Pond scum! Prospect Park’s lake has a really gross sheen

Pond scum! Prospect Park’s lake has a really gross sheen
Photo by Anne-Katrin Titze

The Parks Department spent much of the past three days denying reports that deadly green bacteria have overwhelmed the Prospect Park lake — but then revealed this week that biologists are testing the scum to determine the full extent of the threat.

Park advocates say the thick, rapidly multiplying slime has scared off wildlife, put pooches at risk — and possibly poisoned an animal found dead in the lake on Sunday.

“It’s sick,” said park advocate Ed Bahlman. “There’s a complete lack of care for this lake.”

Scientists have not yet confirmed the strand of scum, which was first reported by our sister publication, the New York Post. But the men and women in the white jackets admitted that it might be cyanobacteria, otherwise known as blue-green algae, which can make humans sick and kill animals.

That’s what worries Bahlman, who discovered the corpse of a rabbit-sized creature covered in the gunk.

“A mammal doesn’t die in a body of water unless it’s sick,” he said. “It’s very suspicious.”

Since May, the pea soup-colored substance has grown visibly thicker as park watchdogs report fewer egrets, herons and other fish-eating birds at the lake. It could be an indication that the feathered creatures aren’t comfortable with multiplying level of the slime.

Life on Earth would be unthinkable without algae — oxygen-producing organisms ranging from single-celled bacteria to more-sophisticated life forms such as seaweed. But too much of even a good thing, or even a little toxic cyanobacteria, can cut off oxygen to aquatic life, kill fish and poison waterfowl. Algae can also cause humans skin rashes and respiratory problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Park Department spokeswoman Vickie Karp said that activists were “making a tempest out of a teapot,” though later admitted that agency biologists will test the bacteria to determine if it’s harmful. For now, though, she said there’s no reason for alarm.

“It’s just scum in a pond,” she said. “It’s natural.”

Prospect Park Alliance spokesman Paul Nelson added the group has been monitoring levels of the slime for years. “It is not a significant threat to public safety at this point,” he said. “Nature is not always pretty and clean and neat.”

Park-goers aren’t taking any chances.

Satdarshan Khalsa, whose Beagle-mix tried to hop in the water on Monday, said he now has a new rule for his pup.

“She’s not jumping in the lake until we get a definitive answer [from the city],” he said. “We’ll stay away from the water.”

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.

It is unclear if the foul conditions caused the death of this unidentified mammal.
Photo by Anne-Katrin Titze