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Algal monitoring service

Blooms of hazardous cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) in rivers, lakes and reservoirs can pose high risk to human and animal health. How can you find out whether an algal bloom is potentially toxic?

Do you have an algal problem? Is the bloom potentially toxic? Do the cyanobacteria concentrations exceed health guidelines for drinking-water, stock water or recreation? Does your water have a taste or odour problem? NIWA Algal Services may well be able to help.

Since 2004, NIWA has operated a laboratory specialising in the analysis of cyanobacteria and other algae, which provides a one-stop shop for algal counts and toxin testing.

Algal Services is accredited by International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) for cyanobacterial identification and counts for potable and non-potable waters. Our services are provided to many sectors including local, regional, and national government, health authorities, industry, and farmers. We offer four main analyses and several additional services which meet most requirements, or we can tailor services to meet specific needs. Our goal is to provide you with the service you want and the information you need. 

We provide analysis for samples from: 

  • Lakes 
  • Rivers 
  • Streams 
  • Drinking water supplies
  • Irrigation reservoirs
  • Stock water dams/troughs
  • and more! 

Analysis options

Standard Analysis

Is this water safe to drink/use?

Recommended for on-going phytoplankton monitoring of municipal/ industrial water supply, recreational waterbodies, and stock water supplies. 

  • Identification and enumeration (cells per mL) of observed potentially toxic cyanobacteria taxa and other dominant (i.e. ~90% of biomass) algal species
  • Identification to species level where possible
  • Sample turnaround 5 working days
  • Reported in .pdf format via email
  • Basic advice and information on sample collection/handling/delivery and reported results 

Full Analysis 

How is this system changing over time?

This comprehensive analysis is recommended when data for all phytoplankton species within a sample is required e.g. State of the Environment monitoring.

  • Identification and enumeration (cells per mL) of observed potentially toxic cyanobacteria taxa and all other algal species
  • Identification to species level where possible
  • Sample turnaround 5 working days
  • Reported in .pdf format via email
  • Basic advice and information on sample collection/handling/delivery and reported results 

Base Analysis  

Why does the water look, smell, taste like that?

Recommended for one-off phytoplankton sampling events e.g. ornamental ponds, farm dams, private water supplies.  

  • Identification and abundance rank of observed potentially toxic cyanobacteria and other dominant algal species 
  • Sample turnaround 5 working days
  • Reported in .pdf format via email
  • Basic advice and information on sample collection/handling/delivery and reported results 

Periphyton Analysis  

What’s growing on that rock? 

Recommended analysis for identifying dominant taxa within algal matts or filamentous surface growth in a waterbody or system.          

  • Identification and abundance rank of benthic cyanobacteria taxa and other dominant (i.e. ~90% of biomass) periphyton species present within a supplied sample 
  • Identification to species level where possible
  • Sample turnaround 5 working days
  • Reported in .pdf format via email
  • Basic advice and information on sample collection/handling/delivery and reported results 

Additional services

Express

Express analysis provides a 48-hour turnaround, recommended when cyanobacteria concentrations are expected to be approaching or exceeding guideline/standard levels (e.g. during a bloom event) or for urgent analysis on a weekend/statutory holiday.

Cell biovolumes

Biovolume is calculated to assess the relative abundance (as biomass or carbon) of the various shaped and sized algae within a sample. Cyanobacteria biovolumes can be used to indicate the potential for toxin hazard. This analysis is particularly helpful when there are high concentrations of very small cyanobacteria species. Cell biovolumes can be provided for both cyanobacteria and other algal species identified within a sample. 

Cyanotoxin testing 

We can arrange for samples to be forwarded to an external IANZ accredited laboratory for relevant cyanotoxin (microcystin, anatoxin, homoanatoxin-a, cylindrospermopsin, nodularin and saxitoxins) analyses. 

Alternative report formatting 

A .CSV file or other agreed reporting format can be provided.

Trend graphing         

Our trend graphs are aimed to help you interpret your data over a monitoring season.

Expert advice                                                                                                             

When appropriate we provide basic information and answer simple questions that relate to reported results free of charge. We can also answer more complex questions, aid interpretation of results, and provide expert advice on bloom management and the design and implementation of monitoring programmes.

NIWA scientists were involved in some of New Zealand’s earliest lake restoration projects. We can help you with long-term solutions. Call NIWA if you would like to know more, or to arrange a sampling kit and analysis. Algal samples need special treatment, so call us first to find out about sample collection, handling, and transport. Our chain of custody sampling form can be downloaded below.

Useful links

Algal Services Expertise

Karl Safi: Karl’s expertise is freshwater and marine algal taxonomy and ecology has contributed to more than 50 peer reviewed publications relating to this field. Karl has been working with algae since before he started at NIWA in 1993. Karl is one of Algal Services Key Technical Personnel and managed the project since its inception in 2004 until 2020. Karl prepared and documented policies and procedures for the Services first successful IANZ accreditation in 2009. Karl has presented and participated in local and international workshops and courses in algal identification and bloom management. Karl co-authored the New Zealand guidelines for cyanobacteria in recreational fresh water: Interim guidelines (2009) and has been an invited cyanobacteria expert in Ministry for the Environment and National Objectives Framework Working Groups.

Helen Brider: Helen joint Algal Services in 2006 and is one of the teams Key Technical Personnel. In 2020 she won the NIWA Excellence Customer Focus Award. Helen has participated in several international freshwater cyanobacteria and algal identification courses and undertaken local training with periphyton species and the problematic algae didymo. Helen is the current Project Manager for Algal Services.

Karen Thompson: Karen has been a member of Algal Services since 2004 and is one of the teams Key Technical Personnel. Karen prepared and documented policies and procedures for the Services first successful IANZ accreditation in 2009. Karen has participated in international freshwater cyanobacteria and algal identification courses and was involved in presence surveys and the Gemex™ efficacy river trial for the pest alga Didymosphenia geminata. Karen has vast experience in microalgae culture techniques and also uses flow cytometry to enumerate phytoplankton. In 2019 she won the Laboratory Technologist Award at the 13th Annual Kudos Awards.

Anita Pearson: Anita joined Algal Services in 2019 after completing her Master of Science where her research investigated the interactions between freshwater mussels (kākahi) and invasive Daphnia spp. This work included feeding trials that identified differences in the phytoplankton resources utilised by these grazers. Anita has participated in an international course on cyanobacteria identification and has also received local training in freshwater phytoplankton and periphyton identification. She also has experience in culturing both marine and freshwater algal species.

Mashanta Mohsin: Mashanta joined Algal Services in 2021 after studying and completing an internship where she assisted a NIWA research project investigating Eco-cultural wastewater treatment using NZ native filamentous algae. Mashanta has participated in an international course on cyanobacteria identification and has also received local training in freshwater phytoplankton identification. Mashanta has experience in micro and filamentous algae culture techniques.

Contact

Algal Ecologist
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Principal Technician - Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology
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Algal Ecology Technician
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Algal Ecology and Water Quality Technician
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Ecotoxicology Technician
Cyanobacterial bloom preserved with Lugols under the microscope. [NIWA]
Cyanobacteria under the microscope. [NIWA]
Algal blooms at Lake Ohinewai.[NIWA]
NIWA's Karen Thompson sampling a bloom at Lake Rotoroa, Hamilton. 
Algal blooms at Lake Ohinewai.[NIWA]