Mike the Mad Biologist

Mad Biologist Scoops the Boston Globe?!

That’s right–you heard it here first: algal blooms on the Charles River in Boston. Spake Universal Hub:

A blogger by the name of Mike the Mad Biologist, proving why we should get all our news from Technorati and Google Blogsearch, scoops the Globe by more than a week on the story (hmm, if a blogger posts in the Charles when nobody’s around, does he still get coated in green slime?).

What’s really sad is that none of the crack reporters at the Globe cared or knew that the water in the Charles River was fluorescent green for at least a week. Next time, you guys might want to check that out…

Here’s what the Globe says:

Explosive growth of algae that can be highly toxic to humans and animals has streaked the Charles River with fluorescent green filaments, prompting state health and environmental officials to warn boaters and dog owners to avoid any water contact from the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge to the Museum of Science.

The organism, known as microcystis, can secrete toxins that irritate the skin, eyes, and ears of people who come in contact with contaminated water. A person would have to drink an enormous amount of water to become seriously ill, but ingesting even a small quantity may cause diarrhea. Dogs and wildlife, which are smaller and therefore more susceptible, can become sick or die from drinking the water.

Community Boating Inc., located on the Charles River near the Hatch Shell, has temporarily suspended all kayaking, windsurfing, and some sailing classes using boats that can more easily capsize. Rowing teams are steering clear of the lower Charles River.

“We’ve never seen an algae bloom like this before” on the Charles, said Anna Eleria, a water-quality scientist with the Charles River Watershed Association, an environmental advocacy group that is working to warn the public. “It’s not safe for people to let their dogs in, and we want to warn people to avoid contact.”

No one is known to have become sick from the water since testing first indicated a problem Friday, state health officials said, although they received several calls from people wondering what the streaks of green slime were in the water. No animal or fish deaths have been reported. State Department of Conservation and Recreation officials said they put up 50 warning signs over the weekend on the banks of the 1.7-mile contaminated stretch, although none were visible yesterday on the Boston shore.

Though final testing is still needed to confirm that the algae is secreting toxins, state environmental officials said yesterday that the density and type of bloom convinced them it probably poses a danger to humans and animals.

Concentrations of microcystis are extraordinarily high in the river. World Health Organization guidelines say health threats can occur in recreational waters once a threshold of 100,000 cells per milliliter of water is reached. On Friday, state Department of Environmental Protection officials recorded more than a million cells per milliliter in a sample taken two days earlier near the Museum of Science. Subsequent tests Saturday yielded results of 600,000, 300,000, and 200,000 cells per milliliter closer to the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge, and more testing was taking place yesterday in the area and further upstream.

Yesterday’s wind and early rain broke up the mats of the organism so that only pea- and dime-sized flecks floated on the water, making them no less toxic but harder to see. Experts say the sun and warm temperatures predicted for the next few days will probably allow the organisms to regroup into what can look like green cottage cheese or streaks of antifreeze. The microcystis is most apparent in lagoons, but it is also in the main river and tends to clump near the banks.

Here’s one possible explanation for the bloom. Me, I’m going with the goose shit hypothesis (more about that later).

I get less credit than skippy does…

Comments

  1. #1 Scorpio
    August 17, 2006

    After you posted about the bloom I looked for it in the news the next several days. Just goes to show you that environmental concerns aren’t exactly what makes the MSM perk.

  2. #2 Joshua
    August 17, 2006

    Note to self: don’t go swimming in the Charles… Oh, wait. Yeah, wasn’t gonna do that anyway.

    Interesting, though. I pass over the Longfellow Bridge every day going to work, but I haven’t noticed anything weird on the water. I guess the clumps and streaks are too small to see from that distance.

  3. #3 Buffalo Gal
    August 20, 2006

    The current bloom may be more extensive than has been previously seen, but algae in that dirty water is not unusual. I’ve seen algae in the Charles before, typically in the Charlesgate area when I used to take a bus that went by there. I’ve never kept track of its coming and going (the algae, not the bus) or relation to weather, goose poops, or whatever. Certainly the record amounts of rainfall early in the summer combined with an increase in fertilizer could be contributing to the bloom.