RED ALERT Fish are dying
Algae have many uses, Treating sewage, Phyto-remediation of polluted lakes and rivers, Biodiesel, food for fish and shrimp. Nualgi is a mircro nutrient that boosts growth of algae.
Louisiana state biologists Monday were investigating whether a large fish kill at the mouth of the Mississippi River was caused by oil or dispersants from the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The gulf also contains a vast dead zone created by agricultural runoff along the river.
"By our estimates, there were thousands, and I'm talking about 5,000 to 15,000 dead fish," St. Bernard Parish President Crag Taffaro said in a news release Monday. "Different species were found dead, including crabs, sting rays, eel, drum, speckled trout, red fish, you name it, included in that kill."
The fish were found floating at the top of the water, collected along plastic booms that were placed to contain millions of gallons of oil from the spill that was touched off by the April 20 explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. The oil flowed into the gulf until July 15 when the gusher was capped.
A half-mile long swirl of thick substance with several tar balls and a strong smell of diesel was discovered Monday around Louisiana's Grassy Island, St. Bernard Parish officials announced. Skimmers were collecting the scum.
"There is what we believe to be some recoverable oil in the area," Taffaro said. "We will be sampling that and recovering what we can. We don't want to jump to any conclusions because we've had some oxygen issues by the Bayou La Loutre Dam from time to time.
"The Marine Division of Wildlife and Fisheries is on it ... It does point to the need for us to continue to monitor our waters."
According to St. Bernard Parish spokeswoman Karen Bazile, the fish were found in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a 76-mile shipping shortcut from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans that was dug by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960s. "It is blamed for massive wetlands loss and is widely believed to have worsened the flooding from Hurricane Katrina," she said in an e-mail. "Since that storm, the federal government has paid for a rock structure across the channel at Bayou La Loutre to stop the flow of salt water, also putting an end to shipping in the channel."
UPDATE: On Monday evening, St. Bernard Parish oil disaster information officer, Jennifer Belson, said that preliminary testing by the state's Wildife & Fisheries indicated that the cause of the fish kill was "hypoxia" or lack of oxygen. "But we don't have the final testing back," she said. Hypoxia is most often caused by an excess of nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural fertilizer or human waste, but it can also be caused by chemical dispersants, which were used extensively after the oil spill.
Ralph Portier, an environmental scientist at Louisiana State University, cautioned in an interview that, "A lot of things can explain a fish kill, which is not uncommon during the hot summer weather in Louisiana. It could be the nutrient-rich environment with a lot of heat. It could be rainfall. It could be changes in salinity or upwelling from disturbed sediment."
The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, he noted, is "like a dead end canal with water that does not mix as much as you would like it to." If oil were the cause, he said, he would expect a more gradual, rather than a sudden fish kill.
But he said he could not rule out that the fish kill could be related to the oil spill. Fresh water, which has been diverted into the marshes since the spill, can change salinity levels and affect fish, he noted. The fish kill announcement, he said, "goes to show how sensitive the (oil spill) issue is. You can imagine the angst of a lot of people in the sea food industry when they hear about a fish kill now."
-- Margot Roosevelt
A new kind of chlorophyll that catches sunlight from just beyond the red end of the visible light spectrum has been discovered. The new pigment extends the known range of light that is usable by most photosynthetic organisms. Harnessing this pigment’s power could lead to biofuel-generating algae that are super-efficient, using a greater spread of sunlight than thought possible.
“This is a very important new development, and is the first new type of chlorophyll discovered in an oxygenic organism in 60 years,” says biological chemist Robert Blankenship of Washington University in St. Louis.
The newfound pigment, dubbed chlorophyll f, absorbs light most efficiently at a wavelength around 706 nanometers, just beyond the red end of the visible spectrum, researchers report online August 19 in Science. This unique absorbance appears to occur thanks to a chemical decoration known as a formyl group on the chlorophyll’s carbon number two. That chemical tweak probably allows the algaelike organism that makes chlorophyll f to conduct photosynthesis while living beneath other photosynthesizers that capture all the other usable light.
“In nature this very small modification of the pigment happens, and then the organism can use this unique light,” says molecular biologist Min Chen of the University of Sydney in Australia. Chen and her colleagues identified the new pigment in extracts from ground-up stromatolites, the knobby chunks of rock and algae that can form in shallow waters. The samples were collected in the Hamelin pool in western Australia’s Shark Bay, the world’s most diverse stromatolite trove.
Previously there were four known chlorophylls made by plants and other photosynthesizing organisms that generate oxygen: a, b, c and d. Chlorophyll a, the standard green type, is found in photosynthesizers from algae to higher plants. It absorbs mostly blue light around 465 nanometers and red light around 665 nanometers (it reflects green light, hence plants look green). Chlorophylls b and c are found in fewer organisms and absorb light in a similar range as chlorophyll a does, but shifted a bit. Chlorophyll d, found in a specific group of cyanobacteria, absorbs the most light at roughly 697 nanometers, a slightly shorter wavelength than the absorption of the new chlorophyll.
While some bacteria make chlorophyll-like pigments that absorb even longer wavelengths of light, these creatures aren’t harnessing light to split water, the step in photosynthesis that generates oxygen. Scientists didn’t think that wavelengths absorbed by chlorophyll f would have enough oomph to split water either, but it turns out they do, says Chen.
“This challenges our conception of the limit of oxygenic photosynthesis,” she says.
The find may also enable scientists to engineer algae that are more efficient producers of oil for biofuels, says algae biologist Krishna Niyogi of the University of California, Berkeley. Microbes bearing the new chlorophyll could soak up rays that most microbes can’t make use of.
There is still much to be learned about the new type of chlorophyll and the organisms that make it, Niyogi says. Chlorophyll f was extracted from the ground-up stromatolites along with a lot of chlorophyll a. It isn’t clear what creature was making chlorophyll f, but evidence points to a filamentous cyanobacterium. This cyanobacterium might use both chlorophylls, or perhaps just f.
|LIA Briefed On Pilot Project|
|Monday, 09 August 2010|
|By MIKE BURKHOLDER|
CELINA — A standing-room only crowd packed the Celina Moose Saturday morning to hear about a pilot project that if successful, could help rid the lake of harmful algae. Ross Youngs, CEO of Algaeventure, briefed members of the Lake Improvement Association regarding the company’s pilot project to turn harmful cyanobacteria that is found in the lake into a nonthreatening species. Youngs said the plan is to turn the cyanobacteria into diatoms, which do not produce harmful toxins. The harmless algae would then be harvested for use in biofuels and other products.
“What we are talking about ultimately is flipping the toxic algae to beneficial algae,” Youngs said. “The beneficial algae are diatoms.”
Youngs said if the environment is conducive, diatoms will out-compete cyanobacteria in a given body of water. In order to thrive, diatoms need silica for food.
“They are a major contributor to the food web,” Youngs said of diatoms. “Cyanobacteria are on the other end. They produce toxins to stop from being eaten. Diatoms survive because they are prolific.”
Youngs said as the lake’s temperature increased, the cyanobacteria started to thrive. Once the water temperature cools, the diatoms and harmless green algae will dominate. The presence of its food sources, Youngs said, also will help diatoms return to dominance.
“When you have silica present in the water that is available for the diatoms, they will dominate any culture,” Youngs said. “That’s our focus. The toxic blooms themselves come from cyanobacteria. There are no fresh water toxic blooms of diatoms.”
Youngs said each type of algae will thrive depending upon which conditions are present. For cyanobacteria, the present conditions of the lake are feeding its growth.
“Cyanobacteria love the high nutrients, they love the warm weather and they love stagnant water,” Youngs said. “So essentially we’ve got a great growth situation out there. Diatoms love silica. They will grow in the warmer temperatures, they will grow with nutrients and grow with fairly low nutrients. There are so many species of diatoms, that they go through succession.”
As part of their program, Algaeventure plans to partition off a 2.5 acre portion of the lake to test the feasibility of flipping the algae to diatoms via the introduction of silica or sand. Youngs said if silica is in the water column and available, diatoms will dominate.
“The reality is what we are trying to do hasn’t been done anywhere near this scale and that’s the challenge,” Youngs said.
By the end of August, Youngs said officials plan to treat a portion of the lake near Celina in an effort to flip it. Adding silica to the lake, Youngs said, would pose little risk to the health of Grand Lake St. Marys.
“The risks are minimal,” Youngs said. “People don’t realize this but silica is the No. 2 most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. It’s everywhere.”
During the next few months, Youngs said he plans to look at strategies regarding what it would take to treat the entire lake. Youngs said adding silica to the lake would not fuel the growth of cyanobacteria.
“Silica is only a nutrient essential for diatoms,” Youngs said. “It’s not like phosphorous or nitrogen, which will allow other organisms to have growth from it. It’s pretty much a benign material. It’s sand. It will not assist cyanobacteria or any other blue-green algae to grow.”
LIA members and visitors peppered Youngs with questions regarding the project. One question had to do with where the silica would go if introduced into the lake.
“We did a brief calculation, kind of back of the envelop, and if we silica treated the lake for 100 years, we’d add less than a quarter inch of sediment,” Youngs said.
“We are talking microscopic amounts. When you have the right kind of silica in there and diatom dominance, it can be somewhat of a self-perpetuating system but you’ve got to keep treating it.”
Grand Lake Restoration Commission member Brian Miller briefed the group about some of the other program going on around the lake. Miller said the data from the AiryGators has been forwarded to a consulting firm and should be returned in the “very near future.”
A sediment collector in the Big Chickasaw is running and pumping material in to a holding tube. The collector helps remove nutrients and sediment from the stream before it dumps into the lake. Miller said a second collector is scheduled to be placed in Beaver Creek late this week or early next week. Officials also plan to use alum dosing in Big Chickasaw Creek as well so more nutrients can be collected.
St. Marys Township recently was awarded a grant for a third sediment collection, Miller said. The grant, through the Ohio EPA, is for $89,000 to help cover costs of the $140,000 project.
The next meeting of the LIA is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 4 at the Celina Moose Lodge. For more information, visit LakeImprovement.com.