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A NEW AND NASTY NUISANCE

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
An infestation of dark-colored Lyngbya on Lake Gaston. N.C. State plant biologists are overseeing tests of herbicides that might slow the quickening spread of the algae. (Contributed photo)
SoVaNow.com / July 15, 2020
Lake Gaston has long had issues with invasive species such as Hydrilla, but after decades trying and succeeding to get that weed under control, a new aquatic nuisance has emerged: Lyngbya, a dark-colored, smelly algae that is spreading rapidly.

Jessica Baumann, extension associate for Lake Gaston from N.C. State University’s Aquatic Plant Management Program, believes that many areas are now seeing Lyngbya because Hydrilla is now on the wane. Across many lakes in the southeast in the past few years, researchers have noticed the pattern of Lyngbya appearing as Hydrilla wanes, leaving nutrients and physical space available.

Robert Richardson, a professor at N.C. State who studies aquatic weeds, says that Lyngbya has only become a major issue in the last five or six years. “It’s really gone from being background noise to a significant issue,” he said.

Both Baumann and Richardson emphasize there are many unknown factors that contribute to the spread of Lyngbya, but Richardson did point to one: water temperature. As the water warms up, Lyngbya breeds, suggesting that Lake Gaston will likely have more Lyngbya as the summer continues.

Lake Gaston, unlike Buggs Island Lake, has seen Lyngbya increasing in recent years.

This is similar to the pattern of Hydrilla, which was also a nuisance in Lake Gaston but not Buggs Island Lake.

“[Buggs Island] has highly fluctuating water levels; it has not had a large Hydrilla issue in the past,” Baumann said, and the same is likely true of Lyngbya. Those fluctuating water levels likely prevent Lyngbya from taking hold.

Lyngbya is a growing problem in Lake Gaston both because of how it will affect the lake’s ecosystem — and the lake’s residents.

As of right now, Lyngbya mostly grows in the coves and along the shores of the lake in shallow areas. Jeff Zimmer, chairman of the Lake Gaston Association Committee and the treasurer of the Lake Gaston Weed Control Council, estimates that Lyngbya already takes up 14 percent of the shoreline. Glenn Barbour, chairman of the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors and also a member of the Lake Gaston Weed Control Council, expressed concern that the algae could be dangerous to swimmers.

“It’s like a matted weed, like quicksand. It wouldn’t be fatal, but it wouldn’t be healthy,” said Barbour. He is also concerned an algae buildup could limit access to boat docks.

Elton Brown of the Lake Gaston Association is more optimistic, however. “It will probably not be a big recreational problem, the reason being it tends to grow in shallower, undisturbed areas. It certainly won’t be in open water.” He recognizes that the algae is a nuisance, but believes that Lyngbya will not become as big of a problem as Hydrilla once was.

Zimmer has seen the algae along the lake, where he lives. “If it’s around your boathouse, you know it,” he said. “It has a strong odor, and keeps you from wanting to get in the water and enjoy the lake.”

Ecologically, Lyngbya could disrupt the lake’s ecosystem, just as Hydrilla has done before it. Baumann explained how Lyngbya can negatively affect native species in the lake by monopolizing valuable resources, such as space in the water column and nutrients.

“They’re taking up a niche being taken away by a native plant,” she said.

In effect, newcomer Lyngbya is muscling out the natives.

Richardson also commented on Lyngbya ’s effect on native species, saying that “Organisms that don’t do well being around Lyngbya won’t do well.” He noted that Lyngbya was rapidly becoming the dominant species of algae on the lake.

N.C. State conducts tests on Lyngbya, and volunteers with the Lake Gaston Weed Control Council often collect samples and monitor the lake.

N.C. State’s Aquatic Plant Management Program announced recently that two Lyngbya treatments are being tested on Lake Gaston this summer. The treatments are funded by the Lake Gaston Weed Control Council. Several different algaecides had been used on the lake for testing since 2017, but 2020’s treatment plan has been adjusted slightly, with two of the algaecides first used in April, before Lyngbya began its summergrowth.

Treatments have been and will continue to be applied monthly through the summer. The effectiveness of the treatments is being monitored.



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