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Goose poop: A cause or result of algae blooms?

When the people are away, the geese will stay

Staff writer

While tourists and county residents steered clear from Marion Reservoir for 10 weeks this summer due to a blue-green algae bloom, the reservoir had other seasonal guests.

And while they did not pay for a campsite, they waded in the water and waddled in the sand, all while leaving their feces behind — lots of it.

“This isn’t dog poop on the beaches,” reservoir manager Kevin McCoy said, as dogs are not allowed on reservoir beaches. “It’s goose poop.”

Although the resident Canada geese are migratory birds that usually do not remain long, McCoy said he has seen more geese than what is considered normal.

“Just as any other migratory species, this is seasonal,” he said. “They migrate through and move on.”

But with less campers and beach-goers visiting the reservoir, McCoy said he believes geese have extended their stay because of the bloom.

“We did see an extra amount of geese this year because of the blue-green algae situation,” McCoy said. “The beaches were closed, and we found animals filling the space where the people were not.”

Bryan Metz, new Marion County Park and Lake superintendent, said he has only been at the lake for about two weeks, so he does not have a way to compare the amount of geese he has noticed to what a geese population size at the lake may normally look like.

“Right now, there’s just a handful that have been floating around in these small little coves, but the population will definitely get larger as the migration continues south,” Metz said.

The lake has been under a blue-green algae warning for three weeks.

“I think the issues are actually more at the lake than the reservoir,” said Ricky Roberts, Marion County extension agent.

A goose problem?

Charlie Kope, wildlife biologist with Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said he does not suspect the influx of geese to pose any problems to humans or the environment.

“While the feces may be aesthetically unpleasing, it isn’t posing any health risks to humans,” Kope said. “Feces only last two months in the environment. It’s settling or washing out of the system just like everything else. On soil, it rains and it starts to degrade.”

But Kope said goose feces is no different than fertilizers that may potentially be causing algae blooms due to eutrophication, or an excessive amount of nutrients entering the water.

“When you have runoff and fertilizers being applied to land around, eutrophication is occurring and you’re maybe getting blue-green algae, so you have to look at all sources before you decide to blame geese,” Kope said.

Both Roberts and Metz said a confirmed cause of algae blooms is unknown, but they believe geese may be a contributing factor.

“With the body of water that is here and how much waste one goose would provide for the area, I don’t know if that would be a factor or not,” Metz said.

Roberts said the goose problem is very real, but not necessarily the cause of the algae blooms.

“The geese are here and they tend to stay there, so I do think that it’s real,” he said. “I think it contributes to the problem (of algae blooms), but is that the entire problem? No, it’s not. If you got rid of the geese, does it solve the problem? No, not necessarily.

“My point is it can be anybody’s fault. I think that everyone contributes to the problem. I don’t think any one source is going to fix it. It’s not the geese’s fault, it’s everybody’s.”

Moving forward

McCoy said now that the algae warning has been lifted at the reservoir a cleanup event will take place at the beaches since they had been closed and unused by humans for 10 weeks.

“We will clean up what our feathered friends have deposited on human grounds,” he said. “And we’re hoping an increase in people will move the geese to an area away from the beaches people visit.”

In normal visitation years, McCoy said hundreds of people camp and visit the beaches, so geese are scared away and move to less-populated areas.

“Most of the geese will shy away from human uses unless your children are throwing bread in the water,” he said.

Last modified Aug. 31, 2017

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