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The Greener View: Algae

Jeff Rugg on

Hi, my name is Al G. Greene. We need to talk. I would like to set the record straight about some things you have been saying about me and my cousins, the Browns and the Bluegreens.

First, let us clear up who we are not. We are not duckweed, which is a tiny (by your standards) flowering plant. It takes five or 10 of them to reach 1 inch long. We are also not the many types of underwater plants that some of you mistakenly call seaweed. These guys make your water look green or slimy, and we always seem to get the blame.

We algae come in many thousands of varieties. Some stay as single free-floating cells, and others grow in colonies. Many of us are so small that it would take several thousand to reach 1 inch. Although you cannot see us individually, we are quite beautiful, if you would just take the time to get a microscope and look.

As Kermit, a friend of ours, once sang in a hit song, "It ain't easy being green". We do lots of work for you humans, but everyone else seems to get the credit. For example, most of the Earth is covered with oceans, and in the areas you have not polluted it, the sunlight travels quite a ways down into the water. We algae cells produce most of the world's oxygen and consume most of the carbon dioxide that you do not seem to want.

So, what do you humans do if you want to feel good about the environment? You plant a tree. Yeah, give the tall and good-looking all the credit. Why don't you fix a wetland? We are here to help, you know.

Take a look at one of your small retention ponds. If you get an overload of phosphorus or nitrogen or some other invisible and clear nutrient, you think the water is just fine. We algae cells practically have to climb out of the pond to tell you there's a problem. And what do you do? You run right out to the store and practically grab the clerk by the neck and shout, "Help me! Help me! My pond is green!" Talk about hysterical. You should be thanking us, not killing us.

We filter all of those nutrients out of the water for you and then we grow. But that is not the end of the story. We are attacked by many different kinds of organisms. Some are so small that those of you using glasses to read this are going to need a really big magnifying glass to see them. Many of them are single-celled or otherwise very tiny. Daphnia and fairy shrimp are so large that only a few would be 1 inch long. Many thousands of kinds of insects eat us, too. Some of our enemies are much bigger, like the baby koi and goldfish that you seem to like so much.


In fact, if it were not for us algae cells, virtually none of the other animals could live in your pond. If your pond is so sterile that we cannot grow, neither can your fish, nor flowering plants. If you look at the pond as a food pyramid, we algae cells fill up most of the pyramid. Now, I know that when your pond water is clear, you think we are gone, but we are still there, just waiting for your other plants to go dormant.

You can never get rid of us completely. We can even survive the drinking water process. We can survive the chlorine and bromine you throw at us in swimming pools. We have spores that float in the air looking for more water to raise our children in.

We are one of the most beneficial things you can have in your pond, but just like everything else, you need a balance. If your pond has very few algae predators, go ahead and find some snails and tadpoles to keep our long colonies in balance with your view of aesthetics. The more pieces of the pyramid, the better for all of us. Remember: We are here to help.


Email questions to Jeff Rugg at To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



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