What’s new in algal bloom science

It’s not easy finding ways to stop the green. But the Understanding Algal Blooms: State of the Science conference, set for Sept. 12 in Toledo, hopes to share a few stories of success.

One-stop conference for up-to-date info

Now in its fourth year, the annual event is bringing together experts on Lake Erie’s harmful algal blooms—from universities, agricultural and environmental groups, and Ohio and federal agencies—to share their latest updates and scientific findings.

“For one day, I don’t think you’ll find a better venue to get the latest and most comprehensive information about Lake Erie’s algal blooms, and strategies for moving forward,” said Jay Martin, one of the event’s speakers and an ecological engineering professor with CFAES’ Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

Co-hosts of the conference are Ohio Sea Grant, CFAES, CFAES’ Ohio State University Extension outreach arm, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.

About 300 people are expected to attend the event, including scientists, farmers, policy-makers, and interested citizens.

No cure yet for summertime blooms

Lake Erie’s summertime algal blooms have begun, including in waters off the shore of Toledo, and are expected this year to be significant.

Typically green in color, and more of a problem in the lake’s western basin, the blooms stink, are unsightly, and are bad for recreation and tourism.

What’s more, the blooms can sometimes produce toxins, which pose a threat to drinking water and the health of people and pets.

Multiple ongoing efforts, including by Ohio Sea Grant and USDA-ARS researchers and many of Martin’s CFAES colleagues, are trying to find ways to control the blooms.

Panel discussion with 4 state directors

The conference will feature, among other things, a panel discussion by agency leaders involved with managing the blooms:

  • Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda
  • Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz
  • Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Laurie Stevenson
  • Ohio Lake Erie Commission Director Joy Mulinex

Multiple speakers from CFAES

More than a dozen other presentations—organized into tracks on research, best management practices (BMPs), and collaborations and partnerships—round out the program. Among them will be:

  • A keynote by Richard Batiuk, formerly of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who directed efforts across six states to improve water quality in Chesapeake Bay
  • Richard Stumpf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration describing improvements made to models used to forecast the blooms’ severity
  • Robyn Wilson of CFAES’ School of Environment and Natural Resources discussing ways to increase adoption rates of BMPs
  • Greg LaBarge of OSU Extension and Kevin King of USDA-ARS sharing “edge-of-field” findings on phosphorus runoff from farm fields
  • Martin speaking on how public-private partnerships are helping identify and manage so-called “legacy” phosphorus fields, and a project he’s leading that’s focused on those fields

Agricultural phosphorus runoff is considered the main driver of Lake Erie’s blooms. Phosphorus, a nutrient needed by crops to grow, is present in fertilizer and manure. But heavy rain can wash it from fields, into streams, and eventually into Lake Erie.

Managing legacy phosphorus

In particular, legacy phosphorus fields—fields that over time have accumulated excessive phosphorus levels—might be disproportionately adding to that runoff.

Martin, in his talk, will discuss efforts to identify legacy phosphorus fields in western Lake Erie’s watershed, and then, once found, to evaluate different farming practices there to see their effects on phosphorus runoff. Which practices help the most?

Farmers, crop consultants, nongovernmental organizations, and academics have all teamed up for the project, Martin said.

In the future, the project could serve as a template for similar efforts “so that improved water quality and sustained agricultural production can both be achieved,” he said.

“It’s clear that algal blooms are a complicated issue, and that one-sided approaches will have limited impacts,” Martin said. “Interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches are needed to have the most success.”

Register by Sept. 6

Registration for the event is open to the public—the cost is $40 for general registration and $10 for students at go.osu.edu/BZns—but the deadline to register is soon: Sept. 6.

The conference runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Sept. 12 in the Stranahan Theater Great Hall, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. in Toledo. Details are available here or by calling 614-247-6684.

The conference’s sponsors include the Joyce Foundation, Great Lakes Center for Fresh Water and Human Health, Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, Lake Erie Foundation, OSU Extension, CFAES, National Wildlife Federation, Great Lakes Commission, Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association, Ohio Dairy Producers Association, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Ohio Soybean Council, LimnoTech, and The Nature Conservancy.

(Photo: Lake Erie algal bloom, Jeff Reutter, Ohio Sea Grant, via Flickr.)

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