Algae are photosynthetic organisms that occur in most natural habitats. They can thrive in many habitats including freshwater, saltwater, deserts, hot springs, and snow and ice. Algae can be very small, single-celled organisms to huge multicellular organisms that can grow to more than 60 meters in length and form dense marine forests.
Algae are important both ecologically and economically. They are primary producers of organic matter at the bottom of the food chain, and they also provide oxygen for other marine life. Algae produce food, medicine, and other products that are economically important.
However, algae can prove to be harmful. When environmental conditions are agreeable, algae cells can multiply rapidly and form high numbers of cells. When this happens, this is called an algal bloom. Blooms usually result in a color change in the water. Although algal blooms can be any color, the most common colors are red and brown. These colored blooms are called red or brown tides. The majority of algal blooms aren’t harmful, but some affect humans and fish, as well as other marine mammals and birds. These dangerous blooms are known as Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).
Blooms are usually caused by warm water or nutrient rich water. Nutrient rich water is often a result of pollution, while warm water temperatures tend to make the blooms produce quickly.
HABs are dangerous to fish because they diminish the oxygen in the water, and the fish suffocate. Sometimes, algae blooms produce toxins that can kill fish and cause sickness in humans. Humans can become ill from HAB exposure by consuming raw fish and shellfish that have been exposed to the blooms. In special environments, humans can become sick by just inhaling the fumes from the bloom in sea foam.
The symptoms of exposure to HAB differ, depending on the toxins involved. Common symptoms are: diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In some cases, asthma-like symptoms may occur.
To learn more about the importance of water safety, contact us.