algae Bloom in the Bay

Published May 03, 2012

Have you noticed a murky tint to Baltimore's Harbor lately? A "mahogany tide" of reddish-brown algae (Prorocentrum minimum) has invaded our local waters.

Reddish-brown water just outside the National Aquarium

"What we’re seeing here appears to be what’s called a mahogany tide," says National Aquarium specialist Susan Bitter. "Unfortunately, it isn’t exotic and it isn’t as interesting and tasty as it sounds."

Watch Susan explain about the mahogany tide on WJZ:

Algae blooms can be very damaging to life in the Bay. The algae live for only a short time, but when they die, the bacteria that eat the algae suck much-needed oxygen out of the water, creating "dead zones." The lack of oxygen in the water makes it hard for the aquatic plants and animals that live there to survive, potentially causing large-scale fish kills.

Algae blooms occur each spring in the Chesapeake Bay at varying intensities. We had a mild winter, and record-high water temperatures are being recorded all over the Chesapeake. The warm water not only encourages the algae growth, but also makes the bacteria that feed on them more active, drawing more oxygen out of the water.

Excess nutrients in the water are the primary cause of harmful algae blooms. We can all play a part in reducing the nutrients that are introduced into our local streams.

The Aquarium recently participated in the launch of floating wetlands into the Harbor, which help absorb nutrients from the water.

Everyone can help by adopting bay-friendly lawn care practices: plant native plants that don’t need fertilizer; don’t fertilize in the spring, only in the fall, and only with the nutrients that are needed for your lawn (spring rains wash fertilizers off land and into the waterways). Take your car to the automatic carwash and let it do your dirty work. When you wash your car in your driveway, those chemicals run down into the storm drains, which feed directly into the Bay. Most sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants do not remove poisonous cleaners, and yard and car-wash chemicals make their way into local waterways. And finally, pick up after your pet, and if you're on a septic system, make sure it's functioning well.

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