With the threat of blue-green algae present in lakes in the Maritimes, researchers believe monitoring water before algae blooms is important. They say they want to make the process of determining whether water is safe for swimming an easier process.

Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, is microscopic, with millions of bacteria present by the time blooms develop.

“If you see, on shore, big piled-up streaks of quite bright colours — sometimes even red, blue, different shades of green — just don't go into the water,” says Herbert Vandermeulen, a former scientist with the Bedford Institute of Oceanography. “Because, at that point, the bloom is so far gone that they may have released toxins.”

The algae can cause rashes, fever or even nausea, and is also believed to have caused the death of multiple dogs in New Brunswick in the summers of 2018 and 2019. It was also thought to be the cause of a recent lake closure at Sandy Lake in Bedford, with HRM closing the lake to swimmers and issuing a safety warning—but reopening it within a day after water testing found no danger.

However, researchers believe these risks, scares and adverse effects can be reduced, if not eliminated, by predicting where algae may be blooming.

“Because the blue-green algae depends on the environmental conditions to grow the amount of phosphorus, the type of nitrogen and the oxygen levels in the systems; you can monitor those three factors and that would then help to predict where you would have possible blooms occur,” says Saint Mary’s University environmental science professor, Dr. Linda Campbell.

Campbell says those predictions could be made available through a mobile app that would notify people directly.

“We just need the resources — that's what important to support a weekly or bi-weekly monitoring program,” says Campbell. “That type of information can be included into a warning system or an app notification similar to a weather notification app.”

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Emily Baron Cadloff