New Guide to Help Identify Harmful Algal Blooms

Science Center Objects

To assist Native American and Alaska Native communities, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists developed a guide to evaluate algal blooms for the presence of cyanobacteria that are known to produce a variety of toxins.

Close up of the cyanobacteria Dolichospermum lemmermannii in a harmful algal bloom

The field and laboratory guide has photographs, such as this close up of the cyanobacteria Dolichospermum lemmermannii in a harmful algal bloom, to help water-resource managers identify potentially toxic cyanobacteria blooms. Figure 4 from USGS Open-File Report 2015–1164. Photo Credit: Ann St. Amand, PhycoTech.

Because many Native American and Alaska Native communities are dependent on subsistence fishing, they may have an increased risk of exposure to toxins from harmful algal blooms. To help address this risk, USGS scientists developed a field and laboratory guide for identification of cyanobacteria that are capable of producing toxins. The toxins are commonly referred to as cyanotoxins and can negatively affect fish, wildlife, and people.

The guide provides images of cyanobacteria blooms in field settings, non-toxic algal blooms, and floating aquatic vegetation. The images can help public health officials and water-resource managers recognize potential toxin-producing cyanobacterial blooms in the field. To help with more specific identification, the guide provides microscopic images of common cyanobacteria that are known to produce toxins.

Exposure to cyanotoxins can cause a range of effects from simple skin rashes to liver and nerve damage in humans, companion animals, livestock, and wildlife. The guide facilitates the important first step of recognizing the presence of potentially harmful algal blooms.

The USGS Office of Tribal Relations provided Tribal Science Coordination funds for the development of the guide.

Microscopic photograph of the cyanobacteria Dolichospermum circinale cells in curved filaments

Microscopic photograph of the cyanobacteria Dolichospermum circinale cells in curved filaments. This photograph is typical of the photographs in the field and laboratory guide to help identify cyanobacteria under microscopes. Figure 40 from USGS Open-File Report 2015–1164. Photo Credit: Ann St. Amand, PhycoTech.

 

This article was featured in the USGS GeoHealth Newsletter, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2016