Global warming hits Midmar Dam

2008-07-18 00:00

Algae growing in Midmar Dam — venue of South Africa’s biggest open water swimming event — and flowering in winter for the first time in living memory this year, is probably an indication that the climate in this part of KZN has already changed.

So says CSIR researcher Dr Paul Oberholster in an article titled “Toxic blooms in Midmar Dam”, which has just appeared in the African Journal of Biotechnology.

Oberholster says climate change in this part of KZN has probably raised the water temperature to such a degree that the algae can now bloom in winter. In certain conditions, these flowers release toxins into the water and continued exposure to them can have serious consequences for human health.

Research done in Europe and North America has shown that between 25% and 75% of flowers like those found in Midmar Dam produce toxins that are bad for people’s health.

Dr Anthony Turton, leading researcher of water resources at the CSIR, says that if researchers in South Africa were able to determine with certainty if this phenomenon was linked to climate change, scientists would have to be on the alert for the proliferation of a family of primitive unicellular organisms that together release a “toxic brew” into the water, so that these can be kept out of the country’s drinking water.

Turton said the “toxic brew” is probably “invisible” to some water resource managers, which means it can easily infect drinking water.

The toxins released by the algae blooms in the water can cause abdominal and intestinal inflammation, allergic reactions and even liver disease. In extreme cases it can also cause cancer of the liver.

Turton said South Africans don’t really need to be worried about the algae in Midmar Dam, as scientists are aware of the problem and are looking for solutions.

Midmar Dam … CSIR researcher Dr Paul Oberholster has published an article entitled: ‘Toxic blooms in Midmar Dam’, warning of a possibly harmful ‘toxic brew’ in the dam.

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