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CARBONDALE — If there’s one thing cyanobacteria can’t stand, it’s aeration.

The harmful algal blooms, which invaded Campus Lake over the last half-century and have been known to cause neurotoxicity, draw nitrogen from the air in order to grow. But aeration — stirring up their aquatic habitat — interferes with that process, leaving the pesky prokaryotes dead in the water.

In 2016, a massive cleanup effort cleared the lake of over 24,000 tons of odiferous sediment. Left unchecked, the blue-green algae will bounce back, due to the fertilizer that seeps into the lake from 23 storm drains.

Dr. Marj Brooks, associate professor of zoology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and zoology graduate student Rachel Stieger are looking for innovative solutions to circulate the waters of Campus Lake and encourage healthy lifestyles in the process.

On Wednesday, Brooks and Stieger held a kickoff event for their “Sustainable Eco-Recreation” project, which calls on students and community members to design and build wind-, solar- and human-powered recreational activities to keep Campus Lake clean and clear.

Because cyanobacteria is bolstered by high temperatures — and thus by climate change — it’s now a prevalent problem in freshwater ecosystems all over the world. Developing solutions will allow students to build their careers in sustainable design and environmental fields, Brooks said.

“We have this great opportunity now, because we have a natural outdoor laboratory that has undergone a whole lake experiment. Scientifically, that’s a very cool place to be,” she said.

Brooks tossed out several possibilities for projects at Wednesday’s presentation, including a kayaking or paddling obstacle course of fountains placed throughout the lake; pumps hooked up to stationary water cannons; solar-powered underwater lights for moonlight canoeing; and pedal-powered dog washes for pedestrians running or walking with their canine friends — to be used only with eco-friendly, phosphate-free shampoo, of course.

Brooks also raised the possibility of a wetland water treatment, which would prevent wet compost, provide a good habitat for young fish and potentially grow edible wetland plants.

In addition, she encouraged tech-savvy students to consider designing a smartphone or FitBit app that would link cardio workouts to lake health.

“It’s the natural attitude for people to get into water and exercise and explore water, right? That’s just our natural bent. … We’re using the natural ecology of the lakes themselves. All these processes — aeration, nutrient removal, uptake by edible plants, what have you — those are just natural processes. We’re just giving Mother Nature a little boost, and it’s not about chemical control of the lake, which is how people have always tried to do it before.”

The project will be funded by the Student Green Fee, a revenue source for sustainability projects implemented by a campus-wide referendum in 2009.

“Hopefully at the end of (this semester), we’ll have a couple of concrete ideas that we can provide full budgets for in the spring semester for them to do laboratory testing and actually create prototypes that I will then test throughout the course of the summer,” said Stieger.

David Mandell, a senior in zoology, said he was interested in establishing a wetland treatment at the lake because he liked the idea of integrating food production into the project — and because he believes it will enhance the lake aesthetically.

“I used to live by Campus Lake, and for a few years it actually looked fairly nice, when I first came here. And then I noticed it was degrading … and even though I don’t live near there anymore, I still want to fix it,” Mandell said.

For more information or to submit a proposal, contact Stieger at or Brooks at


On Twitter: @janis_eschSI



Janis Esch is a reporter covering higher education.

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