North Carolina officials warn algae bloom likely as weather warms

An algal bloom in the Pamlico River in 2021. Photo: NCDEQ

With hot summer days comes the possibility of algae blooms in state waters.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Water Resources Division reminded the public on Monday to avoid contact with discolored water that could indicate the presence of an algal bloom.

Certain algae can create toxins that can have adverse health effects in humans, pets, and aquatic organisms. Blooms that can have negative effects on people, animals and the environment are called harmful algal blooms. You can’t tell by looking at a flower if it’s harmful, state officials said.

Although algae occur naturally in all bodies of water, certain environmental conditions can cause rapid cell growth called blooms. These conditions include increased nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, high temperatures, increased sunlight, and little or no water flow.

“Algal blooms can occur throughout the year, but conditions during the warmer months contribute to an increase in the number of blooms that occur,” said Daniel Wiltse, bloom response coordinator for algae to the Water Resources Division, in a statement.

Algal blooms can appear as surface scum, which looks like spilled paint and can be bright green, red, brown or blue. Blooms can also appear as dense macroscopic growths called algal mats that float on the surface of the water or as discoloration throughout the water column. The movement of the bloom is dictated by the action of wind and waves. Decaying algae can produce a strong foul odor over a large area.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health encourages the public to avoid contact with large accumulations of algae and to prevent children and pets from swimming or ingesting algae. water during an algae bloom. Remember: when in doubt, stay out!

Public Health Division staff suggest the following measures to guard against algal blooms:

  • Keep children and pets away from water that appears light green, blue, discolored or frothy.
  • Do not handle or touch large mats of algae.
  • Avoid handling, cooking or eating any dead fish that may be present.
  • If you come into contact with an algae bloom, wash thoroughly.
  • Use clean water to rinse pets that may have come in contact with an algae bloom.
  • If your child seems ill after being in water with an algae bloom, seek medical attention immediately.
  • If your pet seems to stumble, stagger, or collapse after being in a pond, lake, or river, seek veterinary care immediately.

To report an algal bloom, contact the nearest DEQ regional office or submit a report online. To view reported algal bloom events, visit DWR’s Fish Kill & Algal Bloom Dashboard.

To learn more about algal blooms, visit the DWR website. For more information on the potential health effects of algal blooms, visit the DPH website.

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