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< Our Work < Projects < BGSU-HABs < 2023

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Advanced Studies Institute on Water Quality and Harmful Algal blooms in lake victoria, Kenya


2023 Program

2023 Cohort

2023 Program Specifics

2023 Participants

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Dr. Jack Abibo Adem

Research Scientist - Physics

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology (JOOUST)

Bondo, Kenya

East Africa

Research Title

Impact of Water Surface Temperature on the Ecology, Spatial Distribution, Morphological

and Optical properties of CynoHABs in Winam Gulf, Lake Victoria, Kenya.

Lake Victoria is a vital freshwater resource in East and Central Africa. It is the largest fresh water lake in Africa and the third largest Lake in the world.
Its security and the health of the aquatic life are of paramount importance as it supplies the much-needed fresh waters necessary for the human good health and sustainable agriculture. The greatest challenge faced in Lake Victoria is the infestation by the harmful algal blooms (HABs) which are overgrowths of algae. The HAbs produce toxic compounds that are harmful to the environment and to the health of humans, aquatic life and even livestock. The distribution pattern, morphological features, optical properties of CynoHABs-infested water are highly dependent on water surface temperature. In this study, we are going to investigate how increase in water surface temperature affect the ecology, spatial distribution and toxicity patterns of the Microcystis-dominated harmful algal blooms in the Winam Gulf of Lake Victoria, Kisumu Bay. The study will further conduct characterization techniques using various measurements equipment to investigate how increase in temperatures influence the optical properties of the cynoHABs such as irradiance, absorbance, reflectance and transmittance of the water laden with cynoHABS. The collected samples will be subjected to optical characterization using UV-Vis spectrophotometer. The surface morphology will be studied using digital light microscope. The research study will finally try to correlate the spatial distribution density of the cynoHABs and the fish catch in Winam Gulf of lake Victoria. This will be a useful information to the fishermen in Lake Victoria as they will use the mapped pattern and the correlation obtained to increase their catch. The study will eventually boost the general health of the community as there will be increased supply of the much-needed protein for a healthy nation.

Anjana Adhikari

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Ph.D. Student

University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Research Title

Toxin analysis due to limiting factors for diverse CHABs in Green Bay and the Great Lakes

Industry and agriculture-related degradation have imposed nutrient limitations in parts of Lake Michigan, promoting Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (cHABs) and cyanotoxin production. cHABs have significant negative impacts on water quality, human health, and aquatic ecosystems, including fish kills and depletion of oxygen levels in the water. The Nitrogen and Phosphorus (N:P) stoichiometry is observed to steer bloom toxicity, but there is a gap in understanding cHABs development and toxin production. As a first-year Ph.D. student in the Miller Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, my research focuses on analyzing the diversity of CHAB toxins and variation in toxin production with nutrient supply, mainly in the lower region of Green Bay, the largest freshwater estuary in the world. I aim to understand the relationship between nutrients, toxins, peptides, and alkaloids (saxitoxin, anatoxin-a, and cylindrospermopsin) by using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS).

I am involved in the Sea Grant project and analyzing the effects of nutrients and temperature on toxin production using LC-MS/MS. The analysis focuses on understanding the toxicity and dynamics of cHABs, mainly Microcystis, in the three Great Lakes under study: Green Bay of Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and Sandusky Bay of Lake Erie. The analysis and quantification of toxins produced on bioassays will drive the understanding of Great Lakes CHABs as a function of nutrient and temperature limitation on toxin production, and similarities and differences among bloom dynamics across the Great Lakes system.


Research Plan for the Kenya Trip:

Nile perch is the most caught fish in Lake Victoria (LV) and the most exported fish from Kenya, and Dagga is the most consumed fish in the Kenyan territory. We hypothesize that microcystin (MC) binds to protein in fish and that it accumulates and increases in fish tissue over several years. The accumulated concentration of MC in the fish tissue over time has a subsequent impact on socioeconomic health. Protein-bound MC in fish might be due to frequent harmful algal blooms (HABs) might affect the fish population over time. The comparative analysis of the total concentration of microcystin (MC) in the traditionally dried Dagga in 2023 from LV to the concentration of MC present in the tissue of Dagga from 2015-2016 and the MC in freshly caught fish will provide insight into whether MC decreases or increases upon drying. The measurement of MC in the Nile Perch will give an outlook on how much MC gets stored in the fish tissue. The measurement of cyanotoxins in the water where the fish was caught provides a perspective on whether the loaded nutrients result in a higher concentration of MC. Using this method of extraction and mass-spectrometric measurements of cyanotoxins, the augmented MC in the Dagga and Nile perch tissue and HAB will be better understood.

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Trinity Allan

M.S. Candidate

Florida Gulf Coast University

Fort Myers, Florida


Research Title

Aerosolization Potential of Cyanotoxins in Lake Victoria

Cyanobacteria are important primary producers in freshwater environments but can also negatively impact ecosystems through the release of cyanotoxins, especially as the blooms die. These toxins can affect animal and human health if they are ingested, contact skin, or are inhaled as aerosols. Aerosols are small particles of liquid that become suspended in the air through a process called “aerosolization.” Aerosolization can be manmade or occur naturally through wind advection across a water body, turbulence, and waves crashing.

This project will use an air impactor, a device that simulates the human lung, to collect aerosols and test for the presence of toxins across the sampling sites in Winam Gulf. Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) kits will be used to test for toxin presence. We will then compare the results to the concentration of toxins present in the water to assess what percent of released toxins are becoming airborne. The impactor will be deployed as we transit between sites to mimic the aerosolization that occurs through the interaction of fishing boats and the surface of the water to create similar aerosolization conditions that fishermen may be exposed to. This also allows us to determine if there are areas where toxin aerosolization is occurring more frequently across a spatial gradient. These results will then be compared to population density data to determine if the areas of higher toxin aerosolization may be affecting more populous areas.

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Malcolm Barnard

Ph.D. Candidate

Baylor University

Waco, Texas


Research Title

Biogeochemical signatures of harmful algal blooms: a combined isotope geochemical, experimental, and whole system limnological approach

As the global human population continues to increase nutrient pollution of aquatic ecosystems, excessive inputs of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) have accelerated eutrophication, the process of increasing organic enrichment, include harmful algal bloom (HAB) formation. These alterations to ecosystem biogeochemistry have led to a positive feedback loop of deleterious environmental effects, including increasingly higher nutrient reduction requirements, higher toxicity, and further proliferation of HABs. To understand the biogeochemical signatures of the Kisumu Bay HABs, I propose a combined experimental and measurement based approach. Given that very little is known about the roles of B vitamins on freshwater HABs, I am proposing running nutrient and B vitamin addition bottle experiments looking at the effects of N, P, and B vitamin limitation on community composition, toxin production, and HAB nutrient biogeochemistry. For the non-experimental samples, nutrient, photopigment, flow cytometry, electron microscopy, and ICP-MS trace metal samples will be collected. Additionally, I plan to study the heterogeneity of the air quality above the Lake Victoria blooms using a PurpleAir PA-II air quality monitor mounted on the bow of the research vessel. By pairing the research vessel’s GPS track with the air quality data, we can look at how the spatial heterogeneity of HAB-influenced air quality metrics. With these sampling and experimental efforts, we will be able to better understand how the Lake Victoria biogeochemistry affects the Kisumu Bay, Lake Victoria HABs and how the HABs affect the GeoHealth of the system.

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Mercy Chepkirui

Ph.D. Candidate

Kisii University

Kisii, Kenya

Research Title

Effects of harmful algal blooms on fish diversity and distribution

within the Winam Gulf, Lake Victoria Kenya

Research Assistant

Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute

Kisii, Kenya

East Africa

Lake Victoria is highly eutrophic as a result of degrading water quality. This is indicated by the presence of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) formed by cyanobacteria of genus Microcystis. HABs negatively impact aquatic life including fish, water quality, humans and levels of dissolve oxygen. They also affect recreational activities, aesthetics, taste and odor of water. Fish demand is growing steadily in Kenya due to increased awareness on white meat coupled with its affordability and delicacy. Therefore, impacts of HABs of fisheries community is a growing area of interest. The widespread and occurrence of HABs greatly affect fishing industry due to depletion of dissolved oxygen and production of harmful toxins. Further, among the factors influencing the occurrence and magnitude of HABs and production of Microcystis is poorly understood and vary from time to time. Therefore, my research interest aimed at understanding the effects of HABs on fish diversity and distribution as well as key drivers, magnitude of its production and occurrence. I also intent to identify possible mitigation strategies and policies to reduce the production of HABs within the Gulf. This study involve collection of data on HABs, water quality, fish diversity. Mapping of HABs magnitude and associated environmental drivers will help management to delineate hot-spots and comprehensively design best strategies and policies for mitigating eutrophication severity in Lake Victoria Kenya. Awareness creation involving relevant management units, policy makers and locals will be involve. Therefore, just like any other ecosystem, Lake Victoria is undergoing ecological changes over time and thus there is need for continuous assessment and monitoring.

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Lauren Hart

Ph.D. Candidate

University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, Michigan


Research Title

Metagenomic and Metabolomic Analysis of Cyanotoxins in Freshwater CyanoHABs: A comparative study between Lake Victoria and Western Lake Erie

Cyanobacteria harmful algal blooms (cyanoHABs) and their toxins are one of the most critical environmental challenges facing global surface water resources and will worsen as climate variability increases. With approximately 40 percent of Earth’s surface water being held collectively in the Great Lakes of North America and Africa, it is vital to study the proliferation of cyanoHABs to glean similarities and differences in the patterns amongst these blooms worldwide.

Within cyanoHABs, various cyanobacterial species and strains with differing abilities to produce complex and unique mixtures of toxic oligopeptides and organic molecules proliferate. The composition of cyanobacterial species and strains, as well as associated microbial organisms, in cyanoHABs vary as a result of location, seasonal and interannual variation, nutrient scenarios, physical parameters, and many other abiotic and biotic factors. In addition, each cyanobacterial strain has a unique makeup of biosynthetic gene clusters (BGCs), encoding the ability to produce specific compositions of bioactive, and often toxic, organic molecules. To track the microbial taxonomic makeup within cyanoHABs, the BGC composition of bloom-forming cyanobacterial strains, and the toxic molecules produced by cyanobacteria, metagenomics and metabolomics can be employed in conjunction with the collection of nutrient measurements and other abiotic factors in the lake. This multi-omic approach will be utilized in the Western Basin of Lake Erie, USA and Lake Victoria, Kenya to identify patterns of biosynthetic capability and synthesis that are correlated with certain abiotic and biotic factors such as nutrient scenarios or microbial community composition within the bloom. The results of this multi-omic, comparative study will provide microbial, BGC, and metabolomic characterization of cyanoHABs in Lake Victoria and Lake Erie, and produce hypotheses about what environmental factors may be driving the proliferation of more toxic cyanobacterial species in cyanoHABs.

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Nusrat Nasrin Khan

Ph.D. Student / Graduate Research Associate

School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment

Arizona State University

Tempe, Arizona


Research Title

Contemplating nutrient source contribution and socio-economical

aspects of algal bloom management

Anthropogenic eutrophication resulting from excessive nutrient input causes toxic, hypoxia-generating, and food web-altering algal bloom in Western Lake Erie. This harmful algal bloom deteriorates water quality and negatively impacts aquatic ecosystems and human health. One of the African Great Lakes, Lake Victoria is Africa's largest lake by area which suffers from harmful algal blooms. Despite having different climatic conditions, socio-economic standpoint, and land cover between these two lakes, observing and contemplating the bloom dynamics in both the Lakes can be substantially beneficial. Understanding the contribution of the sources of nutrients can be useful for implementing best management practices. The aim of this research study is to advance fundamental understanding of the role of agricultural management in driving harmful algal biomass, nutrient loading, and toxin concentration. For this, a categorization of nutrients inputs in terms of source perspective will be suggested for providing explicit assessment of source contribution to Lake Victoria. The knowledge acquired from Lake Victoria can be compared with Lake Erie and conservative measurement for nutrient management can be re-equipped to better handle water quality in the Great Lakes.

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Maggie Menso

MSc Student

Bowling Green State University

Bowling Green, Ohio


Research Title

Assessing benthic HAB assemblages and toxicity and their relation to human

activities in Lake Victoria

Like the Laurentian Great Lakes, Lake Victoria frequently interfaces with human activities and has experienced large population growth over the last 60 years. The presence of cities, waste dumping, and fertilizer runoff have greatly impacted the ecosystem in Lake Victoria. Additionally, Lake Victoria has faced algal blooms and the invasion of different fish and plants. Because of the already prevalent algal blooms, it is crucial to also explore the benthic algal populations of Lake Victoria. On this trip, I will be analyzing these benthic assemblages and monitoring toxins present. I will be interested to see the effects of human activities, particularly urbanization, and how that plays a role in the assemblages present in Lake Victoria.

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Martha Moseti

MSc Candidate

Maasai Mara University

Narok County, Kenya

East Africa

Research Title

Assessment spatio-temporal changes in phytoplankton species diversity, distribution and abundance in ephemeral water bodies in Narok, Kenya.

This research aims at providing knowledge on phytoplankton dynamics in small lentic water bodies and also determine effects of land use changes on phytoplankton abundance and diversity hence determine if Harmful Algal Blooms are present (HABs depletes dissolved oxygen in the water leading to death of aquatic organisms and also they produce toxins which are harmful to people and animals) and provide data that can inform management of the water resources.

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Julia Akinyi Obuya

Ph.D. Candidate

Maseno University

Kisumu, Kenya

Research Assistant

Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute

Kisumu, Kenya

East Africa

Research Title

Response of small-scale fishing communities to Harmful Algal Blooms in Lake Victoria, Kenya

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are a global environmental issue that affects both marine and freshwater ecosystems. These blooms are caused by the rapid growth and accumulation of certain species of algae, often due to excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, in the water. Harmful algal blooms can produce toxins that are harmful to humans and marine life, leading to economic and ecological impacts. The impact of HABs on local communities is a growing area of research interest. As HABs become more frequent and widespread, communities that depend on affected water bodies for fishing, domestic use, recreation, and tourism are particularly vulnerable. HABs can lead to beach closures, loss of income for fishermen and businesses, and impacts on public health. My research interest lies in understanding how HABs impact the social and economic well-being of the small-scale fishing communities in Lake Victoria, Kenya. Additionally, it aims to identify potential strategies to mitigate the occurrence of HABs and their impact on the environment and communities. Community-based monitoring programs have been developed in some regions to help track the occurrence and spread of HABs, but these programs are lacking in major Great Lakes, including Lake Victoria. These programs involve training community members to collect data on water quality and the presence of HABs. By engaging local communities in HAB monitoring and management, these programs can help build awareness and promote action to address the issue. Overall, research on HABs and community impacts highlights the need for interdisciplinary approaches that combine ecological and social science perspectives to develop effective management strategies that protect both human health and the environment.

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Tonny Achieng

Kisii University

Kisii, Kenya

Research Title

Identification of Algae


Pamela Okutoyi

PSc Candidate

Technical University of Kenya

Nairobi, Kenya

Research Title

Application of Trophic State Indices and Development of the Phytoplankton Quotients for Nyanza Gulf

Nyanza Gulf is currently exhibiting characteristic symptoms of eutrophication, evidenced by mats of floating macrophytes, high turbidity, oxygen depletion, and changing phytoplankton community structure. Despite all these changes, no phytoplankton quotients nor trophic state indices have been developed or calculated for Nyanza Gulf. Effective management of water quality and lake pollution is only possible with improved scientific understanding of the limnological and hydrological aspects of the lake and anthropogenic effects on the lake environment.

The aim of this research is to determine the trophic levels of Nyanza gulf waters as well as develop phytoplankton quotients. The results will provide a sound scientific understanding of the water quality and pollution levels in different parts of the Nyanza Gulf as well as providing insights on mitigation measures.


The findings from this research will be ideal in informing decision makers to take appropriate action of managing the Nyanza gulf waters. Additionally, the HABs research will be a key resource for me to advance my climate change advocacy by availing the right and necessary solutions on my Magazine, The Eco-Mindset, for the Lake Region people to take part in Climate Action.

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Lisa Radock

Earth Science Teacher

Fort LeBoeuf School District

Erie, Pennsylvania


Research Title

Water Quality and Watershed Integrity Curriculum 

Raising awareness of environmental issues is important to maintaining and establishing beneficial policies and practices. My project is to build and share K-12 curriculum to educate our next generation on water issues, including comparing North America and Kenya. My project will include interviews discussing challenges to improving water quality and specific details about the 2023 research projects.

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