I write from the North Shore of Long Island. The air is thick, clinging, moisture-laden and sauna-hot at mid-day. It’s an outdoor greenhouse nursing enormous trees, poison ivy, bamboo and, unfortunately, green, walk-on-water algae. Walking the family dog who was straining at the leash (so many tasty bunnies – where to start… which one first?) I missed a photo of a bird, supported by algae, walking on water! The beautiful Setauket ponds are filmy with olive-colored organisms.
In some places, the algae is waxed linoleum smooth; in other places it is pock-marked with acne. The algae isn’t pretty, but to make matters worse, the water is toxic. Signs throughout the parkland warn walkers: “Blue Green Algae Bloom, Cyanobacteria, on-going in pond. Avoid contact with water until further notice. Keep dogs leashed always.”
Local park trustees are in agreement. The ponds need to be drained and dredged. It will be unsightly. And it will smell. At least, here in this heritage village, the problem can be managed. But with warming temperatures (dare I say ‘Climate Change’ without receiving hate mail?) algae issues are growing through out the world. Run-off from farms, feedlots and sewer systems fuel the growth.
Stateside, Florida and Lake Erie are two of the hardest hit. According to the New York Times, southeast Florida has been under a four-county emergency since May. Starting with a 33-square-mile algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee (the headwaters of the Everglades) a wet winter led to a waterly discharge that oozed out contaminating the coast. Unsightly yes, but at a high cost in terms of tourism.
Last September 636 miles of the Ohio River was contaminated, and farther west, crab and clam fisheries were closed from Central California to British Columbia. The poisons spread up the food chain to the fish and all the animals that feed on them. Quoting from the New York Time’s article, “Cyanobacteria can affect the liver and can be deadly to humans – one reason Toledo banned drinking water last August.”
It is always curious to me that while people die in the thousands due to tsunamis or earthquakes or war, we (cocooned at home on our couch) barely register their deaths. But as soon as a whale is beached or a dog falls down a well, we are emotionally on it. I think of this conundrum as I watch a swan family at-ease in the algae.
Two swans and their five brown teenagers paddle the pond. Their grace captivates me. Their snake-like slender necks sinuously reach up, curve down, and beak forward. They glide wakeless. At one point their neck corkscrews in an underwing preening move.
Watching the birds, I find myself thinking about the effect of algae toxins on the birds. As for the humans… in particular the young man who was fishing in the pond this morning, he should be smarter. I pay the humans no mind.