The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

July 29, 2013

'Rock snot' a blossoming problem for parks

— A mucous invasive algae has made its way to the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle, Fayette County.

Didymosphenia geminata algae, also termed “rock snot,” is not harmful to humans.

The algae is native to cold, fast-flowing rivers and streams, and in some cases, it has been known to spread rapidly, filling the cavities between rocks, blocking sunlight and disrupting ecosystems and plant and animal life.

In addition to ecological impacts, the algae – which has impacted waterways in Canada and Northern Europe – can dislodge from the rocks, forming a mucous layer that can hinder recreational fishermen and boaters.

Kooser State Park in Somerset is free of the invasive algae, but assistant park manager Kevin Blair said other types of algae have become a problem.

“We have your typical algae and we battle them,” he said, adding that the algae volume is especially high this year.

“It affects the fisheries in the lake due to the amount of it,” Blair said, revealing that though the algae is not toxic, its overabundance, coupled with other abnormal lake features, have led to the lake being closed to swimmers.

“(Kooser) lake was open to the public,” he said.

“We did have to close it this summer.”

A representative from Shawnee State Park said its waterways have not been affected.

Though the algae has not made its way to Prince Gallitzin State Park near Patton, assistant park manager Tim Yager said the park does have a high volume of Eurasian watermilfoil and hydrilla.

“Whenever it dies, it gets tangled in boat propellers,” he said.

“It’s something we actively treat.”

While he could not determine if didymosphenia geminata was a threat to the park, he said the park is taking precautions to prevent its arrival.

“Nothing can be predicted,” Yager said.

“However, we are taking a proactive approach to prevent it.”

Similarly, park ranger Tom Crowe said Yellow Creek State Park in Indiana County has not had a problem with algae.

However, it does have a high concentration of aquatic vegetation.

“I think our creek, being bigger and a little faster moving, doesn’t allow for the algae to grow,” he said.

Ohiopyle assistant park manager Stacie Hall said the Youghiogheny’s water fits the algae’s preferred habitat, and since it was first discovered in May 2012, it has spread nearly 17 miles from the dam in Confluence all the way through the park.

“We believe it’s because of the preferred waters,” she said.

“That’s probably as far as it will go.”

Though officials are confident that the algae will not spread much further on its own, Hall said the Department of Environmental Protection is actively monitoring the growth.

Because didymosphenia geminata spreads easily and can grow from a single microscopic cell, visitors to local waterways are recommended to disinfect fishing and boating gear used throughout the region in a solution of 10 percent household bleach and 90 percent water, or a strong salt solution, for at least 10 minutes.

A state parks director said the discovery of didymo at Ohiopyle will not immediately impact park visitors, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

All visitors, especially boaters and fishermen, are being encouraged to wash their gear in an effort to avoid spreading didymo.

Hall said Ohiopyle has introduced gear wash stations to its park areas.

“Basically, it’s a tub with a solution in it,” she said, adding that information about the algae and wash brushes also are kept at the stations.

Presently, there is no way to combat the algae, so Hall said preventing it from spreading is important.

“At this point, they are testing a lot of different processes for treating,” she said.

Ohiopyle’s fish population has not yet been affected by the algae, Hall said.

“It certainly could,” she said.

“It’s something else we’re monitoring.”

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