Sudbury lifeguards help to spot blue-green algae blooms

Lifeguards at Sudbury's public beaches are helping to notify swimmers when potentially toxic algae blooms threaten beaches.

Health officials say water is safe unless bloom is visible, despite posted advisory signs

Sudbury lifeguards, like Emily Welsh, have been trained to spot blue-green algae blooms. They notify people to stay out of the water if a bloom floats near the beach. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Lifeguards at Sudbury's public beaches have been trained to spot potentially toxic algae blooms that can hang around swimming beaches.

Advisory signs that indicate a blue-green algae bloom have been spotted in the area are posted at a number of popular swimming beaches in Sudbury.

But the blooms move with the current, so those signs say it is safe to swim unless a blue-green algae bloom is currently present.

A potentially toxic blue-green algae bloom is present on Ramsey Lake in Sudbury, but it moves around with the current. (Sudbury and District Health Unit)

To help people know whether or not to go in the water, the lifeguards at Sudbury's public beaches have received extra training on how to spot the blooms.

"We want to make sure that people are safe, but also that they can enjoy the water," said Emily Welsh, leisure program supervisor for the Sudbury waterfront. 

"We never want to barricade off the beach. We just simply say it is not safe to swim right now. When it goes away you will be able to go in the water."

Welsh said lifeguards have seen the blooms move in and out of a beach area within a matter of hours this summer. But the blooms can also settle in for a longer period of time.

Signs will stay

Because the situation is always changing, the Sudbury and District Health Unit says blue-green algae advisory signs at affected beaches will stay up for the rest of the swimming season.

"The bloom may move from one area to the next. So if we don't see it today, it's very possible we could see it tomorrow," said Ashley DeRocchis, an environmental support officer with the Sudbury and District Health Unit.

Ashley DeRocchis, an environmental support officer with the Sudbury and District Health Unit, says signs advising about blue-green algae blooms will stay up for the rest of the summer. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

"That is why the messaging is, if you see the bloom, do not swim. If you don't see a bloom, assume that the water is safe to use for recreational purposes."

DeRocchis said if a bloom is preventing swimming at one beach on Ramsey Lake, often people can move to another beach and still get a chance to use the water.

Contact with blue-green algae can irritate the skin and eyes and, if it is ingested in larger quantities, it can cause more severe health problems, including nervous system damage.

Dogs can be at particular risk for health affects if they spend time in water containing a blue-green algae bloom.

Greater Sudbury's blue-green algae Q&A