This Is the Smelly Scene in SF Bay Area Right Now

A long-running algae bloom is causing a fish die-off
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 1, 2022 1:16 PM CDT
This Is the Smelly Scene in SF Bay Area Right Now
Hundreds of small fish can be seen dead in Lake Merritt in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022.   (Bronte Wittpenn)

Something stinks, quite literally, in the San Francisco Bay area. Bloated fish carcasses are floating en masse on the edges of the bay and in Oakland's Lake Merritt, killed off by an algae bloom that emerged in late July. As SF Gate reports, an algae called Heterosigma akashiwo that is "growing out of control" formed the bloom; what's still unclear is whether the fish are dying due to a toxin produced by the algae or because oxygen levels are plummeting. And there are question marks as to why Heterosigma akashiwo, which is always present in the bay, has managed to spread so far and for so long. Eileen White, executive officer of San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, tells the AP most blooms only last a week.

Scientists suspect drought might be playing a role, causing more stagnant water by impeding the flow of water into the ocean. Jon Rosenfield with the San Francisco Baykeeper conservation group says high levels of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen in wastewater also spur growth of the blooms. "The only lever that we have to control the problem is to reduce nutrients put into the bay from the 40 wastewater treatment plants that operate around the bay," he says. Thing is, those plants aren't designed to remove nitrogen and phosphorus.

Naturalist Damon Tighe tells the Guardian the "diversity of life in Lake Merritt is just incredible," and it shows in the dead creatures observed: bat rays, striped bass, sturgeon, anchovies, and clams. Among the deaths in the bay, he flags the sturgeon in particular. As the Guardian explains, the sizable fish are "armored against many environmental threats ... [and] can live for decades." Says Tighe, "This is like losing giant redwoods. I don't think people quite understand the significance—this is really big." A coming heat wave this weekend has the potential to make things—both the bloom and the stench—worse. (More algae bloom stories.)

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