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British students studying Pinto Lake

Posted: Monday, Apr 8th, 2013

University of Liverpool students Holly Craig (from left), Emma Traynor, Alexandra Martin and Rosie Bullers are working with professor John Boyle (center) on a research project at Pinto Lake City Park. (Photos by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLE — Pinto Lake in Watsonville is no more polluted by man-made sources than other lakes. Because of naturally occurring bacteria that plagues it, however, it is considered one of the most toxic lakes in the world.

That’s according to University of Liverpool Dr. John Boyle, who has brought dozens of students to study the lake, and other natural places in Santa Cruz County.

The toxins from the cyanobacteria render fish inedible and the water largely off-limits for a majority of human uses. The blooms produce toxins that are harmful to people and animals and can cause causing skin rashes, nausea, diarrhea and liver and kidney damage.

That has drawn the researchers to the lake for a two-week study session to see what could be causing the algal blooms, and what if anything can be done to reverse them.

This includes measuring the acidity of the water, looking at the sediments floating in the lake and seeing how chemicals leached from redwood and eucalyptus trees might hinder or support the bacteria.

Watsonville City officials have long been concerned about the heavy blooms of blue green algae, known as cyanobacteria, which flourishes during the late spring, summer and fall months.

Recent studies show that 21 southern sea otters in Monterey Bay died from exposure to cyanobacteria toxins, and Pinto Lake was identified as the possible source of those toxins.

The university brought a total of 38 students, who are currently conducting experiments including a study of Watsonville Slough, a look at carbon stores in the redwood forests and a survey of the trees in the city of Santa Cruz.

The school has been coming to study the lake for the past 19 years, trips that have included a look at its depth and source. Through core samples, the students have managed to trace Pinto Lake as far back as A.D. 800.

The group has studied a mysterious rise in the water level of the lake sometime between 1948 and 1952, and has taken a close look at the impacts of Euro-American settlement.

On Friday four of the students assembled their own jury-rigged test kits — called isolation bags — out of common hardware store goods such as garden hoses, plastic bottles, nylon rope and tape.

“The isolation bags will each contain handfuls of eucalyptus bark and leaves or redwoods limbs,” said student Holly Craig. “We hope to learn how the water here will respond to prolonged exposure to these materials. The isolation bags will just float out there.”

Craig added that she is excited to try the Mexican food Watsonville has to offer.

“We’re excited to be here,” she said.

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