As a popular vacation destination, Muskoka is known for its breathtaking natural beauty, crystal clear waters, and pristine forests. However, recent reports of blue-green algae blooms in the region's lakes have caused concern among residents and visitors alike. In this article, we'll explore what blue-green algae is, why it's a problem, and what you can do to protect yourself and your property. It has appeared on several Muskoka lakes including Three Mile Lake in Utterson, Bass Lake, Echo Lake as well as on Georgian Bay near Parry Sound.

Water quality on lakes should be a top priority when you're searching for a cottage so with that in mind we thought some information on this issue would be very beneficial.

Blue green algae in Muskoka cottage country

What is blue-green algae?

Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, are microscopic organisms that live in lakes, rivers, and streams. They are called blue-green algae because of their color, which can range from greenish-blue to dark green. While some types of blue-green algae are harmless, others can produce toxins that are harmful to humans, pets, and wildlife.

When conditions are right, such as warm temperatures and high levels of nutrients in the water, blue-green algae can grow quickly and form dense mats on the surface of the water. These mats can make the water look like pea soup, and they can produce toxins that can cause skin irritation, respiratory problems, and other health issues in humans and animals.

Blue-green algae can also have a negative impact on the environment. When the algae die, they sink to the bottom of the lake and decompose, using up oxygen in the water and creating "dead zones" where other aquatic life cannot survive. This can lead to fish kills and other ecological problems.

In their 2022 report the Muskoka Watershed Council states In the report they state "Unfortunately, on occasion, conditions can be particularly favorable for algal growth and reproduction. At these times, algal populations can become quite large, resulting in a visible scum on the lake surface. These algal blooms can develop over just a few days and can disappear just as fast as algal cells die and decompose. Severe blooms can deplete a lake of oxygen when decomposing, leading to fish kills and other serious disruptions to the lake ecosystem. They can also prove noxious, in appearance as well as odor, degrading our enjoyment of our lakes. In rare instances, the bloom causing species produce toxins that can cause serious health risks to people and animals drinking or bathing in the water"

What can you do to protect yourself and your property?

If you own property in Muskoka or are planning to visit the area, there are several things you can do to protect yourself and your family from blue-green algae.

First, be aware of the signs of blue-green algae blooms. These include water that looks greenish-blue, like pea soup, or that has a foul smell. If you see these signs, avoid swimming or other recreational activities in the water.

Second, be mindful of your use of fertilizers and other chemicals on your property. Excess nutrients from fertilizers can wash into the lake and contribute to blue-green algae blooms. Use fertilizers sparingly, and avoid using them near the water's edge.

Third, consider installing a buffer zone between your property and the lake. A buffer zone of vegetation can help absorb excess nutrients and prevent them from washing into the water. This can help reduce the risk of blue-green algae blooms and other environmental problems.

Blue-green Algae Bloom, Muskoka lake

According to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, "Ingestion of high levels of blue-green algal toxins have been associated with effects on the liver and nervous system in laboratory animals, pets, livestock and people. Livestock and pet deaths have occurred when animals consumed large amounts of algal scum."

Muskoka Waterways affected by Blue Green Algae

 

2022

Affected Waterway

Municipality              

Date Public Notice Issued

Status

Farlain Lake
(Southeast and Southwest Shoreline)

Township of Tiny

August 2, 2022

RESOLVED - October 5, 2022
Lake St. John
(Southwest Shoreline)
Township of Ramara August 12, 2022 RESOLVED - December 13, 2022
Three Mile Lake
(including Hammell's Bay)
Township of Muskoka Lakes August 29, 2022 RESOLVED - December 14, 2022
Lake St. George
(South Shoreline)
Township of Severn September 6, 2022 RESOLVED - October 26, 2022
Penetang Harbour
(West Shoreline)
Town of Penetanguishene September 9, 2022 RESOLVED - December 13, 2022
Bass Lake
(Southwest Shoreline)
Township of Muskoka Lakes September 20, 2022 RESOLVED - December 13, 2022
Mary Lake
(Northwest Shoreline)
Town of Huntsville October 13, 2022 RESOLVED - December 13, 2022
Leonard Lake (Northwest Shoreline) Township of Muskoka Lakes October 28, 2022 RESOLVED - December 13, 2022
Smith's Bay (Northwest Area) City of Orillia November 10, 2022 RESOLVED - December 13, 2022
Muldrew Lakes (Middle Muldrew Lake Area) Town of Gravenhurst November 10, 2022 RESOLVED - December 13, 2022

Finally, if you do encounter blue-green algae, be sure to report it to the appropriate authorities. The Muskoka Watershed Council, for example, tracks blue-green algae blooms and provides information on how to stay safe. You can find their latest report here.

If you suspect a blue-green algal bloom, call the Pollution Hotline at 1-866-663-8477. The Ontario government has also set up a helpful information page on algae here.

In conclusion, while blue-green algae blooms are a concern in Muskoka's lakes, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your property. By being aware of the signs of blue-green algae, being mindful of your use of fertilizers and other chemicals, installing a buffer zone, and reporting any blooms you encounter, you can help ensure that Muskoka's lakes remain a beautiful and healthy place to live and visit.

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