The Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program: One Program, Three Opportunities for You To Get Involved!
By Sara Ernst
If you ever have noticed a waterbody with a layer of green scum coating its surface or a slick green film resembling a paint spill, you likely have witnessed a cyanobacteria bloom. Cyanobacteria, sometimes referred to as blue-green algae, are tiny organisms found naturally in aquatic ecosystems and numerous other environments. Typically, these organisms are harmless and go unnoticed; however, under certain conditions, cyanobacteria can form a dense mat or bloom on the surface of the water that may produce harmful toxins. These blooms and associated toxins pose a significant threat to humans, animals, and the ecosystem. They can cause illnesses, skin irritations, or worse and can threaten drinking water supplies and recreational opportunities. As cyanobacteria bloom incidence continues to increase, EPA strives to create and improve methods for bloom prediction, monitoring, and management.
The Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program, covering the states of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, will help generate region-wide data on bloom frequencies, cyanobacteria concentrations, and spatial distribution through three coordinated projects: bloomWatch, cyanoScope, and Cyanomonitoring. Each project relies on the general public, citizen scientists, and trained water professionals to locate potential blooms and report applicable information, so we can improve cyanobacteria monitoring and learn more about harmful blooms in the Northeast.
The amount of time, equipment, and training needed to participate varies for each project. The simplest reporting tool to use is bloomWatch, a smartphone app that enables participants to help track cyanobacteria blooms by taking and submitting photos. All you need to do is download the app and you’re in business! bloomWatch teaches you what to look for, provides on-screen instructions on how to take good photos of blooms, and prompts you to answer some questions about the sighting. After submitting the photos and sighting details through the app, you can also send a bloom report to your state’s environmental agency.
The cyanoScope project helps scientists and water resource managers learn more about where and when blooms occur and what types of cyanobacteria are present across the region. With the appropriate gear and training, cyanoScope participants collect water samples of possible blooms, view the samples under a microscope, take photos of cyanobacteria, and upload the photos and sighting details to the cyanoScope project on iNaturalist.org. The cyanoScope community then helps to identify the cyanobacteria present.
The Cyanomonitoring project builds on bloomWatch and cyanoScope; it is the most involved project, and therefore contributes the most detailed information. In this project, professionals and trained citizen scientists use specific gear to monitor cyanobacteria concentrations in lakes and ponds to help determine where, when, and why cyanobacteria are blooming in those areas. Participants also assist in tracking regional trends resulting from climate and land use changes and assess waterbody and human health vulnerability to toxic cyanobacteria.
By participating in any of the three projects, you can contribute valuable data that will help scientists learn more about cyanobacteria blooms and how best to monitor them in the future. Interested in getting involved? Visit http://cyanos.org/ for more information on the Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program and each of the coordinated projects!
About the Author: Sara Ernst is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor who works as the Science Communications Specialist in the Atlantic Ecology Division of EPA’s Office of Research and Development.