New blue-green algae testing tool pinpoints developed areas as hot spots

A new study by researchers at Laurentian University could change the way blue-green algae is detected.

Results gathered in half of the time than current methods because they focus on algae instead of water

Researcher Charles Ramcharan and one of his students have been studying some of the factors that cause blue-green algae blooms. Ramcharan says development on the lake seems to be causing more blue-green algae. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

A new study by researchers at Laurentian University in Sudbury could change the way blue-green algae is detected.

The study used algae samples scraped from rocks at the bottom of Sudbury's Long Lake, a body of water that has seen more than its fair share of development over the years.

Researcher Charles Ramcharan said using algae scrapings instead of water samples, it takes less than half the time to get results — and the tests can be done less often. 

"It also means that we do a lot less work because we can go out and sample maybe once or twice a year," said Ramcharan.

"[We are] able to use the algae as sort of a long-term monitoring tool."

Ramcharan said his study shows development on the lake seems to be causing more blue-green algae. On Long Lake, there are a few persistent trouble spots in an otherwise healthy lake.

(Charles Ramcharan)

"Our work showed that, across most of the bays on Long Lake, phosphorus levels were low. In two isolated areas, however, the level of nutrients was found to be significantly higher," he said.

"Both of those bays experience regular algal blooms, and both are highly developed, with year-round homes on lakefront properties."

Post-development monitoring

Having a tool that will monitor the algae levels more specifically within a body of water could prove to be helpful.

"This new method allows us to more accurately detect variations in phosphorus within a single body of water, and reinforces the finding that human activity and improper shoreline management are primary factors in repeated blue-green algae blooms," Ramcharan said.

"There's no or very little post-development monitoring to ask the question what the impact [of development] has been. This tool allows us to do that."

A Sudbury researcher says watersheds should not be changed and septic systems need to be used properly to prevent blue-green algae. He says high nutrient levels cause blue-green algae. (CBC File Photo)

Manager of environmental health Burgess Hawkins said Ramcharan's test would have to become accredited before it could be used.

"There are large a number of variables that would have to be looked at before I could say, 'yes we could use this or no we couldn't'."

Ramcharan said he wants to test his method further. He said he's waiting to hear back from the city and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change on funding for this project.

"We seek to continue our work beyond this pilot study with a follow-up project that involves a diversity of Sudbury lakes and a better way to quantify housing density along lake shorelines."

In the meantime, he said he's already been approached by some companies to use his test.

Blue-green algae has already been confirmed in a number of Sudbury lakes this summer.

Waterways where blue-green algae has been identified