Clarissa Herrberg paddles in from a short kayaking trip on Friday. Matsof blue-green algae can be seen on the shoreline. Salamonie Lake is currently under a beach advisory. Staff photo by Andrew Maciejewski
Clarissa Herrberg paddles in from a short kayaking trip on Friday. Matsof blue-green algae can be seen on the shoreline. Salamonie Lake is currently under a beach advisory. Staff photo by Andrew Maciejewski
A dead fish bobbed on the surface of Salamonie Lake’s shoreline Friday as Clarissa Herrberg pushed her kayak out into the green water.

Just a few months ago, the water didn’t have a green hue, she said. Now, the shoreline is lined with white foam and tiny green particles – telltale signs of a harmful algal bloom.

“It’s like pea soup, and you can just see strands of it,” Herrberg said. “It’s just gross.”

Like many bacteria, algae can grow exponentially when provided with the right conditions. The photosynthetic bacteria thrives in warm temperatures under the summer sun, feasting on fertilizers like phosphorus and nitrogen as it grows, according to Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reports.

The blue-green particles don’t just look ugly. Certain types of algae secrete neurotoxins, which can be harmful to animals and humans alike, according to Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) reports.

When algae levels exceed 100,000 cells/mL, DNR issues advisories and closures to alert the public.

Salamonie Lake’s public beach is currently under a beach advisory alert level, which means swimming and boating is permitted – with caution – since the current algae levels are more than seven times the federal threshold.

Mississinewa Lake is under the same level of alert.

DNR says people should avoid contact with algae, avoid swallowing water, take a shower after swimming and not let their pets swim or drink the water.

While DNR samples lakes nearly every month, the algal blooms can shrink and grow quickly, and Herrberg said she’s seen it change dramatically this summer.

“Come July, I’ll take a raft out there and swim, floating around all day,” she said. “But the last couple times we’ve been out there, I didn’t even want to get my legs in it because it was so gross.”

On May 19, Salamonie reported 13,500 cells/mL. By July, the total jumped to 200,000 cells/mL. During the first week of August, the total climbed to 400,000 cells/mL, peaking at 730,000 cells/mL on Aug. 17.

When Herrberg went kayaking around Aug. 22, she said she was shocked by what she saw.

“It’s gotten so much worse,” she said. “I couldn’t believe this year.”

Herrberg explained that normally the shallow parts of the lake have algae once August comes around, but she said typically the conditions improve dramatically as she makes her way out to deeper water.

“It didn’t improve as I got further out this year, and that’s what was shocking me,” she said. “Normally it does improve. The further out you get into the bigger area, of course the better it gets, but it wasn’t getting any better this time.”

Herrberg said the algae won’t stop her from getting out on the lake. She said it’s important for people to be aware of harmful algal blooms and the issues they cause, but she said it’s possible to avoid the blooms since the water looks greener than usual or slimy.

One precaution Herrberg takes is to leave her dog at home if there are algae alerts posted to the Salamonie Lake DNR page. She said she’s heard of people’s pets dying from ingesting the algae, so she makes sure to tell pet owners to be careful around the blooms.

“What’s so sad for me – since I love dogs so much – is seeing people’s dogs who are dying and they just have no clue. I think (awareness is) definitely a lot more out there now – more people know about it – but I still meet people who don’t know,” she said. “We were kayaking back to the put-in place and somebody had their dog out there, throwing a stick out into the water, and I was like, ‘Oh my God get your dog out of the water.’”

Pets are especially susceptible to blue-green algae issues, IDEM says, because of their lower body weight, so special care should be taken to ensure your pet isn’t negatively affected as well.

“Exposure to blue-green algae during recreational activities such as swimming, wading, and water-skiing may lead to rashes, skin, eye irritation, and other uncomfortable effects such as nausea, stomach aches, and tingling in fingers and toes,” IDEM reports. “If you should experience any symptoms after water recreational activities, please contact your doctor.”

Algae is present in nearly every body of water and has been present in water for millions of years, so its presence in Indiana lakes is not a cause for alarm. Instead, people should know how to protect themselves from it and prevent it.

The state of Indiana will close beaches if neurotoxins are detected at high enough levels to harm humans, according to the DNR website.
© 2020 The Herald-Press