Eutrophication or Algal Bloom and their causes


What is eutrophication or algae bloom?

when a body of water becomes overly enriched with minerals and nutrients which induce excessive growth of plants and algae is called a Eutrophication or algae bloom.

Eutrophic water body: it is a body of water rich in nutrients and so supporting a dense plant population, the decomposition of which kills animal life by depriving it of oxygen. Eutrophication is the response to the addition of nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates naturally or artificially, fertilizing the aquatic ecosystem.

Algal blooms are the consequence of Eutrophication. Eutrophication occurs naturally due to the deposition of nutrients carried by flood waters. It takes over centuries for eutrophication to occur naturally.

Similar nutrient enrichment of lakes at an accelerated rate is caused by human activities [discharge of wastewaters or agricultural runoff, Combustion of fossil fuel (produces gases —nitrogen oxides), growing urban population in the coastal areas) and the consequent phenomenon is known as cultural eutrophication. It takes only decades.

Phytoplankton (algae and blue-green bacteria) thrive on the excess nutrients and their population explosion covers almost entire surface layer. This condition is known as algal bloom. Oxygen in the aquatic ecosystem is replenished by photosynthetic aquatic plants.

algae bloom
Algae bloom

Types of algae

Algae can be categorized into seven major types, each with distinct sizes, functions, and color. The different divisions include:

  • Euglenophyta (Euglenoids)
  • Chrysophyta (Golden-brown algae and Diatoms)
  • Pyrrophyta (Fire algae)
  • Chlorophyta (Green algae)
  • Rhodophyta (Red algae)
  • Phaeophyta (Brown algae)
  • Xanthophyta (Yellow-green algae)

Algal bloom causes

    • Algal Blooms restrict the penetration of sunlight resulting in the death of aquatic plants and hence restricts the replenishment of oxygen.
    • The oxygen level is already depleted due to the population explosion of phytoplankton.
    • Phytoplankton is photosynthetic during day time adding oxygen to the aquatic ecosystem. But during nights, they consume far more oxygen as they respire aggressively. i.e. Algal blooms accentuate the rate of oxygen depletion as the population of phytoplankton is very high.
    • The primary consumers like small fish are killed due to oxygen deprivation caused by algal bloom. Death of primary consumers adversely affects the food chain and leads to the destruction of higher life forms.
    • Further, more oxygen is taken up by microorganisms during the decomposition process of dead algae, plants and fishes. Due to reduced oxygen level, the remaining fishes and other aquatic organisms also die.
    • The new anaerobic conditions [absence of oxygen] created to promote the growth of bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum which produces toxins deadly to aquatic organisms, birds and mammals.
    • All this eventually leads to the degradation of the aquatic ecosystem. algae bloom causes low oxygen level in water body led to difficult to survive aquatic life.

Harmful algae bloom effects 

Loss of freshwater lakes:  algae bloom eventually creates detritus layer in lakes and produces successively shallower depth of surface water. Eventually, the water body is reduced into marsh whose plant community is transformed from an aquatic environment to a recognizable terrestrial ecosystem. [Lakes are one of the major sources of fresh water]

New species invasionEutrophication may cause the ecosystem competitive by transforming the normal limiting nutrient to abundant level. This cause shifting in species composition of the ecosystem.

Toxicity: Some algal blooms when died or eaten, release neuro & hepatotoxins which can kill aquatic organism & pose threat to humans. E.g. Shellfish poisoning. Harsh algae bloom effect is there is no treatment available for animals, including livestock cattle if they drink from algae bloom where such toxins are present

Loss of coral reefs: Occurs due to a decrease in water transparency (increased turbidity). Affects navigation due to increased turbidity; creates color (yellow, green, red), smell and water treatment problems; increases biomass of inedible toxic phytoplankton, benthic and epiphytic algae and bloom of gelatinous zooplankton.


Mitigation Technique 

    1. Checking water pollution is the ultimate solution to eutrophication.
    2. Treating Industrial effluents domestic sewage to remove nutrient-rich sludge through wastewater processing.
    3. Riparian buffer: Interfaces between a flowing body of water and land created near the waterways, farms, roads, etc. in an attempt to filter pollution.
    4. Sediments and nutrients are deposited in the buffer zones instead of deposition in water [Wetlands, estuaries are natural riparian buffers].
    5. Increase in efficiency of nitrogen & phosphorous fertilizers and using them adequate levels.
    6. Nitrogen testing & modeling: N-Testing is a technique to find the optimum amount of fertilizer required for crop plants.
    7. It will reduce the amount of nitrogen lost to the surrounding area.
    8. Encouraging organic farming. Reduction in nitrogen emission from vehicles and power plants.

Is an Algal Blooms Harmful? 

Algae or phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that can be found naturally in coastal waters. They are major producers of oxygen and food for many of the animals that live in these waters.

When environmental conditions are favorable for their development, these cells may multiply rapidly and form high numbers of cells and this is called an algal bloom or eutrophication.

Water temperature has also been related to the occurrence of algal blooms, with unusually warm water being conducive to blooms.  Algae bloom often results in a color change in the water. Algal blooms can be any color, but the most common ones are red or brown. These blooms are commonly referred to as red or brown tides.

Most algal blooms are not harmful but some produce toxins and do affect fish, birds, marine mammals and humans. The toxins may also make the surrounding air difficult to breathe. These are known as Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).

Harmful Algae Bloom causes an environmental hazard because these events can make people sick when contaminated shellfish or finfish are eaten, or when people breathe aerosolized HAB toxins near the beach.

Algae bloom effects human as well as an animal if they drink contaminated water.

HAB events adversely affect commercial and recreational fishing, tourism, and valued habitats, creating a significant impact on local economies and the livelihood of coastal residents.

Red Tide

Red Tide is a common name for such a phenomenon where certain phytoplankton species contain pigments and “bloom” such that the human eye perceives the water to be discolored. Blooms can appear greenish, brown, and even reddish orange depending upon the type of organism, the type of water, and the concentration of the organisms.

The term “red tide” is a misnomer because blooms are not always red, they are not associated with tides, they are usually not harmful, and some species can be harmful or dangerous at low cell concentrations that do not discolor the water.