Local artist uses algae blooms to raise awareness of pollution in rivers

Sight of the event: Bettina Sieger talks about raising awareness of an environmental issue on Jan. 10. She expressed her concern about algae blooms in the city’s waterway systems and portrays it through her artwork. (Photo by Johannes Juanerio/The Press)

A local artist is trying to raise awareness of algae blooms in the city’s waterway systems by presenting it in an artistic way.

Bettina Sieger, 22, hosted an art showcase at the Friends of Fish Creek office on Jan 10.

“I have always had a passion for the environment and have studied a variety of subjects involving water pollution, from ghost gear to micro-plastics, oil sands, and of course toxic algae blooms,” said Sieger.

Sieger’s goal is to use her artwork to raise awareness of environmental issues,  not just in Calgary but across Canada.

According to Alberta Health Services, during the past couple years and especially last summer there have been blue-green algae advisories in the Alberta.

Alberta Health Services issued an advisory that blue-green algae blooms had been identified in areas of Clear Lake near Claresholm, Alta. last August.

“I started looking at local water problems. This started my practice looking at micro-plastics and how they end up in our waterways,” Sieger said.

“I then looked for more issues. That search started my current research of algae blooms and how they are affecting our waterway systems and possibly our drinking water.”

For her artwork, Sieger mixes water from the Bow River, paint mediums, and agar-agar, which is a jelly-like substance obtained from red algae.

She then places the mixture in petri dishes, lets them sit for two to three weeks and mimics the result from the petri dishes by painting it with watercolour.

“Algae blooms are very prevalent in the Bow River during the summer,” said Sieger. While some along the river dump pollutants into it, others drink water from the same stream.

Sieger mentioned that she also wants to portray an environmental issue in her artwork called “red tide.”

What makes me unique from other artists is that I am using my artwork to drive environmental issues. – Bettina Sieger

Last July in Vancouver, water in the city’s harbours turned red as a result of a massive algae bloom which people call “red tide,” according to the Vancouver Sun.

Michelle Su, 22, a close friend of Sieger, said “it’s a great representation of what’s going on in the Bow River and in all rivers in Alberta and other provinces.

“There are so many different toxic algae that people don’t know about, and it’s a good way to touch on the issue while presenting it in a very artistic way.”

“What makes me unique from other artists is that I am using my artwork to drive environmental issues. I am creating art that speaks for itself by using the actual material (algae blooms in my work), letting the medium be the message through my art.

“I believe that I am different by studying problems that are not normally talked about and in doing so bringing awareness to something that otherwise may go unnoticed,” said Sieger.