“Red Tides” Are Currently Blooming In Southern California

This past week, scientists with the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (SCCOOS) observed “red tides” off the southern California coast.

Red tides are used to describe algal blooms that grow rapidly and have the ability to harm marine life and humans around them due to the chemicals they produce. Fertilizer that runs off agriculture into waterways can feed these algae and cause their populations to explode.

Using monitoring equipment installed across piers in La Jolla, Newport Beach, and Santa Barbara, the SCCOOS researchers noticed microscopic algae changing the blue-green color of the water to red or orange. In large quantities, they form Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), called as such because they can be detrimental to the ocean environment.

While these HABs can be stunning because they are bioluminescent at night, they also harm birds, fish, and other marine animals. A red tide that occurred in March off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico continues to cause dead fish to wash ashore. During this more recent southern California bloom, dolphins and a gray whale were spotted swimming through the algae.

While they are generally only mildly irritating to humans, red tides can sometimes cause ear and respiratory issues after immersion in seawater. Should you go to one of the beaches where a red tide has been recorded, SCCOOS is collecting information from beachgoers.

Red tides are a common occurrence around the globe, and can last several months in some severe cases. Climate change is expected to make interventions for such blooms less successful, and maybe even impossible.


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