An algae bloom bummer: toxic waters on a summer island getaway.

A story of minor frustration and a major problem.

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We’d been planning our island getaway for weeks. Not the tropical palm trees and coconuts kind (because, COVID) but the Pacific North-West stony beaches and frigid waters kind. ‘Working from home’ can mean working from anywhere with wifi, and my girlfriend and I had identified the perfect Airbnb to spend a couple of weeks away from the city. It had backyard access to a trail that leads down to the beautiful Thetis Lake, and we got starry-eyed at the idea of hot evenings swimming in cool fresh water. While an Irish grandmother quarantined for two weeks in our Vancouver flat (something I never thought I’d say before 2020), we’d be living the Canadian dream outside Victoria, BC. 

Imagine our disappointment when, returning to network signal from a weekend camping on the coast, we got a text from our Airbnb host saying ‘So unfortunate; there’s an algae bloom at the lake and you can’t swim’. The record-breaking heatwave that swept much of the west coast of North America a few weeks back had come hand-in-hand with the rapid growth of toxic algae in the lake. For us the worst effects might have been headaches, stomach issues and a rash. For pet owners the results could be far more devastating; drinking contaminated water can cause potentially fatal liver poisoning in dogs.

Now I know what you might be thinking, ‘so you couldn’t go for a swim, cry me an algae-infested river’ and while this isn’t the most generous reaction, I see where you’re coming from. It’s not that big of a deal. In fact, this being Canada, there were about four more lakes within a twenty minute drive of where we were staying. All-in-all it’s no biggie. But as the world keeps warming, and as the impacts of human encroachment keep increasing, algae blooms are becoming more and more common, and increasingly harmful.

Algae blooms aren’t just dangerous to people and pets: when they’re severe enough they can have devastating impacts on the natural ecosystems in which they occur, in both freshwater systems and the ocean. That’s why SOLE sandals use Bloom Foam, a material made partly from dried algae biomass. It’s our way of doing what we can to make a positive impact on a growing problem for our natural world. 

As my girlfriend and I walked through the forest at the lakeside I reminded her that the flips under her feet were made partly from the same kinds of algae that were keeping us high and dry on the shore. We felt good about that, and decided we’d better make a contribution to SOLE’s other, even more sustainable sandal material. So we popped off to the shops for a bottle of wine.