Found in a handful of lakes in only four countries, spherical marimo algae formations are protected in several and even venerated at a festival in Japan. Estonia is looking to make conditions better for its own small population.
The orbs of green algae - like underwater tumbleweed and sometimes bearing an uncanny resemblance to a miniature Earth - are found in Estonia only in one part of Lake Viljandi. The town of 20,000 on the shores of the long finger lake has now announced a public procurement for dredging mud from the lake bottom.
Marimo algae need a sand or gravel bed for optimum growth. Surprisingly, the Soviet regime was responsible for the fact that the communities started thriving in the first place. Truckloads of sand and gravel were deposited on the bottom at one point to create a better swimming area, which had the side effect of encouraging this particular type of algae.
"As Lake Viljandi is in the Natura 2000 register, we have to maintain the health of our lake in very good status," said Viljandi mayor Loit Kivistik on ERR radio.
"We have about 125,000 euros in funds including the Environmental Investment Center money, but we think that the lake is so important to the townspeople that we can pad this figure by dipping into the city budget," said Kivistik.
The algae are harmless to swimmers. Limnologist Katrin Saar told radio: "It is on the contrary an asset in the body of water and if it is present, that is a good sign of lake health," she said.
Besides Estonia, they are also found in Iceland, Japan and Scotland.