Story at a glance:
- Caulerpa prolifera is a fast-growing algae.
- A team began the process of removing the algae, which can take between up to five days.
- Some experts suspect the algae bloomed after someone cleaned out a fish tank, possibly into a storm drain.
An invasive species of algae is taking over the waters off the Southern California coast, and crews are working to remove the plant. It is the first time the species has grown in these waters, The Associated Press (AP) reports.
Caulerpa prolifera is a fast-growing algae and can overtake natural habitats, threatening critical food systems in the ecosystem. Crews began removing the patch on Wednesday, suctioning the bright green plant through a tube and filtering the water in a process that can take four to five days, according to the AP.
The algae was identified in Newport Beach.
So far, the algae is populated near a small but popular beach and is confined to a 1,000-square-foot area. But scientists are working to contain the plant before it overwhelms the natural habitat.
“We’re at a point here where we’ve got a shot to get rid of it,” Robert Mooney, a biologist with Marine Taxonomic Services told the AP. “We don’t have the luxury of waiting to see what happens.”
This species of algae and its close relatives have caused significant and expensive damage to the waters in California, Australia and the Mediterranean, according to CBS Los Angeles and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Two years ago, California dealt with a similar problem off the coast of Huntington Beach and Carlsbad, according to the AP. An invasive algae bloom cost the state $7 million to eradicate and prompted a state ban on the sale of some algae. That species was known as “killer algae.”
Some experts believe that this year’s algae wound up in Newport Beach after someone washed out a fish tank, possibly into a storm drain. Most aquariums use these types of algae in their exhibits.
“It looks like somebody took a roll of AstroTurf and laid it out across the seafloor,” said Christopher Potter of California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“It’s more than likely the source is an aquarium release,” Keith Merkel of Merkel & Associates, a biological consultant, said. “It can spread from very small fragments if you replace water in your aquarium, cleaning gravels and using buckets to dip water out and in.”
Merkel said divers have not noticed the algae elsewhere in the harbor, but periodic feedback and additional steps are required to remove the algae.
“There’s a good chance that it has spread, we just don’t know where — which is the biggest fear that we have,” Merkel said.
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