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< Our Work < Projects < BGSU-HABs

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An NSF funded program

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

An NSF-IRES funded program facilitated by BGSU, KiSII University, Technical University of Kenya, Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute and the African Center for Aquatic research and education

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Bowling Green State University, Kisii University, Kenya, Technial University of Kenya, the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, and the African Center for Aquatic Research and Education, are participating in an NSF-International Research Experience for Students-funded, cross-cultural project aimed at providing U.S. students the opportunity to gain international research experience. The project will focus on large lake-comparison to study harmful algal blooms on Lake Victoria, in Kenyan waters and other large lakes, specifically, Lake Erie.

The program invites Masters- and Ph.D.-level U.S. students, and Kenyan counterparts, to apply for the program. It runs from 2021-2024. There is a three-week sampling/field component in Lake Victoria which will be conducted using KMFRI vessels and facilities in the waters of Lake Victoria, Kenya. 

If you are a student studying freshwater cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (CHABs) (or closely related studies) on large freshwater lakes (with a preference for Lake Erie), we welcome you to apply to this program. Please carefully read the description of the program and determine if you meet the program criteria.

Click here to apply.

The Program


Program Background & Importance

The North American and African Great Lakes are vital global freshwater resources. These lakes contain nearly half of the world’s available surface fresh water and therefore the security and health of these lakes is critically important especially as freshwater supplies continue to dwindle globally.  One of the most prevalent concerns is human-influenced nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) pollution that causes a phenomenon known as a harmful algal bloom.  Harmful algal blooms are overgrowths of algae that can have negative impacts to the environment and/or the health of humans, pets or cattle due to the toxic compounds that can be produced.  Freshwater cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (CHABs) have become more prevalent worldwide over the past few decades. They occur in lakes, ponds, rivers and reservoirs across all 50 states and in many of the world’s most socioeconomically-important waterbodies. Lakes Victoria (African Great Lake) and Erie (North American Great Lake) are the 3rd and 11th largest lakes by surface area and both have regions that are plagued by toxic harmful algal blooms.  Western Lake Erie and Kisumu Bay, Nyanza Gulf, Lake Victoria are similar in that they are both shallow systems that experience heavy nutrient pollution, which results in annual Microcystis-dominated toxic harmful algal blooms.  However, they are different in that Lake Erie is a temperate system dominated by agricultural nutrient pollution, whereas Kisumu Bay is a tropical system that receives a mixture urban and agricultural nutrient pollution.  While much is known about the ecology of the Microcystis-dominated blooms in western Lake Erie, little is known about the ecology, spatial distribution and toxicity patterns of the Microcystis-dominated harmful algal blooms in Kisumu Bay. The Advanced Studies Institutes will provide US graduate students the opportunity to expand their research on water quality and harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie to Lake Victoria. Their research will help fill critical knowledge gaps on the similarities and differences between the blooms that occur in each lake to help us better understand the ecological strategies that Microcystis and other cyanobacteria use to form blooms in fresh waters across the globe.  Furthermore, the participating graduate students will have the opportunity to learn about Kenyan culture and begin to develop their international collaborations by conducting joint research projects with their Kenyan peers and mentors.

This is a three-year program (2021-2024). Each Advanced Study Institute (ASI) will provide the opportunity for 10 US graduate students per year to participate and will each last three weeks each January.  We plan to hold this course during January for several reasons. First, Kenya does not have the four season cycle that we are accustomed to in the midwestern United States, but rather the typical wet-dry climate of tropical environments.  In Kenya, January is known for clear, hot days, warm nights and intermittent rain. These conditions are well-suited for cyanoHAB development so we can be reasonably sure the bloom will be present. Furthermore, this timeframe will not overlap with the typical Lake Erie CHAB season and will accommodate students from universities that have a winter session.


Each ASI will include lectures by US and Kenyan scientists, two 5-day research cruises onboard the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute research vessel R.V. Uvumbuzi, followed by laboratory analysis of samples. Every US student will be teamed with a Kenyan graduate student who has a mutual research interest. The student teams will collaborate with their US and Kenyan mentors to develop experimental plans and the teams will give joint presentations during the ASI.  Each team will co-author a scientific presentation that will be given by the US student at an international conference post-ASI. The impact of the ASIs will be broadened by developing innovative contributions to STEM education including training STEM educators.  Students participating in the ASIs will help develop a case study that explores the top-down and bottom-up controls of cyanoHABs in Nyanza Gulf.  This will include discussing culturally-relevant topics such as the influence of point- and non-point nutrient sources, while incorporating all results from the ASI projects. 


This Lake Victoria/Lake Erie comparative study program will address fundamental research questions that can inform studies on Microcystis-dominated HABs as they occur elsewhere across the globe.  Below, are four broad research topics we hope to address through the ASIs. Withing each topic we describe potential projects that the students could participate in. However, as we want the ASIs to be a student-led research effort, we strongly encourage students to think creatively to design their own projects using the information listed below only as a guide in preparing their applications:


Is the diversity of Microcystis similar in the two lakes, or are there potential distinct  ecotypes present in a temperate dimictic lake vs. a tropical monomictic system?

  • Investigate the spatial diversity of Nyanza Gulf cyanoHAB populations using traditional limnological methods and advanced molecular tools.

  • Determine the spatial extent and viability of sediment Microcystis seed-stocks in Nyanza Gulf

  • Examine spatial patterns of toxic and nontoxic Microcystis genotypes

Do the cyanoHABs in the two lakes respond differently to nutrient availability, changes in temperature and irradiance?

  • ​Investigating the role of different concentrations and forms of nitrogen and phosphorus on Nyanza Gulf -dominated cyanobacterial populations.

  • Understanding the impact that increasing water temperatures has on the structure and function of Nyanza Gulf cyanoHABs

Is the extent of viral lysis, parasitism and grazing to constrain cyanoHABs comparable in the two lakes?

  • Determining the role of microzooplankton and mesozooplankton in top-down control of Nyanza Gulf Microcystis populations.

  • Investigate the role of fungal parasites and viruses on the structure and function of Microcystis populations in Nyanza Gulf.

Are there other, non-microcystin cyanobacterial secondary metabolites or other pathogenic bacteria present that could pose additional threats to ecosystem function?

  • Determine the presence and abundance of saxitoxin, cylindrospermopsin and anatoxin-producing cyanobacteria in Nyanza Gulf.

  • Investigate the spatial distribution of pathogenic bacteria, such as E. coli, within the Nyanza Gulf Microcystis-dominated bloom.

Answers to these and other related questions will provide useful information that can help in the subsequent development of cyanoHAB management plans for the bay.

Program Description

The Program

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ASI-HABs 2022
Program description and cohort
Program description and application
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ASI-HABs 2023

Partners and Contacts

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Dr. George S. Bullerjahn, Professor and Director 

NIEHS/NSF Great Lakes Center for Fresh Waters and Human Health

Bowling Green State University

My work is currently focused on enumeration and the physiological performance of phototrophs and ecologically important chemolithotrophs in aquatic systems. Specifically, I examine the composition and dynamics of cyanobacterial and nitrifying communities in freshwater environments, focusing primarily on the N and P cycles in the Laurentian Great Lakes and other large lake systems. These studies assist in the assessment of factors contributing to toxic cyanobacterial bloom events in freshwaters.


Kefa M. Otiso, PhD.

Professor of Geography

Professor of Service Excellence (2017-2020)

School of Earth, Environment and Society (SEES)

Bowling Green State University

Kefa M. Otiso is Professor of Geography and Director of the Global Village at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA. His research and teaching interests are in urban, economic, population, and cultural geography in the context of Africa and North America.  He is co-author of Population Geography: Problems, Concepts, and Prospects, 10th Edition (Kendall Hunt Publishing, Dubuque, IA, 2013) and author of Culture and Customs of Tanzania (Greenwood Press, 2013), Culture and Customs of Uganda (Greenwood Press, 2006) and many refereed journal articles, book chapters, and editorials.


Dr. Robert Michael McKay

Executive Director

Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research

University of Windsor

Dr. McKay is an Adjunct Professor at BGSU and serves as the Executive Director of the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Windsor, Canada. Over 20+ years working on the Laurential Great Lakes, Professor McKay has contributed to the field of environmental microbiology to advance our current understanding of nutrient cycling and the dynamics of algal blooms. He is the author of over 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts and currently serves as an investigator on grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, U.S. National Science Foundation, and the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.


Kisii University

Kisii, Kenya, East Africa


Dr. Reuben Omondi

Research Scientist and Lecturer

Kisii University

Dr. Reuben Omondi is a lecturer of limnology in the Department of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, Kisii University, Kenya. His research interests include limnology, aquatic ecology and fisheries with a bias on zooplankton and macrophytes. Before becoming a lecturer, he worked as a research scientist at Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute and focused on many freshwater systems in the country. He is an active member of East African Water Association (EAWA) and has published widely on freshwater ecosystems in Kenya. He received his BSc from the University of Nairobi, MSc from Moi University and PhD from Egerton University.


Dr. Anakalo Shitandi

Professor of Microbiology

Head of Research and Extension

Kisii University

Dr. Anakalo Shitandi is a full Professor of Microbiology with a doctorate degree from SLU-Uppsala, Sweden. He has been engaged in research teaching for 25 years in the broad field of biosciences. He currently serves as the Head of Research and extension at Kisii University since 2013. His research interests seek to develop understanding on uses of bioactive compounds from plant matrixes.His work in extension coordinates the engagement of both social and natural scientists with diverse communities in South Western Kenya. These efforts help to build capacity locally and internationally to enhance livelihoods.


Dr. Owuor Bethwell

Senior Lecturer

Biological Sciences Department

Kisii University

Dr. Owuor is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences, School of Pure and Applied Sciences at Kisii University. His engagement in research spans nineteen years in the area of Biotechnology with extensive experience in developing mixed biotechnologies for health and environment. Dr. Owuor has a PhD in Biotechnology from the University of Nairobi. 


Professor Albert Getabu

Professor of Fisheries 

Kisii University

Prof. Albert Getabu is a professor of fisheries in Kisii University. Before becoming a lecturer, he worked as a research scientist at Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute. He has a wide experience in fresh water research with a bias on fisheries and limnology. He obtained his BSc and  MSc at the University of  Nairobi and PhD in Fisheries studies from the University of Hull, U.K. Lake Malawi/Nyasa/Niassa. 

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Technical University of Kenya

Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa


Dr. Lewis Sitoki

Senior Lecturer

Department of Geo-Sciences and the Environment

Technical University of Kenya

Dr. Sitoki is a member of the regional environmental working group of Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization. His research interests include natural resource management, water quality analysis, HABs, aquatic science, phytoplankton ecology and taxonomy, algal toxin analysis, climate change, sustainable development and green economy. He is the lead consultant in environmental impact assessment (EIA) and EA with National Environment Management Authority.


Professor James Njiru, Ph.D.


Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute

Prof. James Njiru has a wealth of experience in Fisheries Research and Academia. He started his career as an Assistant Research Officer in KMFRI in 1989 where he rose to a Senior Research Officer before he moved to Moi University in 2005 as a lecturer; Associate Professor in the department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, University of Eldoret, Chepkoilel beginning 2012; and various responsibilities as a Head of Department, Director of undergraduate Studies and as the Director for Post-graduate studies at Kisii University from 2014. He is widely published, has authored 35 children books with four approved by the Ministry of Education in its curriculum, been a team leader on many research projects, and is the current Managing Editor of the East African Journal of Water Association and a reviewer of four peer reviewed journals.

Prof. Njiru is the secretary to the Aquatic Science Association of Kenya.

He is a graduate of Moi University with a BSc in Zoology, Botany and Chemistry, MSc in Aquatic Science, Fish Biology and Ecology from the University of British Columbia, Canada. He obtained his Ph.D from Moi University in the same field.

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Dr. Ken Drouillard


Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, School of the Environment

Ken Drouillard is an ecotoxicologist and Professor with the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER), University of Windsor.  He is co-director of the GLIER Organic Analytical and Nutrient Laboratory, an internally accredited facility specializing in trace organic contaminant analysis and nutrients. His research focuses on the fate and bioaccumulation of toxic organic compounds in aquatic systems, implementation of enhanced monitoring programs for geospatial analysis of sediment and water contamination and application of individual-based and food web bioaccumulation models as decision support tools for site restoration and human health risk assessments related to the consumption of contaminated fish.  With the School of the Environment, University of Windsor, Ken teaches courses in ecotoxicology, policy courses related to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and future sustainability of water resources related to the Global Water Crisis.

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Dr. Ted Lawrence

Executive Director

African Center for Aquatic Research and Education

​Ted completed his Ph.D. at the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan; his research focused on governance and management of fresh-water fishery resources through formal rules and institutions, specifically he looked at co-management fishery institutions on Lake Victoria, East Africa. Ted has been the Communications and Policy Specialist at the bi-national Canadian-U.S. Great Lakes Fishery Commission where he helped implement collaborative science and management on the North American Great Lakes.

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