Algal Bloom Turns Yellow Sea Green

The New York Times reports on this year’s summer algal bloom in the Yellow Sea, and the Qingdao tourists who seem to be enjoying the colorful shoreline:

In what has become an annual summer scourge, the coastal Chinese city of Qingdao has been hit by a near-record algae bloom that has left its popular beaches fouled with a green, stringy muck.

[...]The State Oceanic Administration said an area larger than the state of Connecticut had been affected by the mat of “sea lettuce,” as it is known in Chinese, which is generally harmless to humans but chokes off marine life and invariably chases away tourists as it begins to rot.

Some beachgoers appeared to be amused by the outbreak, at least according to the Chinese media, which in recent days has featured startling images of swimmers lounging on bright green beds of algae, tossing it around with glee or piling it atop of one another as if it were sand.

Local officials, however, are less enthused. Last month, they declared a “large-scale algae disaster,” dispatching hundreds of boats and bulldozers to clean up the waters off Qingdao, a former German concession in Shandong Province that is famous for its beer and beaches. As of Monday, workers and volunteers had cleared about 19,800 tons of the algae, according to the Qingdao government.[...] [Source]

The Guardian reports that this year’s algal bloom is the largest recorded in China (though a tweet from the New York Times’ Austin Ramzy pointing to state oceanic data suggests that 2009′s bloom is still the largest), and outlines the possible ecological causes and effects:

The algae, called Enteromorpha prolifera, is not toxic to humans or animals.

However the carpet on the surface can dramatically change the ecology of the environment beneath it. It blocks sunlight from entering the ocean and sucks oxygen from the water suffocating marine life.

[...]The algae thrives on an abundance of nutrients in the sea. University of Cambridge and EnAlgae Project researcher Dr Brenda Parker said that the Chinese bloom may well be linked to industrial pollution.

“Algal blooms often follow a massive discharge of phosphates or nitrates into the water. Whether it’s farming, untreated sewage or some kind of industrial plant that is discharging waste into the water,” she said. [Source]

Also see photo galleries of the emerald coastal waters from The Telegraph or from China.org.cn, and all prior CDT coverage of algal blooms.

July 5, 2013 7:30 AM
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Categories: Environment, Society