Algal monitoring service

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

NIWA operates an ‘Algal Services’ laboratory specialising in the analysis of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), this service 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.

Algal Services provides three standard services:

Analysis of what algae are present and whether the species are potentially toxic or problematic.

  1. Cell counts (with biomass when required) and/or rank analysis of algal species present.
  2. Toxin testing for the full range of cyanotoxins including the common microcystin, nodularin and saxitoxin toxins.

Algal Bloom Monitoring Service

Sample analysis for:

  • lakes
  • rivers
  • reservoirs
  • stock water

And more. Do you have an algal problem? Is this bloom potentially toxic? Do the Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) concentrations exceed health guidelines for drinking-water, stock water or recreation? Do you have a taste or odour problem?

NIWA may well be able to help.

We operate an IANZ accredited laboratory specialising in the analysis of blue-green algae and have the expertise to answer these questions for you. Our neighbours, AgResearch, have developed quick and reliable methods for detecting microcystin toxins, which complement NIWA’s algal expertise. Services are provided to many sectors including local, regional, and national government, health authorities, industry, and farmers. We offer three standard services to meet most people’s requirements, or we can tailor services to meet your specific needs.

Service 1 – Algae Identification


What algae are in the bloom?

  • Analysis of what algae are present and whether the species are potentially toxic or problematic.
  • Sample turnaround 5 working days
  • 24-hour express-service available
  • Advice on sample collection, handling and delivery.

Service 2 – Algae Enumeration

How many algae are present? The standard analysis for municipal/industrial water supply, recreational areas, and stock water supplies.

  • Cell counts and/or biomass rank of potentially toxic algal species and other dominant algal species.
  • Sample turnaround 5 working days.
  • 48-hour express-service available. 
  • Advice on sample collection, handling, and delivery.

To reduce costs, Service 1 can be used as a trigger. Service 2 analysis is then carried out only when potentially toxic species of blue-green algae are present.

Service 3 – Toxin Testing

Testing for microcystin, saxitoxin & nodularin.

  • NIWA will arrange toxin testing by AgResearch, which means no extra sample handling or accounts payable.
  • The ELISA assay is used to rapidly detect toxins.
  • Detection limits are well below the WHO provisional limit for drinking water.
  • Sample turnaround 24 hours.
  • Discount available for multiple samples

NIWA can also organise testing for other toxins through an appropriate laboratory if required or at your request

Additional services

  • Biovolume calculation of biomass this service can be implemented where it is important to know the biomass of selected cyanobacteria or if required all species which are present within a sample.
  • Design and implementation of algae monitoring programmes.
  • Advice on what actions should be taken if blue-green algal numbers are high.
  • A full range of algal identification and counting services are available (not just cyanobacteria).

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 sample analysis. Algae samples need special treatment, so call us first to find out about sample collection, handling and transport

Algal Service Expertise

Karl Safi (NIWA)
Karl completed his Masters thesis on blue-green algae, has been working in algae research with NIWA since 1993. He has participated in a number of international workshops and courses in algal identification and is a co-author of the “New Zealand Cyanobacterial Guideline for Recreational Waters”.

Karen Thompson (NIWA)
Karen has been a member of Algal Services since 2004 and has participated in international courses on freshwater algal identification. She has also worked with problematic algae including Didymo.

Helen Brider (NIWA)
Helen a member of Algal Services since 2006 and has attended international courses on freshwater algal identification and undertaken training with the problematic algae Didymo.


Algal Ecologist
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Principal Technician - Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology
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Algal Ecology Technician
Algae under a microscope. [NIWA]
Algae. [NIWA]
A microscope. [NIWA]
Semi-submerged trees. [NIWA]