Scientist Lindsay Hunt has launched a new micro-ecology analysis and training consultancy, coinciding with the annual peak season for blue-green algae (BGA) blooms.
Jarvis Hunt Consultancy plans to help clients reduce the risk of exposing residents, crops and livestock to water that might become unsafe for drinking or recreational activities during a bloom caused by cyanobacteria.
“One of the biggest issues facing water managers, such as local councils, farmers and developers, is having access to reliable, accurate data about the phytoplankton (or micro-flora) and potential toxins in their catchments, said Ms Hunt.
“Not all blooms are created by toxin-causing cyanobacteria and you can waste a lot of money and effort putting the wrong treatment plan into action if you don’t identify the real problem-causing species at the start.
“Distinguishing the many different species of phytoplankton in water requires expert training and knowledge, but not all water testing facilities are set up or have the skillset to provide accurate reports on levels of BGAs or the toxins they produce,” Ms Hunt explained.
Cyanobacteria, commonly referred to as BGAs, are a group of photosynthetic microorganisms that survive and flourish in all kinds of ecosystems. They are usually too small to be seen; but when they form large colonies (‘blooms’) the mass can take on a paint-like appearance on the water’s surface.
However, not all BGAs form scums, so it may not always be obvious. This is why reliable, timely and accurate monitoring and toxin analysis is essential.
The side effects of algal blooms can include water with an unpleasant taste and smell, and fish that are inedible. The water may also cause skin irritations and respiratory distress for people who are susceptible. The effects can be fatal for vulnerable crops and livestock.
“Jarvis Hunt Consultancy aims to help clients ensure they have access to reliable and timely data specifically about BGAs and toxin analysis.
“This means that if there is a problem, they can be confident of making informed and cost-effective decisions about treatment,” Ms Hunt said.
Australia’s $32 billion food production industry already spends over $600 million on water management each year, but the potential damage of a single bloom event would have a significant impact on a farmer’s livelihood, in terms of stock and crop losses, and buying in water supplies from other sources - on top of the treatment costs, Ms Hunt warned.
“Farm dam sediments overloaded with fertilisers can cause nutrient burns to stock, so monitoring run-off into dams requires long-term management.
“And for the regions which rely on attractive recreational water bodies for the tourism dollar, the cost to the local economy can be devastating when those sites are out of action and reputations are at stake, so specialist advice is especially valuable,” she said.
Helping laboratories to cope with the increased demand for water testing during the summer months is another way Jarvis Hunt plans to tackle the problem.
“A practical solution is to cross-train staff who are specialists in other types of microbial analysis to accurately identify the cyanobacteria causing the blooms, and Jarvis Hunt can provide that training in-house as well as online,” Ms Hunt said.
Jarvis Hunt is also keen to partner with environmental consultants to improve understanding of potential BGA risks in man-made water bodies, such as ornamental lakes.
“Artificial water bodies and the redirection of established water courses create new ecologies that can differ significantly from the natural ecosystem, posing particular challenges for maintaining water quality in the longer term,” Ms Hunt said.
“For example, we can identify water quality changes to help predict what kind of events might occur. We can assess how the shape, depth, turbidity of the water and turnover will affect the physical and chemical profile of the water column.
“These initiatives can help with monitoring and managing the issues that might reduce the attractiveness, useability and safety of the proposed ornamental lake or new drainage system.”
For more about Jarvis Hunt’s micro-ecology analysis and training services, visit www.jarvishuntconsultancy.com.au or contact Lindsay Hunt on 0417 609 662 or [email protected]
About Blue Green Algae (Cyanobacteria)
Blue-Green Algae (BGA) occur naturally in most marine and freshwater aquatic systems.
Cyanobacteria have been found in the planet’s oldest fossils and created the atmosphere that made all current life on earth possible.
When there is an imbalance of the levels of BGA in an ecosystem, some species can produce toxins that have serious health implications for humans, animals, birds and livestock.
A bloom is identified as a discernible increase in algal numbers causing changes to the water’s colour, taste, odour, turbidity, as well as impacting on the health of other aspects of the ecosystems, such as birds, fish, frogs, etc.
Cyanobacteria blooms can occur in any warm, still or slow-moving freshwater that contains nutrients such as fertiliser runoff or septic tank overflows, including rivers, streams, wetlands, natural and man-made lakes, dams, estuaries, inlets, bulk water reservoirs, irrigation channels, stormwater drains, sewers, and wastewater treatment plants.
BGA blooms usually flourish in the summer months when warmer temperatures, increased rainfall and incidence of flooding can change the levels of nutrients entering an ecosystem.
BGA blooms in cooler months are often caused by unusually high levels of nutrients flowing from floods and rainfall.
Signs of the environmental impact from BGA blooms include odour and taste changes, but the primary one is the discolouration of the water to verdant green and or vibrant blue, and a foam or scum-like layer on top of the water.
Dense blooms can block sunlight and consume all the oxygen in the water, killing off other plants and animals.
Toxins associated with cyanobacteria have been known to damage the nervous system and liver, upset the gastrointestinal system, and promote tumour growth.
Jarvis Hunt Consultancy
Based in Ipswich, Queensland, Jarvis Hunt is the only consultancy in Australia offering a comprehensive package of in-house training plus specialist advice and contract-based technical services, including:
- Micro-ecology consulting and analysis
- Freshwater phytoplankton analysis, sampling, monitoring, training
- Laboratory set-up, management practices and Quality Assurance
- In-house contract counting
- Routine microbiological analysis of water samples
Drawing on more than 15 years of experience as a practising phycologist and research manager, Jarvis Hunt’s principal scientist Lindsay Hunt is now sharing her expertise with a range of clients whose objectives are similar: understanding how micro-organisms affect water quality and finding solutions for water quality problems.
M: 0417 609 662
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