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Baltic Sea Bloom

When realizing the potential market impact of algae, it is also important to recognize the major detriments to the market and the environment that wild algae have also caused. In looking at the potential negative impacts of algae one of the main topics that must be discussed are algal blooms and their negative impact. Generally algae is found in the environment in balance with other parts of the ecosystem and has no significantly damaging effects, but in the case of blooms, excessive nutrient concentrations from human or non-human causes can produce explosions of the algal population.


California Red Tide

When these population explosions occur the algae may oxygen starve the water causing the deaths of other organisms in the ecosystem known as “dead zones”, or in some more severe cases they may produce potent toxins that damage other organisms in the ecosystem. Blooms have become especially prevalent in the last decade as global temperature rises have caused water temperatures to exist in preferred growth ranges for algae.

Lake Erie Algae blooms

Lake Erie Algal Bloom

Blooms have also been impacted by an increase in human population sizes and from activities like overfishing, which has increased the nutrient loading of waterways. These blooms can have far reaching impacts that may affect regional and global economies as well as regional ecosystems. While algae blooms are not a new problem, the occurrence and severity of blooms has become substantially worse since the early 21st century.

red tide floridaFor instance, in the Baltic Sea since 2005 there have been massive seasonal algal blooms that once generated the largest recorded “dead zone” in history.1 An occurrence known as “red tides” has also recently seen an increase in the frequency and intensity all around the Americas including Gulf of Mexico, Californian, and Canadian coastal areas. China’s Yellow Sea which has been plagued by blooms for years hosted the largest ever recorded bloom in 2013 and battles seasonal bloom issues as well.2 However algal bloom issues are not just isolated to salt water sources and often impact some major sources of drinking water. For instance, Lake Erie has recently seen several major blooms in the shallower, and therefore more susceptible, southwestern part of the lake. In 2011 Lake Erie saw the largest bloom for that region which was 3 times larger than any bloom that had ever existed there previously and which affected the drink-ability of water for weeks.3 China’s Lake Taihu, the once scenic lake which was a hot vacation spot in the 1980’s, has now been plagued by yearly blooms since the late 1990’s leading to 2 million people being without water for weeks in 2007. This has led China to invest $155 million into re-mediating the problems in the lake.4

These blooms also can have deleterious effects on not just the environments in which they occur but also on industries related to those environments.

For example, algae blooms have been known to impact food markets primarily in fishing and shellfish farming, they affect tourism and recreation industries, they cause human health problems, create demand for national aid in drinking water and other supplies, and increase poverty levels in regions affected thus increasing dependence on social services leading to a large tax strain on national economies.5 So while algae has a huge potential to increase global markets sustainability it also has fairly recent history of causing negative market impacts through the creation of blooms.

1. Owen, J., World’s Largest Dead Zone Suffocating Sea. National Geographic 2010.
2. Mathiesen, K., China’s largest algal bloom turns the Yellow Sea green. 2013.
3. Abbey-Lambertz, K., These Disturbing Photos Show Why Algae Blooms Are A Growing Global Water Threat. Huffington Post 2014.
4. Stone, R., On Lake Taihu, China Moves
To Battle Massive Algae Blooms. Yale Environment 360 2011.
5. Research, N. C. f. S. C. O., Economic Impacts of Harmful Algal Blooms.