Harmful Algal Blooms Found In Smithtown and Montauk Waterbodies

Cyanobacteria blooms cover Blydenburgh Lake in Smithtown.

By Anisah Abdullah and Nicola Shannon

Potentially toxic cyanobacteria blooms have been found in Blydenburgh Lake in Smithtown and Big Reed Pond in Montauk on September 14th. The presence of this algae poses a health risk to humans and animals, and residents have been advised to avoid contact with these waterbodies.

“Lake users should avoid exposure to surface scums or heavily discolored water, and should avoid swimming, fishing, boating, or wading in areas with blooms,” New York State Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Jomo Miller said in an email.

If exposure does occur, humans can get symptoms including stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headache, pains in muscles and joints, skin, eye, and throat irritation and allergic responses, according to the World Health Organization. The DEC and Suffolk County Department of Health Services have since have posted warning signs at both locations.

Stony Brook University researchers from the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences’ Gobler Laboratory analyzed samples from these freshwater bodies and found cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae.

A rise in global temperatures as well as nutrient pollution from residential wastewater causes this bacteria to form visible, dense buildups that can harm the lake’s ecosystem.

Although it presents a health risk to humans, researchers are more concerned about its effects on animals, especially dogs. If they lick their fur after swimming in contaminated water, they consume a high concentration of the algae, Gregory L. Boyer, a chemistry professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry who does research on algal toxins, said.

The Blydenburgh County Park has a dog park very close to its algae-filled lake.

In 2012, a small dog died after drinking the water at Georgica Pond in East Hampton. The Gobler Lab team began sampling the pond water and found such high levels of toxic algae that the pond had to be closed in 2014.

“Two dogs went swimming in the pond and only one came out,” Stony Brook PhD candidate Andrew Griffith said. “It died of acute liver toxicity. They took it to the vet and found a large mass of algae.”

The severity of harmful algal blooms on Long Island and worldwide has been worsening over the past few years, Griffith, who researches marine algal blooms at the Gobler Lab, said. In addition to Blydenburgh Lake and Big Reed Pond, there are currently seven other locations on the DEC’s list of cyanobacteria blooms in Suffolk County, compared to four in 2014.

Although marine algal blooms have been detrimental to Long Island’s aquaculture industry, freshwater algal blooms do not pose great dangers to agriculture. Because Long Island has accessible underground water, farms usually irrigate using wells, Robert Carpenter, the administrative director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said.

“There are a few people that do irrigate from ponds but I think they are few and far between, and most of those ponds would be on the farms themselves,” Carpenter said.

Cyanobacteria blooms usually fade as the season changes, but curing them is complicated, with research still being debated. Boyer said techniques like starving the water of nutrients like nitrogen, which cause algal blooms, or sometimes draining the lake can clear cyanobacteria in the long term.

“Blue-green algae is kind of like dandelions,” Boyer said. “Once you get them in your lawn, they’re hard to get out.”

Although the effect of global warming may make these blooms harder to control, Long Island can prevent further blooms by improving septic systems and decreasing the use of fertilizer on lawns and areas near lakes and ponds.