Impacts of algal blooms and cyanobacteria

Algal blooms are an increasing problem throughout the UK. Changing conditions within water bodies make them more suitable for algal growth, whether due to an increase in nutrients, temperature, sunlight or water column stability.

Excessive algae can cause a number of problems by affecting the transparency, oxygen and pH of the water column, with subsequent effects on biota.

close up of algal blue green algae

Algal blooms and the breakdown of certain types of phytoplankton, such as cyanobacteria / blue-green algae, can also be toxic to fish, birds, mammals and humans. This can have a considerable impact upon the amenity and recreational use of the water.

Exposure to blue-green algae and their toxins (cyanotoxins) through contact with skin or by drinking or accidentally swallowing or inhaling affected water can cause a wide range of symptoms in humans and animals. These are sometimes serious and include rashes, skin and eye irritation, blisters, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea and liver damage.

  • blue-green algae and bacteriology 2 Anabaena & Aphanizomenon sp. – two common bloom-forming cyanobacteria.
  • open water swimming Microcystis aeruginosa cyanobacteria colony, which often forms dense blooms in mid to late summer.
  • Water management barriers in Strathclyde Loch Impermeable barriers separating the triathlon swim area from the rest of Strathclyde Loch.

Monitoring and managing algal blooms and cyanobacteria

The APEM team has broad experience of studying algae from all over the UK and provides high quality algae identification. For recreational monitoring purposes the laboratory provides rapid analysis of samples, typically within 24 hours, with results being compared with the World Health Organisation guidance for the protection of health from the presence of blue-green algae.

Blue dye added to water at Salford Quays to help control algal bloom

Blue dye added to water at Salford Quays to help control algal bloom

Our consultancy team has extensive experience of undertaking projects to investigate algal bloom problems in water bodies. This includes identifying their source, diagnosing the causes of bloom development and advising on a range of algal management solutions, including ultrasonic, chemical dosing, light limiting dyes and water body aeration.

We provide this advice and technical support to clients with requirements in a wide range of situations, from small privately owned ponds to water company reservoirs and water bodies used for recreational purposes.

Key projects

  • Salford Quays: APEM has been commissioned as specialist water management consultants since 1987 to monitor and manage the water quality and ecology of the Inner Basins on behalf of Salford Council.Open water swimming at Salford Quays
  • London Olympics: advising the organisers of the 2012 London Olympics on biosecurity measures to minimise the risk of contamination of the Eton Dorney rowing lake.
  • Glasgow Commonwealth Games: developing a range of measures to improve the water quality of Strathclyde Loch to make it suitable for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games triathlon swim.Jonathan Brownlee (ENG) dives in. Triathlon. Strathclyde Country Park, Glasgow 2014 Commonweal
  • Crosby Marine Lake: managing problems with blue-green algal blooms at Crosby Marine Lake on Merseyside for Sefton Council.
  • Drinking water reservoirs: investigating the causes of and management of algal blooms in numerous drinking water reservoirs.

If you have any queries, please contact Heather Webb, principal aquatic scientist.
Alternatively you can email us here. Or call 0161 442 8938.