Beware the Icky Algae

This is all Massachusetts needs--an invasion of rock snot:

Already a scourge in New Zealand and parts of the American South and West, the aquatic algae called "rock snot" is creeping into New England, where it is turning up in pristine rivers and alarming fishermen and wildlife biologists....

Over the past 10 years, the algae with a scientific name of Didymosphenia geminata, or didymo, has turned up in California, Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, the Dakotas, Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee....

The algae has the potential to bloom into thick masses with long stalks, blanketing the bottoms of some streams, threatening aquatic insect and fish populations by smothering food sources.

In New England, it has turned up in the White River, Connecticut River and the Batten Kill, a trout fishing mecca in southern Vermont that's famed for its hard-to-catch fish. Quebec is grappling with it in Matapedia River in the lower St. Lawrence.

There's no easy way to get rid of it. Experts say the only hope is to keep it from spreading. But that's a lofty challenge, since a single cell carried on absorbent fishing gear or clothing can be transferred _ unknowingly _ into other waters.

Vermont and New Hampshire have launched a radio campaign urging river users to scour their boats and clean their gear.

"Please don't take chances, disinfect your fishing gear," said Scott Decker, program supervisor with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

It's unknown yet what effect, if any, the algae will have on fish populations, according to Sarah Spaulding, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the EPA. But many are concerned.

"Once you remove (insects), young fish don't have anything to eat," said David Deen, a Vermont lawmaker who is a fishing guide and river steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council. "Growth is slowed at best, and at worst they could starve to death."

In South Dakota, the algae is suspected of decimating brown trout populations in some spots.

And it could be really ugly, if New Zealand is any indication:

Where it once preferred high-altitude, low-nutrient rivers, rock snot has shown up in rivers in Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee, raising questions about what triggers its growth. Dammed rivers provide a constant water flow for it to bloom, and drought and changes in sunlight may also play a role.

"We think there are other factors that we don't yet know about," said Spaulding.

In New Zealand, the algae has infested as many as 55 waterways on South Island, growing up to 7 inches thick.

Seven inches of snot. Anyway, the critter is called Didymosphenia geminata, and it could be coming to a waterway near you...

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