Dead fish do tell tales: Researchers discover golden algae at Buffalo Springs Lake

[USA] Something is killing fish at Buffalo Springs Lake and Ransom Canyon, and it’s not humans with fishing poles. The lake experienced

 an outbreak of golden algae, whose toxins can be fatal to gill-breathing creatures but harmless to the land-dwelling crowd. Hundreds of lifeless fish washed to the shores before they were discarded by maintenance staff or eaten by other animals.

“I would call this a moderate impact, but golden algae most likely killed the fish,” said Reynaldo Patiño, a Texas Tech professor of natural resources management and a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The number of fish that died in the algae bloom is not yet determined, but likely ranges between 3,000 and 4,000, said John Clayton, a fisheries biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife. Then again, plenty more fish remain healthy in the lake.

“It really isn’t that bad considering it’s a large lake,” Clayton said.

He said most of the affected fish are gizzard shad, a small, foraging species that makes a frequent meal for other fish. A few — but not as many — catfish and striped bass were killed, he added.

“Most are small fish,” he said. “We haven’t seen any large fish affected.”

The algae should give swimmers and boaters no reason for safety concerns. In fact, the only harm to human visitors to the lake is aesthetic — the sight and smell of dead fish can be unpleasant.

Patiño’s research team visits the lake periodically for routine tests of its water quality. They’ve made extra trips the past couple weeks, though, after a Ransom Canyon resident reported seeing a large number of dead fish.

Because of its microscopic size, researchers determine if the algae is present by studying water samples in a laboratory setting. Studies of the samples they collected confirmed their suspicions.

“We recorded pretty high golden algae in an abundance that had previously been associated with fish kills,” said Matt VanLandeghem, a post-doctoral research associate in Tech’s department of natural resources management.

Those past kills at Buffalo Springs Lake have occurred a handful of times since 2003. The most severe was in 2008, Patiño said.

“The magnitude of the fish kills is not increasing, but the frequency is,” he said. “There seems to be smaller events, but more frequent.”

A question remains of what’s causing them. Is the water bad?

In water sources such as wells, quality can vary at certain levels. But at area lakes, salinity and other measures have been stable the past few years, VanLandeghem and Patiño said.

“Since we started monitoring these lakes, we really haven’t seen any trends in water quality,” Patiño said.

Previously, golden algae also have been found in Lake Meredith and smaller lakes in Lubbock city parks.

The algae made its first American appearance in 1985 in the Brazos River in East Texas and has since spread to bodies of water in 22 other states, often destroying their inhabitants. A native of coastal areas in northern Europe such as the Baltic Sea, the algae has evolved in the U.S. to prefer freshwater, Patiño said.

But at Buffalo Springs Lake, the worst may be over.

“Our feeling is it’s already peaked,” Patiño said.


Photo caption: Researchers Reynaldo Patiño, left, and Matt VanLandeghem examine shores of Buffalo Springs Lake for dead fish. The lake suffered an outbreak of golden algae.

Josie Musico, Lubbock Online

View original article at: Dead fish do tell tales: Researchers discover golden algae at Buffalo Springs Lake





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