Fred Dillon, stormwater coordinator for the city of South Portland, in front of the lower pond at Hinckley Park. Dillon is cautioning dog owners to keep their pets out of the water due to concerns about a toxic algae. Sean Murphy / For The Forecaster

SOUTH PORTLAND—Officials are warning dog lovers to keep their pets out of both the upper and lower ponds at Hinckley Park, after discovering what may be a toxic algae that can prove fatal to canines.

Fred Dillon, the city’s stormwater coordinator, said officials monitoring the ponds recently discovered spots of blue/green algae, and posted pictures to the city’s Facebook page.

“It’s a small outbreak at this point,” he said.

Still, Dillon said he and other city officials are taking no chances, as the algae could be carrying cyanotoxins, which can be dangerous to local pets that often swim in the ponds in the summertime.

“If they ingest a blob of that algae, it could be deadly,” he said.

Linda Bacon, an aquatic ecologist and leader of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Lake Assessment section, said she hasn’t yet tested a sample, but is working with the city to get a sample to the state to confirm Dillon’s suspicions. Based on the photos, Bacon said it matches the algae that appeared in the ponds in the summer of 2019.

“It looks like a very young version of what we saw last year,” she said.

Bacon said the algae release the cyanotoxins as they decay, making the algae itself and the water in the immediate area dangerous to animals, which can suffer liver and nervous system damage.

Bacon said many bodies of water in Maine, such as Sabbatus Pond, Unity Pond and China Lake, are all waters “that have algal blooms in a somewhat chronic matter.”

South Portland officials are concerned about a green algae, seen here, that is growing in the ponds of Hinckley Park. The algae could be fatal to dogs that accidentally ingest it. Courtesy / city of South Portland

Dillon said algae is common in almost every natural body of water, especially in warmer months. Algae feed off phosphorous, which is a chemical that, in excess, can cause an increase of algae and large aquatic plants and can result in decreased levels of dissolved oxygen. Dillon noted the park is popular for dog walkers, and that dog waste and dirt kicked into the water by the dogs when they jump in could be adding excess phosphorous to the water.

“We think the dogs are a big part of it,” he said.

But Dillon is not looking to ban dogs from the area. Instead, he introduced a set of stairs to the lower pond to encourage animals not to jump from the shore. He said he is also applying for state or federal grants to pay for restoring vegetation along the shoreline, which will prevent excess dirt, and therefore phosphorous, from getting into the water. That, he said, along with educating pet owners to control their dogs and pick up after them, will help keep the algae from getting out of control.

“We need to do both,” he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, signs clearly warned visitors to the park to keep their animals out of the water, while a number of local residents were walking their dogs along the park’s trails. Frank Turek, of Portland, said he and Elsie, a black-and-white great Dane, are regular visitors, but he’s not worried about the algae.

“My dog doesn’t go in the water,” he said.

Asia Hill, of South Portland, was walking her dog, Rebbie, along the shoreline, but no closer.

“We just keep her on the leash and out of the water,” Hill said. “She would love to swim, but no way.”

Sean Murphy 780-9094

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