California Scrambles to Wipe Out Algae Invader

Species that can overtake habitat has been spotted in state waters for the first time
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 8, 2021 12:12 PM CDT
California Scrambles to Wipe Out Algae Invader
Divers get ready to enter the harbor to help suction and filter out algae in Newport Beach, Calif., Wednesday, July 7, 2021.   (AP Photo/Amy Taxin)

For the first time, scientists say they have seen a species of bright green algae growing in the waters off California—and they are hoping it's the last. The invasive algae can overtake the environment and displace critical food sources for ocean animals on the southern California coast. A team on Wednesday started removing the patch of fast-growing algae known as caulerpa prolifera from the harbor in Newport Beach, suctioning it through a tube and filtering the ocean water back out, the AP reports. The process will take four or five days to complete and much longer until scientists can determine whether the algae is gone for good. So far, it's been confined to a roughly 1,000-square-foot area not far from a small but popular beach. But tiny fibers can easily break off and take hold elsewhere.

Officials are eager to prevent it from spreading, noting the algae has invaded other habitats like the Suez Canal. "We're at a point here where we've got a shot to get rid of it," said Robert Mooney, a biologist with Marine Taxonomic Services overseeing a large pump that a team of three divers uses to remove the algae. "We don't have the luxury of waiting to see what happens." The invasive algae is used in some saltwater aquariums, and scientists think it likely wound up in the harbor when someone washed out a fish tank, possibly into a storm drain. For now, the source hasn't been confirmed, and the push is on to remove the algae as quickly as possible from Newport's China Cove. While native to Florida and tropical locations, it has the potential to overtake natural habitats in California.

(More algae stories.)

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