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USM professors bring environmental insights to media reports

Theo Willis and Ike Levine

The health of Maine’s lakes and the rebirth of a Maine river led to recent media appearances by two University of Southern Maine professors.

Professor Ira "Ike" Levine

On WCSH-TV, University of Southern Maine Professor Ira "Ike" Levine warned that blue-green algal blooms popping up across the nation — including a number of Maine lakes — may be of concern to pets, to some extent, humans.

"These algae are ubiquitous, they're everywhere," Levine, who teaches in Natural and Applied Sciences USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College, told Portland-based NewsCenter Maine.

The algae, known as cyanobacteria, contains deadly toxins, said Levine, who is also president of The Algae Foundation. In humans, contact with the algae can cause a rash, fever or sickness and, for pets and some humans, it can be fatal.

The algae is not as prevalent in Maine as warmer climates, such as North Carolina, where several dogs have reportedly died after coming in contact with it.

"You can get contact dermatitis, all the way up to death," Levine said. "Algae can be your best friend but unfortunately they can also cause quite a bit of illness."

But, Levine says there isn’t reason to panic. He recommends safety collecting a water sample if you feel you’ve come across an algal bloom.

"I don't think it's something truly to be concerned, vigilant yes, but I wouldn't not go in the water of what's happening in North Carolina." Levine said.

Professor Theo Willis

University of Southern Maine researcher and faculty member Theo Willis talked at length with the American Journal about the removal of the Presumpscot River Dam and the resulting emergence of new wildlife.

Fish, birds, flies and the river bottom itself will likely change, slowly, as nature reasserts itself, Willis told reporter Chance Viles of the American Journal.

"This is a small section of the 20-mile river that at one point had nine to 10 dams on it," Willis told Viles. "It was essentially broken into 2-mile chunks. We are taking this one chunk out with fish passage, so this is the furthest up (the river) a fish has been able to get for nearly 300 years."

Some of the sights will be small, such as the emergence of mayflies up river. Others could be magnificent.

"If you are at the fish ladder the right time of year it's amazing," he said. "You have heron, gulls and eagles that are attracted to the runs. When the salmon come upstream it attracts other fish so you may see striped bass up there, herons that eat the juveniles and adults. It will be a spectacle in the middle of an urban environment. We are making guesses though, each water project is different in a way."

Willis serves as part of the research faculty of the USM Department of Environmental Science and Policy.