Together with our partners we developed a globally adopted commercial solution for the management of blue-green algae blooms.

The challenge

Managing blue-green algae blooms

Blue-green algae are cyanobacteria which can accumulate in water and form 'blooms'. A blue-green algal bloom occurs when the algal cells are present in high enough numbers to discolour the water, form scums, produce unpleasant odour and taste, reduce water quality and kill fish. The blooms form when there are high levels of nutrients in the water, such as phosphorus, and may persist for several weeks. The nutrients can come from fertiliser runoff, sewage effluent, erosion, city stormwater, or a range of other causes.

Some species of blue-green algae can leak toxins into the water which are harmful to human health and can cause death in domestic animals, wildlife and livestock. The toxins may remain present in the water for a number of weeks, and can necessitate the closure of water storages used for drinking and recreation. Blue-green algae blooms also increase water treatment costs. Due to these water quality, health and economic impacts, managing algal blooms is a major concern.

Our response

Reduce algal blooms by limiting phosphorus

CSIRO and the Western Australian Water and Rivers Commission developed PhoslockTM, an adsorbent clay which permanently binds dissolved phosphorus, one of the main nutrients responsible for algal blooms.

Applying Phoslock to the Serpentine recreational lake in Hyde Park, London, ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games.  ©Nigel Traill/Phoslock Water Solutions Ltd.

The clay can be applied directly to the surface waters where the algae often populate and limit their growth by reducing the amount of phosphorus available. The clay moves through the water column rapidly removing dissolved phosphate and also forms a layer over bottom sediments to prevent additional release of nutrients which feed further algal blooms. Once the clay has bound the phosphate it forms an inert, insoluble mineral, depriving the algal bloom of vital phosphorus.

The results

A commercial product provides a global solution

The environmentally-friendly, adsorbent clay-based substance has been commercialised by Australian company Phoslock Water Solutions Limited. The commercial product, PhoslockTM, was used to improve water quality of the Serpentine recreational lake in Hyde Park, London in preparation for the London Olympics in 2012.

It has been used in over 25 countries including Australia, China, Germany, New Zealand, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and the USA.

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