Winnebago Waterways works to speed up blue-green algae bloom detection from days to minutes

Through October the Alliance is looking to test as many samples as they can to make their AI technology stronger.
Published: Sep. 3, 2021 at 5:30 PM CDT
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APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) - The Winnebago Waterways program of the Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance has partnered with BloomOptix, Ramboll, and Opseyes to help develop a technology to identify blue-green algae blooms more quickly.

Now through October, the Alliance is looking to test as many samples as they can to make their AI technology stronger.

“When I heard about this project I was like, ‘Yes!’ The Winnebago has so many issues and it can get gross in the summer, and this would be perfect for the area,” Emily Henrigillis, the Winnebago Waterways program coordinator, said.

They are asking for community help to capture samples. Water samples can be collected in any type of container and can be dropped off at the Fox-Wolf office, 526 W. Wisconsin Ave., Suite 2E, in Appleton. Samples can be brought in on Mondays and Thursdays from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

From the samples, the team will create slides, take pictures, and send them to their partners for further work. The images will be used to teach artificial intelligence to recognize cyanobacteria (blue-green algae).

“We like it about an inch below the water. You take a sample, you cap it and you can bring it to the health department Mondays and Thursdays and I will take a picture of it for you,” Henrigillis said.

The goal is to teach the AI to identify harmful algae blooms in 10 minutes rather than 1-2 days. The process will aid in fewer beach closures and better education on algae blooms.

“This is still in the development phase, but they are hoping they then can work with counties, cities, health departments to use this system to alert people better,” Henrigillis said.

Blue green algae can be dangerous for people and animals if ingested. The remind volunteers to take precautions to protect yourself from potentially harmful algae blooms. This includes wearing gloves and potentially a mask and waders. While harmful blooms are not typically dermal (skin) reactive they can be harmful through aerosol dispersal.

The BloomOptix, Ramboll, Opseyes team previously used the algae bloom technology to identify harmful bacteria in wastewater treatment plants.

For any questions regarding sample collection, contact Emily Henrigillis at emily@fwwa.org or 920-851-6472.

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