Meet KCI Youth Ambassador Catherine Campbell & Learn About Algal Blooms

    By KCI Youth Ambassador Catherine Campbell

I’m Catherine Campbell, a new ambassador for KCI! I am a 20 year old environmental biology major and my goal is to work in environmental law in the future. I’ve always loved being outdoors and have been fortunate enough to have grown up in an area where I have access to so many different environments. My favorite place growing up was the beach, and I loved getting to see all the sea creatures that lived in the tidepools. However, as I got older I started to notice not only a decline in the number of things I saw in the tidepools, but also in the variety. It wasn’t until I went to high school that I began to understand the ways that climate change was harming the world around me and how to quantify these changes. It was also in high school that I learned that there are ways that individuals can make a difference – that I could make a difference!

There’s no way around it, as it stands our world is in trouble. The challenges it’s facing aren’t a problem for the future or the responsibility of past generations to resolve. They are a problem unfolding now and it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure we save our planet and give future generations the chance to enjoy it the way we have. We as a society are at a critical point in our history where we must define what we stand for and what the environmental legacy we pass on to future generations will be. Although I am aware that combating climate change is no small task, I also know it is doable! That is why I wanted to work with the Kennebunkport Climate Initiative. KCI sends a message that fighting against climate change is important, while making that fight feel accessible and attainable.  

There are endless ways that individuals can get involved, all of which make a difference. What’s so important about KCI and organizations like it is that they provide a safe and interactive platform where individuals can learn about the problems posed by climate change and ways that they can help. There is so much misinformation and a deluge of dismal reports regarding climate change that individuals who want to get involved can feel discouraged or overwhelmed. That is why I wanted to get involved with KCI. I want to help to spread awareness about climate change to as many people as possible and help with community engagement. After all, had it not been for the Gulf of Maine Studies course I took at Kennebunk High School, a program that KCI works with, I would not be pursuing the career I am today.

“There’s no way around it, as it stands our world is in trouble. The challenges it’s facing aren’t a problem for the future or the responsibility of past generations to resolve. They are a problem unfolding now and it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure we save our planet and give future generations the chance to enjoy it the way we have.”


Had it not been for my own exposure to the social science aspect of environmental science I wouldn’t have recognized my interest in environmental policy. KCI was one of the first organizations with which I was familiar that not only stated that it’s important to increase youth involvement in the fight against climate change, but also showed me that what I did actually mattered. If I can help other students recognize their passion or help them incorporate environmental science into their future career I want to. Although I’m just starting as an ambassador, I am excited to see what I can accomplish with KCI!


Algal Blooms: An Overview of Causes and Consequences

When discussing the risks posed to aquatic systems conversations tend to champion either increased acidity or temperature of the ocean, however, the growing threat of algal blooms is often overlooked. Algal blooms pose significant health risks to wildlife and can occur in freshwater, salt water, and a mixture of the two. At this time of incredible ecological disturbance, it is important to understand the risks facing the natural world and understand humans’ role in preventing these situations from occurring.

What is an Algal Bloom?

Algal blooms are not all the same and do not all pose similar risks. In a general sense, algal blooms are sudden, large increases in the amount of algae in a given body of water. This change impacts the water clarity, and can cause water to appear green, yellow, orange, or red, though it isn’t always visible. This coloration comes down to the type of algae. Some blooms are called “toxic blooms” if the aglae releases toxins into their environment, but not all blooms are harmful and not all “harmful blooms” are toxic. Non-toxic blooms that become too extreme can become dangerous. 

Causes of Algal Blooms:

Several things, both natural and relating to human behavior can cause algal blooms, however, human activities can exacerbate natural processes and result in larger blooms. Movement of water, such as reduced water flow from things like droughts (reducing disturbances in the water and increasing light penetration) and ocean upwelling (moving nutrients from the seabed towards the surface), triggering blooms. Additionally, changes in water characteristics like the particulate matter (impacting sunlight penetration through the water column), temperature and pH can also trigger blooms. In general, nutrient availability, temperature, sunlight availability, and pH all influence the survival of photosynthetic organisms. However, human behaviors are known to influence these factors.

Human behaviors, including those that influence climate change, influence water characteristics. Nutrients can be introduced via run-off  from both point and nonpoint sources. A point source is a direct, traceable source, such as a coastal sewage plant or industrial plant, where nonpoint sources refer to more generalized run-off, such as run-off from urban areas. This increase in nutrients is what causes the bloom. Climate change is causing changes in temperature across the globe which can trigger blooms. Fluctuations in pH can also be caused by climate change, as seen in the increase of carbonic acid and the consequent drop in pH in the oceans due to increased amounts of carbon being introduced to the environment. 

Consequences Caused by Harmful Algal Blooms:

Depending on the type of algae as well as the intensity and location of the bloom there can be a variety of negative implications associated with algal blooms. One of the most well known is eutrophication. Eutrophication refers to when an excess of nutrients causes algal growth to an extent that aquatic life is lost. Eutrophication is commonly associated with run-off, and kills life due to an eventual loss of dissolved oxygen. This can occur for a few reasons, including reduction in light penetration and increased decomposition. When algal blooms occur, they increase the number of particles in the water and cause less light to reach the bottom of the body of water. Consequently, plants growing there will experience strain on their photosynthetic outputs and can die if this strain is too great. With this decrease in vegetation comes a decrease in oxygen production. Additionally, it can reduce aquatic animals’ food sources, and may cause them to starve. With increased dead matter available, decomposition can occur at faster rates; however, decomposition uses oxygen, further depleting the supply. When oxygen levels are too low, fish and other aquatic life cannot survive, causing a dead zone. One of the largest and most well known dead zones exists in the Gulf of Mexico, which is attributed to excessive nutrient inputs for agriculture and other human activities.

The Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico

Other factors that may harm aquatic life relate to “toxic blooms.” As the name suggests, toxic blooms generate toxins in a given area. These toxins can harm organisms who are directly exposed, causing illness or death, or they can harm individuals indirectly exposed within a food web. This can cause rippling consequences though food webs and across ecosystems. Also notable is that humans can also be harmed from both types of exposure and can suffer symptoms varying from dermatological to neurological. 

Looking forward:

Algal blooms are an ongoing problem that are likely to gain more attention as climate change continues to cause ecological disruptions while humans are still actively contributing to large amounts of run-off. For more information on algal blooms and the ecological and biological harm, you can access a download to the summary referenced here. Additional resources are provided at the end of the summary. To read the full article on the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico click here



  1. Getchis, T.L., Shumway, S.E. 2017. Harmful Algae: an Executive Summary. Connecticut Sea Grant College Program. CTSG-17-08. 16 pp.
  2. NOAA Forecasts Very Large ‘Dead Zone’ for Gulf of Mexico. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA. 10 June 2019. www.noaa.gov/media-release/noaa-forecasts-very-large-dead-zone-for-gulf-of-mexico.