Harmful blue-green algae found in Salton Sea

Cyanotoxins confirmed at Desert Shores site.

DESERT SHORES, Calif.- - Harmful blue-green algae containing cyanotoxins was found on the North Shore of the Salton Sea, according to the Imperial County Public Health Department. 

Algal blooms containing cyanotoxins have been observed at least 5 times in the last 6 months, according to the California Water Quality Monitoring Council.  

“Due to the levels recently detected of cyanobacteria [blue-green algae] in the Salton Sea, it is important that the community is informed so that individuals know to limit exposure to themselves and their pets," said Imperial County Health Officer Dr. Stephen Munday.

Exposure to blue-green algae can cause flu and cold-like symptoms, diarrhea, vomiting, mouth ulcers, allergic skin rash, and eye irritation. 

The testing, which was conducted by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, confirmed the presence of three cyanotoxins: Anatoxin-a, Saxitoxin and Microcystin in the Desert Shores Harbor of the Salton Sea.

The Statewide Guidance on Cyanobacteria and Harmful Algal Blooms advised the following when encountering waters impacted by blue-green algae:

Take care that pets and livestock do not drink the water, swim through algae, scums or mats, or lick their fur after going in the water. Avoid recreational activities in water containing algae blooms or scums or mats. Do not drink, cook or wash dishes with untreated surface water from these areas; common water purification techniques do not remove toxins. People should not eat mussels or other bivalves collected from these areas. Seek medical treatment immediately if you think that you, your pet, or livestock might have been poisoned by blue-green algae toxins and alert the medical professional to the possible contact with blue-green algae. 

Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB's for short) have been observed at the following locations in the Salton Sea over the past six months:

  • Offshore of Desert Shores
    • First observed 5/21/18
    • Last observed: 8/31/18
  • Offshore of West Shore
    • First observed 5/21/18
    • Last observed: 8/31/18
  • Offshore of State Recreation Beach Area
    • First observed 5/21/18
    • Last observed: 8/31/18
  • Offshore of Bombay Beach
    • First observed 5/21/18
    • Last observed: 8/31/18
  • Offshore of Obsidian Butte
    • First observed 5/21/18
    • Last observed: 8/31/18

For each of the above listed HAB observations, the latest update under 'incident description' read as follows:

"Recent water testing including cyanobacteria mats detected low levels of anatoxin-a. Posting of CAUTION advisory signs is recommended while cyanobacteria mats are present along the shoreline."

According to the Imperial County Health Department's release relating to the Desert Shores incident, warning signage 'will be placed in strategic areas of the Salton Sea where the public is most likely to enter the water.' 

"Algae bloom can appear as cut grass in the water or blue-green, white or brown foam, scum or mats that can float on the water’s surface and accumulate along the shoreline and boat ramp area," reads the Imperial County Public Health Department release. 

The most recent cyanobacteria test was conducted to the Desert Shores Harbor area, but may be emblematic of a larger issue, as changes in water movement and wind patterns can spread the blue-green algae to other locations in the body of water. 

KESQ News Channel 3 & CBS Local 2 reached out to the Salton Sea Authority and is awaiting a response on questions relating to the harmful bloom. 

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