Researchers are increasingly concerned about how run-off from farm fields is ending up in lakes and other water bodies, and in some cases feeding algae that can be toxic. A UW-Milwaukee scientist is leading an effort to advance research while protecting aquatic and public health.READ Milwaukee Researcher Prescribes Science & Nature To Solve Toxic Algae ProblemSome of that research is happening in the bay of Green Bay, Chris Houghton’s home base. Houghton is a fish and aquatic habitat researcher with UW-Green Bay.“We have a couple of different projects working on HABs,” says Houghton. HABs stands for harmful algal blooms. They are a chronic problem in Houghton’s world.”If you go out here, you’ll see the harmful algal bloom and we also have a dead zone that occurs in the lower bay,” he says.Nutrients, not the toxic kind, are a critical piece of the aquatic food chain. But here, loads of nutrients, mostly phosphorus and some nitrogen make their way into the bay from farm fields upstream in the Fox River. The nutrients fuel the production of cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue green algae.
Houghton says concern compounds among scientists and public health officials alike when someone or something ingests algae that is toxic.
“You don’t let your dog swim in it because your dog might die, literally. But the fish are probably swimming around it and eating and doing all their normal things and not really being affected too strongly,” he says. “All that stuff dies, falls down to the bottom of the lake and then you get zero oxygen in the water; that’ll kill a fish really fast.”
Houghton and his students are working to try to shift the tide when it comes to algae. Houghton is working with UW-Milwaukee environmental health researcher Todd Miller to study the issue.
“We have the boats and facilities up here that we can work with them to get their equipment in the water. We also help with some of the data analysis and monitoring of harmful algal blooms in Green Bay,” he says. “So our students go out and get the samples and send them down to the lab down in Milwaukee.”