UTS Freshwater ecologist, Associate Professor Simon Mitrovic, has been dealing with algal blooms, and their impacts, for 20 years.
In 1997 he co-authored an unassuming field guide that became an instant hit with fellow scientists and community groups trying to come to terms with the severe algal blooms that had become a feature of Australia’s inland waterways. Incredibly, despite the subject matter, over 25,000 copies of “What Scum is that?” were distributed.
Now, 20 years later, technology is allowing Dr Mitrovic to reach a whole new generation of citizen scientists and community stakeholders via the eponymously named “Algae Scum ID” app.
The development of the app, together with 250 Algal Resource Kits for community testing of algal blooms, was made possible through funding from the NSW Environmental Trust.
“Algal blooms are a serious issue for Australia’s waterways and for the communities that rely on them for their livelihoods,” Mitrovic says.
“The aim of this initiative is to raise awareness of algal blooms and highlight the need for ongoing monitoring of NSW rivers, lakes and reservoirs,” he says.
Although algae are a natural part of water ecosystems when conditions are right they can grow in large numbers, turning the water green or blue-green, or sometimes even red, and resulting in the formation of unsightly, and potentially toxic, floating scums.
“These blooms are of concern because the Cyanobacteria that cause some of them can also produce toxins that affect human, stock and wildlife health. The blooms, and the scum that forms, are visually unappealing which also has an impact on tourism and may result in the need for costly water treatment,” Mitrovic says.
Dr Mitrovic says monitoring and early detection of algal blooms is critical.
“This allows water authorities to manage blooms and take action, such as releasing more water from dams to flush river blooms, put up warning signs or even arrange alternative water supplies before people get sick and river ecosystems suffer,” he says.
A series of workshops will be held around NSW to help train stakeholders how to safely use the algae test kits in conjunction with the use of the app. This will lead to more blooms being detected around NSW and allow the appropriate management of these blooms.
The app and test kit will also be incorporated into UTS Environmental Science and Aquatic Ecology courses so that students have the necessary field skills in water monitoring and algae identification.
“Climate change and increased demands for water will mean that algal blooms will likely be a feature of many freshwater systems into the future. Well trained citizen scientists and government staff will provide a valuable service by detecting these blooms and alerting the relevant authorities,” Mitrovic says.
Workshops are scheduled to be held on the NSW North Coast, at Sydney Olympic Park, Orange and Mudgee in the coming weeks.
For more information about the app, kits and workshops contact Associate Professor Simon Mitrovic firstname.lastname@example.org