California nixing algae that crowds out food for marine animals

For the first time ever, scientists say they’ve seen a species of bright green algae in California waters—and they’re hoping it’s the last

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — For the first time ever, scientists say they’ve seen a species of bright green algae in California waters — and they’re hoping it’s the last.

Invasive algae can overtake the environment and displace important food sources for marine animals off the Southern California coast. A team began removing patches of fast-growing algae from the harbor in Newport Beach on Wednesday, which were then suctioned through a tube and filtered back to sea water.

The process will take four or five days to complete and until scientists determine that the algae is gone for good. So far, it’s limited to a roughly 1,000-square-foot (90-sq-m) area, not far from a small but popular beach. But the short fibers can easily break and get caught elsewhere.

“We’re at a point here where we’ve got a shot at getting rid of it,” said Robert Mooney, a biologist with the Marine Taxonomic Services overseeing a large pump that a team of three divers uses to remove algae. is. “We don’t have the luxury of waiting to see what happens.”

The species’ discovery late last year and confirmation this spring prompted federal, state and local officials to act. They are eager to stop it from spreading, given that the algae have invaded other habitats such as the Suez Canal. It was important to act quickly, he said, because swimmers and sailors moving through the water can contribute to the spread of algae.

California faced a similar problem two years ago when a related invasive algae was detected off the coast of Huntington Beach and Carlsbad. It cost $7 million to eliminate and prompted the state to ban the sale of Caulerpa taxifolia and other algae.

That species – known as the “killer algae” – has caused widespread problems in the Mediterranean. Mooney said it is not edible by many fish and invertebrates and can displace plants.

“It looks like someone took a roll of AstroTurf and put it on the ocean floor,” said Christopher Potter of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The recently identified invasive algae in Newport Beach are related, but not restricted, to California. It is used in some saltwater aquariums, and scientists think it was probably injured in port when someone washed a fish tank, possibly in a storm drain.

“It is more than likely that the source is an aquarium release,” said Keith Merkel of Merkel & Associates, biological advisor on the project. “It can spread from very small pieces if you change the water in your aquarium, cleaning up the gravel and using a bucket to dump the water in and out.”

For now, the source has not been confirmed, and pushes are being made to remove the algae from Newport’s China Cove as quickly as possible. Native to Florida and other tropical locations, it may overtake natural habitats in California, experts said.

So far, divers have not detected algae anywhere else in the harbor. But surveys will be needed over time to be sure, and repeat removals if more are detected, Merkel said.

“There is a good chance that it has spread, we don’t know where – which is the biggest fear,” Merkel said.


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