Algae growth can be harmful
Published on: Thursday, November 14, 2019
By: Sherell Jeffrey
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KOTA KINABALU: Algae can be dangerous microorganism particularly when allowed to grow out of control in ponds and lakes. 

A few years ago in March 2015, joggers were greeted with a strong stench as hundreds of thousands of fish turned up dead near the Kota Kinabalu Sports Complex jogging track pond. 

It was a scenario similar to an incident that happened at the Likas Lagoon around the same month in 2005. 

A series of field tests by a combined team from the Department of Environment and Sabah Fisheries Department suggest dissolved oxygen and red tide measuring hundreds of thousands per millilitre water in the Kolombong monsoon drain to be the cause of death. 

Red tide is a common name for algae bloom meaning large or dense concentration of singled-celled aquatic micro-organisms called dinoflagellates or phytoplanktons in scientific jargon.

“Algae is not considered a plant, but a lot of people will consider them as plants because algae have the same process like plants,” said nature lover, Jeffrey Soo.

Soo is an ex-hotelier with vast experience in the hotel line. He has worked in the US, Europe and China, with his last post as General Manager of a hotel in China. 

He left the hotel line 10 years ago to chase his passion for nature, turning an old paddy field into what is now called Borneo Eco Nature in Sungai Damit, Tuaran where anyone can visit for free.

He said algae go through photosynthesis, and absorb carbon dioxide during the day and absorb oxygen during the night, just like plants. 

Food thrown into the ponds by humans in addition to fish poop produces a lot ammonia and nitrate and absorbed by the algae which, in turn, converts them into nutrients, just like plants do. 

The problem with algae is that it cannot be controlled unlike aquatic plants which can be controlled because it has roots and can be trimmed. 

Algae on the other hand doesn’t have roots or leaves, they will keep growing, cover the whole pond and eventually kill the fish, snails, and basically every living thing in the pond. 

The algae will creep up the walls of the pond and float up to the surface, covering up the surface and prevent oxygen from penetrating the water. 

Although algae produces oxygen during the day, just like plants it will need oxygen during the night and will start absorbing oxygen in the water, leaving very little or none for the fish. 

Soo said this is another reason why people will usually find dead fish in the pond overnight instead of during the day. Especially ponds where there is an uncontrollable growth in algae. 

He said when there is something uncontrollable in the ecosystem, it means that there is something not balanced in the ecology. 

Algae doesn’t need two to three days to grow, it can grow overnight, and thus getting rid of it will take a lot of process which involves draining the pond and allowing the sun to dry it up naturally. 

“Getting rid of the algae by just pulling it out from a water filled pond every day is not only troublesome but doesn’t work at all,” said Soo. 

He also shared several tips on how to set up a fish pond without the use of oxygen pumps and filtering system. 

He explained that making a fish pond is more than just digging up a hole, filling it with water and putting fish into it. 

The ecosystem and the relationship of the pond’s ecology has to be taken into account.

Setting up a pond is like setting up a family, and if one doesn’t understand the family or don’t care about the “grandfather,” “father,” “mother” … the family or the ecology wouldn’t work. 

Everything in the ecology from the living things like aquatic plants, fish, snails, shrimps etc and the non-living thing such as the sun, pebbles, wood, the water’s PH temperature etc plays a role. 

The first thing to take into consideration when setting up a pond is its depth. 

A pond measuring three feet in depth can be suitable for fish if it has a soil bottom, but for cement and tile bottoms, it has to be a bit deeper perhaps around three to five feet deep, according to Soo.

He said it was therefore important to take into account the existence of trees next t to the ponds, adding that trees can provide shade to the fish in the pond. 

Having no shade would mean there is nothing to block direct sunlight, making the water too hot for the fish to survive. 

Another good form of shade protection is having aquatic plants such as water lily and lotus in the pond. Aquatic plants not only provides shade but oxygen to the fish. 

In addition to the depth of the pond, there is the aquatic plant to reduce heat in the water, produce oxygen, and take away the nutrients, and there is the pebbles to help build the micro-organism which converts the water into nutrients for the plants. 

Then there are the shrimps which are needed to do the cleaning of dead leaves, or extra waste in the water. 

Soo also believes that there is no need for oxygen pumps and filtering systems in ponds when one can actually turn to nature for oxygen and filtering. 

“Back in Borneo Eco House, we are never worried about the oxygen because real oxygen doesn’t come from pumps,” he said. 

He said a lot of people mistaken that the pump is actually producing the oxygen, when actually the pump is only producing the air to circulate the water so that oxygen goes in.

“There is no real oxygen from the pump, people have to understand that the real oxygen comes from the aquatic plants,” he said. 

As for filtering, he noted that there are many who put in a lot of bio balls and bio rings into their aquariums. 

He said these are man-made plastic balls with a lot of holes which you can buy from any aquarium shop to build bacteria. 

“I do not use that, my bacteria is built from the pebbles and stones because they actually have the same function,” he said. 

He also said there is a perception that fish can stop mosquito breeding cycle in water. 

“When the fish cannot live in the water, it dies, and when it dies it actually turns into ammonia, nitrate and micro-organism. This will actually encourage more mosquito,” he said. 


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