The ducks and geese are gone. No one knows why, but an unsightly red tide algae that could be toxic has taken over Bowne Park pond and residents are seeking answers.
Area resident Sharon Wohlgemuth and her friends noticed the red-colored algae around June 13 and called 311. It took over the pond and emitted a foul odor. “I come here everyday,” Wohlgemuth said. “I visit with friends, walk and read. Nothing like this ever happened here before.”
She called state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who reached out to the Parks Department. When contacted by the Queens Chronicle, the agency sent the following statement: “After noticing the presence of red algae in the Bowne Park pond, we consulted with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to advise on a course of treatment. A NYS DEC biologist and environmental engineer visited the site and recommended flushing the system with fresh, cool water. We have been following these recommendations and will continue to monitor the site. In addition, our plumbers will soon make repairs to the pond’s aeration system.”
Wanda Beck-Antosh, president of the Bowne Park Civic Association, said the pond’s condition “is terrible. I live across the street and I’ve never seen anything like it in the over 50 years I’ve lived here.”
Beck-Antosh contacted the park manager, Joe Maura, who told her the plumbing is being worked on and that the red algae is not toxic.
But James Cervino, a marine biologist and environmental chairman of Community Board 7, said he was very concerned about the condition. “Red algae can be toxic and dangerous to humans and animals,” Cervino said. “I need to know more specifics like what the species is and other technical data.”
DEC officials said Tuesday the state Department of Health has not completed its testings, but warned residents there may be some toxicity associated with it. “The state DOH would like to advise the public to avoid direct contact with the bloom,” officials said.
Cervino, who is also affiliated with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, said it is probably one of two species of red algae that can cause liver damage or paralysis in severe cases.
He indicated the red algae condition is caused by excessive nutrients in the water, low oxygen, high temperatures and lack of water circulation. “As the algae grows, it produces a toxin to kill each other off,” he added. “Parks needs to clean out the pond.”
The marine biologist, who said he is “very passionate” about the topic, said it’s necessary to stop the source of pollution, which is probably a combination of sewage, plant nutrients and animal waste.
He noted a similar problem in Douglaston’s Little Neck Bay, due to old, outdated leaky septic systems that are acting as pollutant sources, causing human and fish health hazards. “As a marine scientist, this is of immediate concern due to local residents using the bay at the Douglaston beaches,” Cervino said.
At Bowne pond, Wohlgemuth said the two fountains in the middle of the water, which aid in aeration, have not worked for two years and that Parks does not have the money to fix them. “I don’t understand if the city has money for bocce courts, why they can’t fix the fountains,” she said.
Earlier this year, the city announced plans to add a bocce court there for $500,000.
The pond condition waxes and wanes, Wohlgemuth acknowledged. She is concerned because children play near the water and people fish there. “I love this park. It’s a piece of me,” she said.