More than 200 volunteers have been trained to monitor Lake Champlain this summer for any formation of toxic blue-green algae blooms.
The Lake Champlain Committee is partnering with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and the state Health Department to develop a reporting system from the trained shoreline spotters. Committee Staff Scientist Mike Winslow explains that the volunteers will provide reports from 50 sites around the 100-mile long lake. He says that will provide a better sense of where blooms are, or are not, occurring.
Because blue-green algae is not always easily identified, Winslow explains that the Lake Champlain Committee specialized training for the volunteer monitors is necessary.
There can be a public health risk if the blue green algae bloom is toxic. Authorities warn that any lake users, especially children and pets, should avoid any contact with it. Dogs have died after drinking contaminated water, and people could suffer from rashes, stomach aches and nausea.
Vermont State toxicologist Sarah Vose emphasizes that not all species of the blue-green algae are toxic, so monitors must be trained to properly recognize it and submit the data for an online, interactive tracking map. Vose notes that one of the goals of the monitoring program is to funnel the data to an online interactive map.
Scientists from SUNY Plattsburgh’s Lake Champlain Research Institute monitor 15 sites on Lake Champlain for possible algae formation. But those sites can be 15 to 20 miles apart, and Institute Director Tim Mihuc says trained spotters can direct them to specific sites to assess blooms.
Mihuc notes that scientists have only rudimentary knowledge as to why a given bloom might produce toxins.
Peak formation of blue-green algae is in August, and heat and low wind aid formation.