Open Data

Cyanobacterial blooms in Alberta recreational waters


Cyanobacteria (also referred to as blue-green algae) are common photosynthetic bacteria that live in surface waters. Under favorable conditions, such as warm water and high nutrient content, these bacteria can form nuisance “blooms”. The presence of blooms in recreational water causes unpleasant aesthetics and exposure to some toxin-producing blooms may pose potential health risks. Contact with blooms can cause skin rashes and irritation, itchy eyes, and ear infections. Inhaling water may cause allergic-like reactions, runny noses or sore throats. Ingestion of toxins can cause a range of symptoms (e.g., hepatotoxic or neurotoxic effects, and even death). There has been increased public awareness as a result of research over the past 20 years, recent monitoring efforts, and increased public education on the topic. In 2009, Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services began seasonal monitoring for cyanobacterial blooms at high use recreational beaches. In 2019, beach operators took over the sampling role from Alberta Health Services under the Alberta Safe Beach Protocol. Water is collected from shallow water adjacent to beaches and submitted to laboratories for analysis of cyanobacterial bloom indicators. These data, along with visual inspection, are used to characterize potential cyanobacterial blooms and issue recreational water use advisories when cyanobacteria are found in a waterbody at levels that can affect human health. The data presented below is organized into two files that contain supporting data and key cyanobacterial bloom indicators, and counts of individual cyanobacteria species, respectively. Each row represents a water sample collected from an Alberta beach. In the cyanobacteria species data, each water sample will have many associated rows of data. Each column represents a piece of information about that water sample (e.g., key indicators and supporting information) that is used to characterize cyanobacterial blooms. Data from the current year (2024) should be considered preliminary and might change with further quality control/quality assurance steps. This dataset is updated monthly between June and September each year. For more information on these indicators please refer to the column descriptions “Usage Considerations” associated with this dataset.


July 18, 2024

Cyanobacteria beach beaches bloom blooms blue green algae blue-green algae cyanobacteria environmental health environmental public health microcystin monitoring recreational recreational water water water monitoring

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Cyanobacterial blooms in Alberta recreational waters

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Usage Considerations

This dataset is based on recreational waterbody monitoring in Alberta. The dataset includes key indicators of cyanobacterial blooms with supporting information on collection site, location and time, as well as cell counts of individual cyanobacterial species. The data is historical and doesn’t inform current advisories. Protein phosphatase inhibition (PPI) is used to measure the inhibition of the enzyme that is the target of the cyanobacterial toxins microcystins. This inhibition is expressed in relation to the equivalent concentration of a particularly toxic form of microcystin (microcystin-LR) and represents a measure of the total toxicity of the water sample due to all microcystins present. Health Canada has a Recreational Water Guideline for Total Microcystins of 10 µg/L (expressed as microcystin-LR equivalents). The ability to produce microcystin toxins is coded by the mcy genes in the DNA of certain cyanobacterial species. The mcyE gene can be used as a molecular marker to detect cyanobacteria in beach water samples that have the potential to produce microcystin toxins. Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR) is used to measure the concentration of Microcystins synthase gene E (mcyE, copy/mL) in water. This test is currently in the research and development phase and isn’t currently used for issuing public health advisories in Alberta. Total cyanobacterial cell count is the total number of cyanobacterial cells present in 1 mL of water (including both microcystin-producing and non-producing species). It is a general indication of the potential for bloom development and is often used for early detection of developing blooms. Health Canada Recreational Water Guideline for total cyanobacteria is 50,000 cells/mL. The total is made up of counts of individual species. Please see the Column Descriptions for additional analytical details. “No data” indicate fields in which no data was collected, measured or an assay wasn’t performed. Please note, data from the current year (2024) should be considered preliminary and might change with further quality control/quality assurance steps.


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Alberta Health Environmental Public Health Science Team

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