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Dangerous levels of cyanobacteria detected in Big Lagoon; dog death potentially related

Courtesy | Rich Fadness, NCRWQCB
Courtesy | Rich Fadness, NCRWQCB
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Cyanobacteria, commonly referred to as blue-green algae, is a photosynthetic bacteria that can sometimes produce harmful toxins.

"When conditions are right — warm water temperatures, sunlight nutrient levels in the water — it can result in what we call a harmful algal bloom," Environmental Health Specialist Benjamin Dolf said.

Cyanobacteria warnings tend to come out between late June and early August when these conditions create the ideal environment for the algae. On Friday, a warning was sent out for Big Lagoon after samples from the water tested high for toxins earlier last week.

"Some, but not all, cyanobacteria can produce toxic chemicals that can cause illnesses and other health effects such as rashes, dizziness or gastrointestinal distress," Environmental Scientist Mike Thomas said.

While humans can fall sick from the toxins, pets that are exposed to water with cyanobacteria in it can face much worse effects.

"For pets, it's a bit more problematic because your dog goes in the water that's impacted with these toxins and it gets on their fur. They lick themselves dry, so, they're directly ingesting those toxins," Dolf said.

In certain situations, exposure can be fatal for pets, as was potentially the case for one Garberville resident's dog. The resident posted to Facebook that his puppy died after swimming near Redwood Grove, which he said he assumes had harmful algae in it. This led Humboldt Health and Human Services to assess the area today.

According to Dolf, there are various different species of blue-green algae, some of which are easier to identify.

"One of the more common varieties we have here, [which] will be growing off of the rocks, have little fingers or spikes growing upwards, and will often have little bubbles in them. It's a kind of greenish, brownish color," he said.

But due to the variability of the species, it's best to err on the side of caution if you feel suspicious about a body of water, experts said.

"When in doubt, always stay out," Thomas said.

While avoiding potentially toxic bodies of water is the best practice, there are things you can do if your pet enters the water including giving them a bath as soon as possible and making sure they don't lick themselves clean.

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Residents are encouraged to report algal blooms by calling 844-729-6466 or emailing Reports can also be made via the California Harmful Algal Blooms Portal, where users can also access a map of all the harmful algal blooms reported in the state.

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