Stinky muck lands on Pier Park beach

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 22, 2021

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GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Pier Park beach users have recently encountered an unpleasant new addition to the shoreline.

Farms Parks and Recreation Director Chris Galatis said a “thick and spongy muck” consisting of orbs or globes of matter “which look like rabbit droppings” has been showing up this year on the beach.

Officials with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, or EGLE, say that the substance isn’t harmful in and of itself — it’s actually filamentous blue-green alga called Lyngbya wollei that washes ashore. However, it can and does often collect other material, such as trash, dead fish and bird feces, so EGLE officials warn people to avoid contact with it, if possible.

“It is a nuisance,” Galatis told the Farms City Council during a meeting June 14. “It smells. It’s unsightly.”

The dense muck has been found in Lake St. Clair shoreline communities like St. Clair Shores and Harrison Township for about the last 10 years but only recently seems to have made its way to the Pier Park beach.

Galatis said Pier Park staff members have been raking the beach daily to address the problem as best as possible. He said state officials have told them that some places that have experienced the muck have spent thousands of dollars on removal efforts — including dredging — but this is a naturally occurring phenomenon and reappears within days despite these efforts.

According to the University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, Lyngbya wollei is found worldwide in fresh water and is “a large-celled, filamentous, mat-forming cyanobacterium (blue-green alga).”

“When Lyngbya dies off, it forms small, dark green, woolly balls (marble sized) that pile up in sheltered shallow areas,” explained EGLE Aquatic Biology Specialist Kevin Goodwin by email. “Lyngbya is very fibrous feeling and takes quite some time to break down (literally, it feels like a small ball of wool individually, then they all mat up together in these dense, dark green rafts) — so it persists longer than other native plants and algae would, and the dense mats do a good job trapping all sorts of other floating lake ‘stuff’ in them to make some pretty unsightly conditions (other plant material, dead fish, trash, etc.).”

The Michigan State University Extension notes that invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels have created the conditions for algae to thrive because they filter phytoplankton from the water.

City Councilwoman Beth Konrad-Wilberding recognized Galatis and the park staffers who cleared the muck off the beach one day. Galatis said it quickly came back.

“You and that crew really worked your tails off,” Konrad-Wilberding said. “It was a thankless task.”

Galatis said shallow areas with breakwalls and seawalls, like the Pier Park beach, are common places for the algae to accumulate.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” he said after the meeting.

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