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Record-Setting Harmful Algae Blooms in New Jersey's Largest Lake

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Less than a week after the official start of summer, New Jersey's largest lake was shut down by state officials due to a harmful algae bloom. Now, well into the heart of summer, Lake Hopatcong remains closed. And, several other lakes that have seen their waters turn green due to a rise in cyanobacteria have also been shut down, including Budd Lake and parts of Greenwood Lake.


Summer economies have been shattered by New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection warnings about the blue-green algae. Lakeside rentals, swimming instructors, sailing teachers, boat rental operators, mini-golf clerks, ice cream vendors and many others who depend on a seasonal income have seen their bottom line decimated by the beach closures, according to the New York Times.

In fact, Lake Hopatcong, which is usually buzzing with activity, is so empty that a black bear recently took a swim across it, as News12 NJ tweeted.

The warning for Greenwood Lake was issued in mid-July, but triggered the cancellation of the lake's annual powerboat race during the last weekend in August.

"Although you would think our boat racers would not directly be affected, there is still potential for exposure to our competitors and emergency crews," the American Powerboat Association said in an official statement, as reported by Northjersey.com. "This bacteria is reported to potentially cause skin rashes, sickness or worse and our insurance is not prepared to take on the added liability."

Cyanobacteria, DEP officials warn, produce toxins that can cause skin irritation, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, fever, sore throat, headache, muscle and joint pain, blisters of the mouth and liver damage, as the Morristown Daily Record reported.

This summer has seen an unusually intense wave of algae blooms that have shutdown lakes in the Pacific Northwest and every beach on the Mississippi Gulf coast. Scientists say the climate crisis is probably a factor in the increase of cyanobacteria, which can grow in dense clusters and produce toxic substances. An increase in the frequency and intensity of rainstorms has pushed fertilizer runoff into waterways. Add to that hot, sunny days and the conditions are set for a harmful algae bloom, which are appearing more frequently and earlier in the season, according to the New York Times.

"With climate change, we've got more precipitation, we've got sea-level rise and all this aging infrastructure," said Chris Sturm, managing director for policy and water at New Jersey Future, a group pushing for better-planned development, as the New York Times reported.

Without swift political action and cooperation from all the towns around Lake Hopatcong, the lake may very well see more summers ruined by harmful algae blooms. The counties around Lake Hopatcong have older sewer and drainage systems that have worn down and been overwhelmed by increasingly intense storms. Pollution streams into the lake from diffuse sources — a couple of towns around the lake have sewers, while another started a sewer project but was not able to finish it. A fourth town only has septic systems, which have to be pumped out every three years, according to the New York Times.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.