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NJ HAB Response Strategy Document

  Bureau of Freshwater & Biological Monitoring

Governor's 2019 HABs
Initiative Announcement
Cyanobacterial Harmful
Algal Blooms (CyanoHABs)
Report a HAB in NJ
  Governor's 2019 HABs  
  Initiative Factsheet  
Visit the HABs Main Page CyanoHAB Photos

Photo Credit: NJDEP

Cyanobacteria are a type of bacteria capable of photosynthesis. Although they are not true algae, they are often referred to as "blue-green algae." Cyanobacteria frequently impart off-tastes and odors to the water in which they grow, and sometimes they produce toxins that can be harmful to the health of humans and other animals. Although problems related to cyanobacteria most often occur in freshwaters (lakes and streams), cyanobacteria can also be found in marine waters.

Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (CyanoHABs):

A cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) is the name given to the excessive growth, or "bloom," of cyanobacteria, some of which can produce one or more types of potentially harmful toxins (cyanotoxins). DEP defines a HAB as a density of identified cyanobacterial cells of 20,000 cells/ml or higher. HABs often occur under suitable environmental conditions of light, temperature, nutrient enrichment, and calm water. These blooms can result in a thick coating or mat on the surface of a waterbody, frequently in late summer or early fall, but blooms can occur year-round.

Cyanobacteria cells

Exposure to cyanobacteria cells themselves, whether or not the bloom is actively producing cyanotoxins, may cause allergenic and/or irritative effects to a portion of an exposed population. These effects are caused by endotoxins (mainly from components of the cyanobacterial cell wall) rather than cyanotoxins. It has been established that some sensitive individuals have adverse allergenic/irritative responses from exposure to cyanobacterial cells at concentrations as low as 5,000 cells/ml (USEPA, 2019).


Cyanobacteria can produce toxins that are dangerous for humans, pets, livestock and wildlife. The toxins produced by the cyanobacteria are referred to as cyanotoxins. Cyanotoxins can be produced by a wide variety cyanobacteria.

Most common cyanotoxins

Based on the surveys that have been carried out to date in U.S. waters, the most commonly identified cyanotoxins are microcystins, cylindrospermopsins, anatoxins and saxitoxins. Additional information on CyanoHABs, including other states' activities, is available on the EPA CyanoHABs website.

Primary Cyanotoxins and their Associated Human Health Effects (USEPA HABs website :


Acute Health Effects in Humans

Most Common Cyanobacteria Producing the Toxin
Microcystins Abdominal Pain, Headache, Sore Throat, Vomiting and Nausea, Dry Cough, Diarrhea, Blistering around the Mouth, Pneumonia, Liver Toxicity. Dolichospermum (previously Anabaena), Fischerella, Gloeotrichia, Nodularia, Nostoc, Oscillatoria, members of Microcystis, and Planktothrix
Cylindrospermopsin Fever, Headache, Vomiting, Bloody Diarrhea, Liver Inflammation, Kidney Damage Raphidiopsis (previously Cylindrospermopsis), raciborskii (C. raciborskii), Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, Aphanizomenon gracile, Aphanizomenon ovalisporum, Umezakia natans, Dolichospermum (previously Anabaena) bergii, Dolichospermum lapponica, Dolichospermum planctonica, Lyngbya wollei, Raphidiopsis curvata, and Raphidiopsis mediterranea.
Anatoxin-a group Tingling, Burning, Numbness, Drowsiness, Incoherent Speech, Salivation, Respiratory Paralysis Leading to Death Chrysosporum (previously Aphanizomenon) ovalisporum, Cuspidothrix, Raphidiopsis (previously Cylindrospermopsis), Cylindrospermum, Dolichospermum, Microcystis, Oscillatoria, Planktothrix, Phormidium, Dolichospermum (previously Anabaena) flos-aquae, A. lemmermannii Raphidiopsis mediterranea (strain of Raphidiopsis raciborskii), Tychonema and Worochinia

Information on how NJ handles cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms can be found on the Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) Response Strategy web page.

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Last Updated: April 18, 2023