BU Researcher To Study Deadly Golden Algae

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    3/29/06 - Dr. Brooks finishes taking a water sample from Lake Whitney
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    3/29/06 - Dr. Bryan Brooks (front) and Fabiola Urena-Boeck (back), a baylor graduate student who is writing her thesis on the project, walk to take test samples out of Lake Whitney.
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    3/29/06 - Dr. Brooks points to a dead fish for a local T.V photographer.
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    3/29/06 - Urena-Boeck finds a fish skeleton on the shore of Lake Whitney.
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    3/29/06 - Brooks and Urena-Boeck decide where to take the next water sample.
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    3/29/06 - Dr. Brooks explains what makes golden algae so dangerous. The Whitney dam is behind him.
March 29, 2006

Every year, millions of fish in Texas are killed by toxic levels of golden algae, resulting in millions of dollars of lost revenues to local fishing economies. While the algae are primarily a coastal species, it has been found in rivers and lakes all over the state, including several in Central Texas. Experts know the saline content of the water contributes to the large golden algae blooms, but little else is known. But now, research is just underway at Baylor University to understand the biology of the algae.

Dr. Bryan Brooks, an assistant professor of environmental studies at Baylor, and his team are hoping to better understand what, exactly, causes the algae blooms and how it affects different parts of the food chain.

"The upper part of the Brazos River has a series of three reservoirs--Possum Kingdom, Lake Granbury and Lake Whitney--and all three have experienced massive fish kills because of golden algae," Brooks said. "When our research is complete, we hope to be able to give state officials some management options to control the golden algae."

Along the Brazos River, more than six million fish have been killed since 1988 due to high golden algae levels, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. In fact, just in the last two weeks, thousands of dead fish have washed up on the shores of Lake Whitney. Officials believe large golden algae blooms are to blame. But this is small in comparison to a similar event in 2005, when more than a million fish were killed in the lake over a three-month period. While researchers have not yet identified all the compounds in golden algae that may be harmful to fish, researchers believe the algae clogs the fish's gills, causing it to suffocate.

"It's a fast-acting toxin that at least affects the surface of the gill by causing acute inflammation," Brooks said. "The organism also has been documented affecting other phytoplankton, and even other organisms we would consider predators on the algae. In some cases, the algae has killed and consumed its predator."

Funded by a two-year renewal grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the continuing project is a collaborative research effort between TPW, Baylor, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas, Arlington.

Brooks and his team will take samples from Lake Whitney every two weeks. The samples will be taken back to a laboratory on the Baylor campus where they will be analyzed. Specifically, researchers want to understand what environmental factors cause the algae blooms. Brooks said initial findings indicate conditions such as lower water temperatures and certain nutrient concentrations stress the algae, making it more toxic.

"It appears these factors trigger a response in the algae causing it to release the toxins, perhaps providing the algae with a competitive advantage," Brooks said. "If we can understand this better, we can then come up with a management, or control, model for state officials."

The golden alga is a microscopic, yellow-green algae. During an algae bloom, it turns the water a yellowish color, thus the name golden algae. While the golden alga is not known to be harmful to humans, Brooks said more research is needed.

Media contact: Frank Raczkiewicz, (254) 710-1964

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