Enjoy N.Y.’s waters this summer, but be alert to harmful algal blooms

Enjoying New York’s many water resources is an excellent way to spend the summer. New York Sea Grant is reminding those who do to be informed about harmful algal blooms (HABs), how to avoid exposure of oneself and pets, and where to report potential HABs.

“Not all algal blooms are harmful,” said Jesse Lepak, Ph.D., Great Lakes Fisheries and Ecosystem Health Specialist with New York Sea Grant, “but some dense populations of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, can produce toxins that can have serious effects on liver, nervous system, and skin of humans and their pets.”

Toxic HABs can develop in less than 24 hours, so pet owners are encouraged to avoid exposure to potential HABs which are often blue-green, but can also appear red, brown, or white. Blooms can look like spilled paint, pea soup, foam, scum, or floating mats.

The ingestion of HAB toxins can cause drooling, tremors, and seizures in dogs. Owners should take animals that have been exposed to HABs immediately to a veterinarian.

A Dogs and HABs informational brochure can be downloaded from the New York Sea Grant website, with video clips explaining more about HABs, at http://www.nyseagrant.org/habs.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation maintains a website that provides updates on HABs called the Harmful Algal Blooms Notification Page at https://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/83310.html. The DEC provides instructions for reporting a potential bloom and notifications of HABs. Dubbed NYHABS, the reporting system features an interactive map that is updated daily with reports of HABs as well as a new public reporting form.

The New York State Department of Health provides “Know It, Avoid It, Report It” information on blue-green algae blooms at https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/water/drinking/bluegreenalgae/.

For more information on HABs from New York Sea Grant, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cooperative program of Cornell University and the State University of New York, visit www.nyseagrant.org/habs.

New ‘NYHABS’ Online Notification and Reporting System 

The New York State Departments of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Health (DOH) encourage New Yorkers to learn about Harmful Algal Blooms, or “HABs,” as temperatures rise and the 2019 HABs notification season starts. In addition, New York State launched a new online HABs map and reporting system for the public. Dubbed “NYHABS,” the reporting system features an interactive map that is updated daily with reports of HABs, as well as a new public reporting form.

Commissioner Seggos said, “The state’s new notification system allows New Yorkers to be more informed than ever before about the location of HABs so they can better protect themselves, their families, and their pets. Working closely with our state and local partners, and with support from Governor Cuomo’s $65 million HABs Initiative, DEC is aggressively combatting HABs and working to reduce or eliminate these blooms from our waters.”

DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, “Unfortunately, warmer weather makes it necessary to plan for blooms that are increasing in frequency and location. This new notification and reporting system raises public awareness of the threat that HABs pose and enhances our robust monitoring and testing protocol.”

The NYHABS reporting system allows both the public and trained algal bloom samplers to send reports of HABs to DEC electronically via a simple, user- and mobile phone-friendly form. These reports, once evaluated by DEC and DOH, are posted to the NYHABS page.

If members of the public suspect a HAB, report it through the NYHABs online reporting form available on DEC’s website. Symptoms or health concerns related to HABs should be reported to DOH at harmfulalgae@health.ny.gov.

Most algae blooms are harmless. However, exposure to toxins and other substances from certain HABs can make people and animals sick. The increasing frequency and duration of HABs also threatens water quality and recreational use of waterbodies essential to ecosystem health and statewide tourism. HABs have been detected in nearly 400 water bodies since 2012. To address HABs, DEC works with DOH, the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and other state and local partners. DEC and the DOH continue to lead the most comprehensive HABs monitoring and reporting program in the nation. Hundreds of waterbodies are monitored annually by DEC, DOH, State Parks, academic institutions, and volunteer monitoring partnerships. Additional public health protections are provided by DOH oversight of regulated beaches and public water systems.

The DEC and DOH are leading a multi-agency, statewide $65 million initiative to aggressively combat HABs and protect drinking water quality and the economy. In 2018, four summits brought together national, state, and local experts to discuss how to reduce the frequency of these blooms. The summits drove the creation of Action Plans for 12 priority lakes that will undergo intensive evaluation and advanced technology pilots that can be applied to waterbodies across the State.

While the exact cause of HABs is not fully understood, HABs usually occur in waters high in phosphorus and/or nitrogen. New York State has many programs and activities to reduce phosphorus and nitrogen from entering the water from surrounding lands, including stormwater permitting programs, funding for water quality improvement projects, and a nutrient law that restricts the use of phosphorus lawn fertilizer.

New York State’s HABs program works with partners to identify, track, and report HABs throughout the state, and communicate health risks to the public. This spring and summer, DEC will again include a link to the HAB notifications page on MakingWaves. To sign up for MakingWaves, visit DEC’s website and enter an email address in the blue DEC Delivers box.

For more information about HABs, including bloom notifications, which are updated daily from late spring through fall, visit DEC’s Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) web page. The HABs brochure and Program Guide, which includes information and links to resources regarding bloom prevention, management, and control, can also be downloaded from the DEC website.