Harmful algae found at Mammoth Cave National Park

MAMMOTH CAVE, Ky.- Researchers at Mammoth Cave are sampling algae around some of the lights after recently discovering the algae is harmful to the ecosystem.

The algae are harmful algal blooms and they release toxins, according to Rick Toomey, Cave Resource Management Specialist and Research Coordinator. 

“Unfortunately that algae is not good for the cave,” said Toomey. 

Toomey, Dr. Tom Byl from the United States Geological Survey, and Tennessee State University grad student Brittaney Hogan want to study it to understand why it’s growing in the cave and how they can reduce it. 

These can be dangerous for swimming in lakes and have caused issues for water systems. And it’s a scary hazard for animals. 

“Cattle are dying if they drink from a pond that has harmful algae blooms. Dogs that go to a park and play in the water for a little while. 2 hours later often they’ll die if they’ve been exposed to the harmful algae blooms,” said Byl. 

The cave offers a unique experience for the researchers- they can study them in a stable habitat because of the lights they put in for the cave tours. 

“Normally you wouldn’t have plants growing here. It’s dark, there’s no light. Plants don’t grow. Other than no light, this is a beautiful little greenhouse,” said Toomey. 

They are not a risk to people in the cave, and are actually an exciting discovery. 

“Wow, we’ve found something that people haven’t seen before,” said Toomey.  

Studying them in this type of environment like the cave helps them to better understand how they work in lakes.