Every summer the Chesapeake Bay is plagued by algal blooms. The blooms, stimulated by pollution and warm weather, can turn Bay water dark red, green, or brown, stunt underwater grasses, and spawn the infamous “dead zones” of oxygen-starved water.
But the Chesapeake’s algal blooms can’t hold a candle to the ones in China. A monster bloom there this month has produced huge rafts of green seaweed that are fouling beaches, stalling boats, and bringing out backhoes and dump trucks to clean up.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the massive bloom has covered 11,500 square miles of water, or an area twice the size of Los Angeles County.
Many Chinese beach goers don’t mind the algae and are even having fun swimming and playing in the green gunk. It’s largely harmless to people, although the seaweed can produce toxic gases if left to rot on the beaches. But like the algal blooms in the Chesapeake region, they can cause serious havoc for fish, shellfish, and other aquatic life.
The Bay’s summer algal blooms typically are caused by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and experts suggest that may well be the cause of the giant Chinese blooms as well. According to the Times, the algal species there “flourish in summer, when days are longer and the sun is high in the sky; growth can be kick-started by an abundance of nitrogen and other nutrients in the water.
“Tim Nelson, a biology professor and seaweed expert at Seattle Pacific University, said those nutrients may either be naturally occurring — stirred up from deeper in the ocean — or brought by fertilizer washing into the sea from farms, golf courses and gardens.”
Bay restoration experts know all too well about fertilizer and other pollution washing off farms, golf courses, and gardens. That’s why reducing runoff is such a big part of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the federal-state-local plan to restore the Bay.
So if you like swimming in polluted water full of green goop, consider a vacation to Qingdao, China. If you like clear water, safe beaches, and abundant fish, click here to learn how you can reduce pollution and ensure a clean, healthy Chesapeake Bay.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Photos courtesy of the Associated Press)