Winnipeg student to confront algae blooms at international competition

Manitoba student Baljot Rai may have found a way to address a growing problem in our province’s waterways, and he’s hoping to take it all the way to Sweden.

The project in question is one which uses a problem to confront another.

Having won a national competition over the weekend in Edmonton, Rai is hoping to take his findings to the next level. His project looks at how to take excess phosphorus out of Lake Winnipeg, which is causing blue-green algae blooms, using shells from the province’s waterways.

The Grade 11 student crushed and processed blue mussel shells in a lab, then applied the powder to samples which were adjusted to mimic the water of Lake Winnipeg.

He found it absorbed approximately 60 per cent of the phosphorus from the water through a bind with the mussels’ calcium carbonate, bringing the levels close to that of a healthy body of water.

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“By reducing that high amount of phosphorus from the waterbody we’re essentially able to reduce the growth of blue-green algae,” Rai told Global News’ Iris Dyck.

Rai’s experiment initially earned him a prize at the Bison Regional Science Fair, held each year in Manitoba. Top earners are then invited to compete in the Canada-Wide Science Fair, which was held in the Alberta capital this year.

The St. Paul’s High School student was one of three finalists chosen for the Canadian Stockholm Junior Water Prize at the annual competition. If his project is picked based on a submitted report, he will compete for the prize in Sweden later this summer.

Blue-green algae is becoming a problem in the inland ocean, Rai said. The bacteria harm marine life as their blooms don’t allow for light penetration, killing surface materials. It can also be toxic to fish, animals and humans, causing rashes and other illnesses.

Click to play video: 'Water warning after pet dies from suspected blue-green algae exposure in Alberta'

Water warning after pet dies from suspected blue-green algae exposure in Alberta

Rai speculates blue-green algae will also impact the economy in Manitoba as fishers and tourists will avoid waterways when blooms are at their worst.

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If the project is picked, it could use crushed zebra mussels — another growing problem in Lake Winnipeg — effectively addressing two issues at once.

Ten years ago Lake Winnipeg was named as one of the world’s most threatened lakes. The growing problem of algae blooms and zebra mussels demands more attention, Rai said.

“That’s really what science is all about, it’s about discovering solutions to the problems that our world faces,” he said.

One of Rai’s mentors agrees.

“Science is a life skill,” said Dr. Anju Bajaj, a STEM educator at Holy Cross School and founder of the Bison Regional Science Fair.

“We need to do it … we can’t stay away from science.”

The Bison science fair, which awards prizes in a number of categories, took their top contenders to represent Team Bison at the CWSF.

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg student wins big at this year’s Canada-Wide Science Fair'

Winnipeg student wins big at this year’s Canada-Wide Science Fair


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