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New York Sea Grant: Stay smart about algal blooms


Mon, Jun 4th 2018 11:10 am
Providing education to pet owners
New York Sea Grant is partnering with the Pennsylvania and Lake Champlain Sea Grant programs and New York State Office of Parks to remind dog owners to enjoy the water this summer - but remember to stay smart, safe, and informed about algal blooms and their impact on people and pets.
"Harmful algal blooms, also known as HABs, are dense populations of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. Not all blooms are harmful, but some algal blooms can produce toxins that affect the liver, nervous system and skin of humans and their pets," said Jesse Lepak, Ph.D., Great Lakes fisheries and ecosystem health specialist with New York Sea Grant.
Dog deaths suspected as a result of harmful algal blooms prompted New York Sea Grant to develop a dogs and HABs informational brochure in 2014. The brochure, updated in 2017, is downloadable from http://seagrant.sunysb.edu/articles/r/2748 and has video clips.
In 2018, the State Parks enters its second year of making the brochure available at information kiosks in parks across New York. Lake Champlain Sea Grant has adapted the brochure for use in Vermont.  Partners in the Pennsylvania Lake Erie HAB task force intend to use the brochure as part of ongoing outreach in northwest Pennsylvania. A task force member, the Regional Science Consortium at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle, will include the brochure as part of its new mobile HAB lab project.
Toxic HABs can develop in less than 24 hours, which can be faster than testing for toxins can be completed.
Noted algal bloom researcher Dr. Gregory L. Boyer, Ph.D., of the College of Environmental Science and Forestry (Syracuse), said, "While it is very difficult to prove that animals died from ingestion of blue-green algal toxins, pet owners can take steps to reduce their dogs' exposure to those toxins. Be diligent about keeping animals out of the scums when algal blooms are present and not letting them eat beach wrack. If the dogs swim in water where blooms are visible, they should be thoroughly washed off immediately to prevent the ingestion of toxins from cleaning their fur."
Dr. Karyn Bischoff, a toxicologist with the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (Ithaca), advised, "Prevention is the best protection for domestic animals. The most severe effects of HABs are from ingestion. The clinical signs depend on the toxins present in the HAB.
"Neurotoxins can cause immediate effects, including drooling, tremors and seizures; hepatotoxins can destroy the liver. Both can be rapidly lethal. Animals that have been exposed should be taken to a veterinarian immediately. Time is of the essence in these cases."
In addition to Boyer and Bischoff, those assisting New York Sea Grant with development of the dogs and HABs brochure included the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA National Ocean Service, Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and Sea Grant Network colleagues.
In 2017, the NYS DEC listed more than 100 potentially harmful algal blooms in waters across the state. The number of HABs has been increasing such that Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a $65 million initiative to combat HABs.

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