Year round, Utah Lake plays host to a whole family of microorganisms. In specific amounts, they all serve a benefit to the lake and the other organisms that call it home. However, too much of anything can be a bad thing. This is the case with the little microorganism called cyanobacteria, AKA blue-green algae — the stuff that causes the algae blooms in the summer.
While culturally recognized as algae, these little guys are actually a type of bacteria. They get the name cyanobacteria from their distinct light blue color. What sets cyanobacteria apart from most other types of bacteria is its ability to photosynthesize like a plant which means they are able to produce their own food from sunlight.
Cyanobacteria live in almost every ecosystem on Earth. They have been found in deserts, Antarctica, almost any damp soil, and even in the fur of sloths. That they can be found from pole to pole is a testament to cyanobacteria’s adaptability. They are a stunning example of life’s adaptability and richness. Some scientists even say that cyanobacteria are the most successful group of microorganisms on Earth.
Even though cyanobacteria can be found everywhere, they prefer the warm, still waters of lakes and ponds. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise then that cyanobacteria, like any other resident of Utah Valley, loves Utah Lake. Though, it should be noted that cyanobacteria and their subsequent blooms are found all throughout the lakes of the world. Utah Lake is special for many reasons, but not because of algae blooms.
While potentially harmful in certain amounts, cyanobacteria actually play a helpful role in the environment. Because they photosynthesize, they produce oxygen. And because they can be found in large numbers, they contribute significantly to the oxygen cycle. Meaning that having cyanobacteria in Utah Lake can be like having a massive field of oxygen producing grass for the valley.
But given the right conditions, cyanobacteria can multiply rapidly and create blooms that can become problematic. However, there are still a lot of questions surround cyanobacteria blooms in Utah Lake. What are the right conditions for algae blooms? Are blooms happening more often? Are they getting worse? Can anything be done to prevent them?
What follows is a comprehensive examination of the cyanobacteria that graces Utah Lake. We’ll look at what cyanobacteria need to thrive, why they bloom, what cyanobacterial toxicity is, and dissect the different algae warning levels. Become a Utah Lake algae bloom expert in 10 minutes or less by chewing on this heaping dose of savory knowledge