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New solution to harmful algal blooms raises hope of economic and environmental benefits

PUBLISHED: 08:53 20 March 2018 | UPDATED: 09:01 20 March 2018

Dr Ben Wagstaff with a sample of water containing the toxic algae.  Picture: James Bass

Dr Ben Wagstaff with a sample of water containing the toxic algae. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk © 2014

A cheap, safe and effective method of dealing with harmful algal blooms is on the verge of being introduced following successful field and lab tests.

The Environment Agency's Steve Lane on Wroxham Broad. Picture: ANDREW STONEThe Environment Agency's Steve Lane on Wroxham Broad. Picture: ANDREW STONE

Moves to adopt use of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) as an effective treatment against toxic algae are already underway following the results of new research by a team from the John Innes Centre and the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Successful trials last summer showed that H2O2 was effective against the golden algae, Prymnesium parvum, which is responsible for millions of fish kills worldwide each year and a threat to the £550m economy of the Broads National Park where trials are taking place.

Now follow up lab tests have demonstrated that controlled doses of the versatile chemical compound could be even more effective in dealing with cyanobacteria commonly known as blue green algae - a major public health hazard and potentially fatal to dogs and livestock. Dr Ben Wagstaff, one of the authors of the study from the John Innes Centre said: “We’ve demonstrated that the use of hydrogen peroxide is a practical, relatively easy way of managing these blooms.

“Work has already started to put together protocols for the use of hydrogen peroxide to control Prymnesium and our research showed that blue green algae are even more susceptible. You can potentially use even lower doses to wipe out blue-green blooms.”

Dead fish on the Broads killed by Prymnesium parvum in 2015. Picture: John Innes CentreDead fish on the Broads killed by Prymnesium parvum in 2015. Picture: John Innes Centre

The work in the Broads could have widespread implications for the way harmful algal blooms are managed in waterways worldwide.

Steve Lane, fisheries technical specialist at the Environment Agency which is helping to implement the research said: “It is really exciting how scientists, fishery managers, the angling community and partners have worked together and made such important progress to tackle Prymnesium, which is a serious threat to the multi-million-pound angling economy of the Broads.

“We are now working hard to make sure that we can use hydrogen peroxide to help manage future incidents, guided by the wonderful world-leading work that has taken place right here in Norwich.”

Dr Wagstaff said it was not practical to treat much larger water systems in this way. But the adoption of H2O2 in smaller bodies of water meant they would no longer have to close for long periods when blooms occur.

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