A Golden Alga Bloom
Golden Algae in West Virginia and Pennsylvania
On 25 September 2009 a WV-DEP press release said "The West
Department of Environmental Protection now believes a
golden algae bloom is linked to a large fish kill on Dunkard Creek, in
northern West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania. DEP staff members
investigating the incident narrowed down the causes of the fish kill
after consulting with algae experts from West Virginia University,
North Carolina and Texas.
At the 3 December 2009 Water Quality Forum held in Mount Morris, PA (on
the shores of beautiful Dunkard Creek) no platform speaker expressed
any reservation about an algae bloom being the cause of the fish kill,
although there is no consensus as to exactly why the bloom occurred.
The algae found in Dunkard Creek has been identified as
Prymnesium parvum, commonly called golden algae, which occurs
worldwide, but primarily in coastal waters that have higher salt or
mineral content. The algae produces toxins that can affect
gill-breathing organisms and the most visible result of a fish kill
caused by golden alga is dead and dying fish and mussels of all species
An 18 November 2009 story reports that the PA Department of
Environmental Protection and federal agencies are checking southwestern
Pennsylvania streams for golden algae.Pa-DEP is working with the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency to test 11 streams and the Monongahela
River near West Virginia where water-quality monitors show conditions
may be suitable to support golden algae. They report detection in
Whiteley Creek (immediately north of Dunkard Creek) in Pennsylvania.
The WV Department of Environmental Protection has also been
testing streams. Their data is posted on the web at
As of 3 December 2009 Golden Algae has now been
detected in five other streams
in West Virginia besides Dunkard Creek, and possibly two more in Marion
County. The WV-DEP table has little in the way
of methods or explanation, so it is a little hard to interpret.
But it lists Cabin Creek, near Charleston as having a significant
population, as well as several other streams on the South Ohio River
and the West Fork River as contaminated, based on samples collected
Oct. 21-26. Golden Algae counts on stream samples (collected Oct.
8) from tributaries of the Mon River such as Buffalo Creek and PawPaw
Creek are listed as "BDL" (Below Detection Limit) but include a
notation that positive hits could be from contamination." This
would suggest that Golden Algae was detected, but could not be
Sources of Information on Golden Algae
Texas Parks and Wildlife operates the most comprehensive
If you want to crawl through an extensive library of resources,
including .PDF files of technical papers, you can start with Golden
Alga Bloom Status Reports http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/landwater/water/environconcerns/hab/ga/status.phtml
For those with limited time or background, we summarize the Texas Parks and Wildlife information
Algae are primitive
plants that are usually aquatic and lack true stems, roots, and leaves.
The golden alga (Prymnesium parvum) is a microscopic, flagellated
organism that normally is suspended in the water column. We do not know
if this alga is native and not identified before 1985 or if it is an
invasive species accidentally introduced to North America.
Unlike toxic red tide blooms
on the coast, golden alga toxins have no apparent lethal effect on
non-gill breathing organisms. Cattle, predators, scavengers, birds and
other animals have been observed drinking water during a bloom, and
many eat the dead fish during on-going golden alga fish kills with no
apparent effects.... Officials from the Texas Department of State
Health Services have stated that the golden alga is not known to be a
human health problem, but people should not pick up dead, or dying,
fish for eating.
The majority of golden alga
fish kills occur during the winter months when the water is cold.
.... The alga also prefers more saline waters than normal
freshwater conditions, which may also contribute to bloom initiation.
Additionally, the toxins of golden alga are influenced by cations in
the water such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium. The presence of
these cations, higher pH levels, and more saline waters may be the
reason that fish kills have mostly been confined to waters west of
Other states have also been
impacted by this alga. States that have reported golden alga include:
Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana,
Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South
Carolina, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.
Although aquaculture ponds
can be treated successfully, these treatments cannot be effectively
used in the larger and more complex reservoirs and rivers.
Quoted from Texas Parks and
We have not seen the data on which the WV-DEP announcements are based,
but we understand that the presence of the alga has been identified by
at least two independent laboratories. According to the Texas
information, it appears that golden alga may be present in waters
supporting large fish populations. As we understand it, although the
Dunkard Creek waters were more saline than desirable, they had nearly
neutral pH levels and were warm. These do not accord with the most
dangerous conditions identified in the Texas information.
We have obtained several other references on golden
Growth at the edge of the niche: An
experimental study of the harmful alga Prymnesium parvum
Jason W. Baker, James P. Grover, Ratheesh Ramachandrannair, Cody Black,
Theodore W. Valenti, Jr., Bryan W. Brooks, and Daniel L. Roelkec -
Limnol. Oceanogr., 54(5), 2009, 1679–1687
Growth and Toxicity of Prymnesium
parvum (Haptophyta) as a Function of Salinity, Light, and Temperature
Jason W. Baker, James P. Grover, Bryan W. Brooks, Fabiola Urena-Boeck,
Daniel L. Roelke, Reagan Errera, and Richard L. Kiesling - J. Phycol. 43, 219–227 (2007)
There is also a Maryland DNR site http://www.dnr.state.md.us/bay/hab/heterosigma_akashiwo.html
The species mentioned here is Heterosigma akashiwo, identified in
Middle River of Chesapeake Bay during June 2002. This appears to be a
A bass fishing group has some pond-oriented management information at http://www.bassresource.com/fish_biology/golden_algae_control.html