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'Lake Baikal: the very name fills Russian hearts with awe'
Mike Carter, The Observer

Putrid green algae spreads across shores of Lake Baikal

By Olga Gertcyk
07 April 2015

Is increased tourism, or a normal natural cycle, to blame for the rapid growth of spirogyra to 50% of the coastline?

Experts say the famous stretch of water, which is the world's deepest freshwater lake, is at threat of contamination from the appearance of spirogyra. Picture: Andrey Orekhov 

A foul-smelling and slimy green algae is spreading rapidly across Baikal amid fears it could eventually cause damage to the unique eco-system. Experts say the famous stretch of water, which is the world's deepest freshwater lake, is at threat of contamination from the appearance of spirogyra.

One scientist even said the lake is 'seriously ill' as a result of the algae, which thrives on biological waste that could be coming from the increasing tourist numbers in the region.

Many say it is flourishing from the waste outflows from local holiday centres and private boats, although other academics believe it is simply a natural phenomenon. Either way, there is growing concern about what impact it could have on the environment.

Lake Baikal is said to be home to 1,700 species of plants and animals, two-thirds of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

It even has its own species of seal – the Baikal Seal – with no-one sure how they came to be in the stretch of water, far from any sea or ocean.

Thought to be 25 million years old, Baikal stretches for 400 miles through south-eastern Siberia, north of the Mongolian border. It contains 20 per cent of the world’s unfrozen freshwater reserves and in places is said to be about 5,387ft deep.

Mikhail Grachev, director of the Limnological Institute, of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Science, said the algae is already responsible for the Baikal sponge dying out.

Baikal algae


Baikal algae

No answer on why the algae has been spreading, although some scientists say it could be as a result of the phosphorus-rich laundry detergent used by tourists. Picture: Oleg Timoshkin, Boris Slepnev

He said: 'Science is facing such a disaster for the first time in 100 years. Spirogyra algae has started spreading suddenly and extremely fast. It is dark green, resembles pond scum, and smells awful. Animals have not been drinking water where it lives.'

No answer on why the algae has been spreading, although some scientists say it could be as a result of the phosphorus-rich laundry detergent used by tourists.

Tests are being carried out since these types of detergent are already banned in a number of countries across Europe. When the phosphates enter freshwater they can act like fertilisers and promote and growth of plants, animals and algae. 

The number of visitors to Baikal has increased dramatically in recent years, from 300,000 people in 2009 to 1.3million a year today.

Mr Grachev said: 'Of course tourism should be developed but you need to prepare carefully for such a tourist flow. Washing detergents carrying phosphate should be banned. At the moment, no one is paying attention to that.'

Oleg Timoshkin, his colleague at the Institute, which researches the flora and fauna of Siberian lakes, said: 'The algae has never been detected previously in such a mass abundance. Spirogyra is occupying more than 50 percent of the coastal area of Lake Baikal. Last year, there was more than 1,500 tonnes of the rotting algae. Unfortunately, I can definitely say that Baikal is ill. Seriously ill.'

Baikal algae


Baikal algae


Baikal algae

'The algae has never been detected previously in such a mass abundance. Spirogyra is occupying more than 50 percent of the coastal area of Lake Baikal.' Picture: Limnological Institute 

There is an increased awareness in the region about the problems with phosphate detergents, with a campaigning group in Severobaikalsk, in Buryatia, lobbying about their adverse effects.

Angelica Thyssen, head of the public environmental organization Zashita Severnogo Baikala [Conservation of Northern Baikal], said: 'Severobaikalsk city council allocated 10,000 roubles ($180) for advertisements on this topic. The best ads will be placed on banners in the city and in the lake area.'

However, many experts are not overly concerned by the situation and say the lake is simply in the midst of a 'natural cycle'.

Dr Leonid Korytny, deputy director of the Geography Institute, said: 'It's worth remembering that Baikal has already witnessed an amount of algae growing because of the natural cycles. One shouldn't be saying that Baikal will die because this can negatively affect tourism and worsen the economic situation of the Irkutsk region.

'There are enough problems in Baikal, and the problems which haven't been studied yet shouldn't be prioritized.'

And Vladimir Fialkov, director of the Baikal Museum, stressed: 'The area where the algae is found is about 0.1 per cent of the total territory of the lake. There are four types of spirogyra living in the lake - it's not something new.'

See the related article here.

Comments (5)

Humankind should be able to visit this precious lake and leave ONLY footprints! It may be time for modified policies for travel there so as not to exploit this resource further. Of course, the ultimate measure of lake health would be dissolved oxygen concentrations at depth along with nitrogen speciation and nutrient loading. More studies are needed but intervention is also needed now.
Dr. Jennifer Jermalowicz-Jones , Spring Lake, Michigan
15/09/2017 07:32
0
1
The considerable increase in tourism and its increased demands on the local septic systems could be causing the problem. In Massachusetts (US) we had a similar long term algae problem that was solved by a major overhaul of our rivers and coastal septic systems. Good luck!
frances, usa
09/04/2015 05:54
3
1
I hope it is the helpful kind and not the mutation that has been seen in some coasts of Venezuela near oil refineries, the algae has been deadly for fish population and makes it impossible to use the polluted waters
Susana, Venezuela
09/04/2015 00:01
3
1
We had a fjord here that was nicknamed Green-fjord because of green algie.Now its all gone and the water is just like elsewhere...maybee its only a naturally prosess....
Per, Norway
08/04/2015 14:43
2
1
Every piece of Spirogyra you might think it is polluted. No, actually it is eutrophic. This means is rich in nutrients. Spirogyra grows underwater, but when it is sunny little bubbles stick up producing oxygen when it pops. This is amazing because you might think it is gross, but Spirogyra is very helpful to our environment.http://www.weehawken.k12.nj.us
Mirka, Czech Republic
08/04/2015 03:20
4
2
1

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