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April, 17

Spirogyra: What This Is and Why It Threatens Lake Baikal

“Spirogyra is killing Baikal!”, “An ecological disaster is approaching!”, “Baikal is in deadly danger!” – there are a lot of similar headings on the pages of hundreds of newspapers and websites. If we do not take any measures, the humanity will face a real ecological disaster.

The issue of contamination of the water area by spirogyra has been actively discussed in the mass media since 2011. A large amount of this seaweed is observed on the coast of Lake Baikal and at its bottom. Scientists are raising the alarm, because there has not been found any reason for the emergence of the filamentous alga in the environment that is uncharacteristic for it.

What is spirogyra?

Spirogyra is a kind of filamentous algae of the Charophyta division of the Zygnematophyceae class. The weed represents a nonbranching filament consisting of a series of cylindrical cells with the size of up to 0.01 mm each. Each cell of spirogyra is enclosed in a cellulose wall covered with mucus. The algae are easily recognizable by their spirally twisted chloroplasts.

This type of filamentous algae was discovered nearly two centuries ago. Spirogyra is one of the most common algae and is found in freshwater (rarely in salty) waters worldwide. It forms large velvet-like clusters that float on the surface of the water, drift along the bottom or mix with the algal mat of lakes, swamps, ponds, creeks, etc.

How do the algae reproduce?

Spirogyra reproduces in two ways:

  • Vegetative (asexual) – fragmentation of the thallome occurs with the formation of young filaments of spirogyra.
  • Conjugation (sexual) – the contents of cells of one filament enter the cells of another one, subsequently forming a zygote.


Why are these algae dangerous for the environment of Lake Baikal? 

1. They displace the Baikal endemics. Due to the large amount of blossoming filamentous algae at the bottom of the Lake (spirogyra was found even at the depth of 40 meters), some kinds of microorganisms are being replaced. For example, these are the indigenous inhabitants of Lake Baikal – gastropods. Their number has significantly decreased after spirogyra emerged in the Lake. It destroys the Baikal endemic sponges thanks to which the water remains crystal clear. It also occupies the places of spawning of the yellowfin Baikal sculpin that, in turn, serves for feeding of the Baikal omul.

2. The algae are poisoning the water. In some parts of Baikal coasts are covered with a thick layer of rotten spirogyra. This greatly affects the quality of water which becomes unfit for consumption by humans and animals. Cleaning up a beach from algae requires a lot of effort. You have to dig as deep as nearly 30 centimeters. Fishing also becomes almost impossible. Thick algal mat coming to surface fills up boats and nets.

Today the Baikal spirogyra is being actively investigated by the scientists of the Limnological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The researchers have not yet come to a single opinion whether spirogyra really threatens the Lake or the above-mentioned effects are a result of a set of many facts. However, nowadays the adverse consequences of the proliferation of the algae are obvious.

What is the reason for the proliferation of the filamentous algae?

Some believe that the cause for the proliferation of spirogyra were favorable warm weather conditions that characterized one of the seasons at Lake Baikal. However, with the onset of cold weather the number of the filamentous algae has not decreased. Ice water did not become an obstacle for the formation of a thick green film on the Lake.

There is another fact linking the filling of water with spirogyra to a sharp deterioration of the ecological environment in the region of Lake Baikal. Wastewater treatment facilities installed in the area are now out of date and cannot cope with their tasks. The equipment is in urgent need of updating.

In addition, from year to year environmental problems are all the more aggravated by illegal landfills and illegal construction. The tourist infrastructure and the private sector also have a negative impact on the already deteriorating situation.

What can we do?

How can we help the purest Lake on the planet not to turn into a muddy swamp?

For this purpose we need to hold a series of large-scale measures inside the Baikal basin:

To completely eliminate the waste flow into the Lake. It is necessary to build the so-called water cluster that will collect waste from the organized piers and ships. Sewage drain, all food waste and dry waste will pass through these clusters.

• To create a system of environmentally safe modern sewage treatment plants. Plus to impose a total ban on the application all kinds of detergents containing phosphates on the territory of Lake Baikal. Synthetic substances have a poisonous influence not only on the environment, but also on human health.

• To develop environmental, not commercial tourism. The interregional public organization “The Great Baikal Trail” is currently actively developing the system of unique routes and eco-trails with walks through them that are accompanied by cleaning of the territory. Anyone who wishes is able to join the volunteers and contribute to the development of their movement.

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