Sea Lettuce Invades Chinese Beach
July 6, 2013

Chinese Beachgoers Undeterred By Largest-Ever Algal Bloom

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

It may be called the Yellow Sea, but the northern part of the East China Sea has turned green due to the largest algal bloom in the history of the Asian nation, various media outlets are reporting.

According to AFP news agency reports, the State Oceanic Administration is reporting that the algae, which is known as Enteromorpha prolifera, started appearing about one week ago, and among the places affected are a public beach in Qingdao, northeast China's Shandong province.

Pictures have surfaced showing beach-goers swimming and enjoying the sunshine at the beach - undeterred by the algal bloom, which had spread across an 11,158 square mile (28,900 square kilometer) area. Previously, the largest aggregation of Enteromorpha prolifera was 5,019 square miles (13,000 square kilometers) in 2008.

"Officials in the city of Qingdao had used bulldozers to remove 7,335 tons of the growth from beaches," said Karl Mathiesen of the Guardian. While the algae is not toxic to people or animals, Mathiesen said "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."

In fact, not only is Enteromorpha prolifera harmless, it is actually edible, according to the Daily Mail's Steve Nolan. The algae are also known as "sea lettuce," he said, and is "rich in magnesium and many other nutrients, a vitamin-rich food source that can help improve skin and lower blood pressure."

However, clean-up crews are nonetheless working hard to clean up the algal masses, because it can produce large amounts of the toxic gas hydrogen sulphide as it decomposes and begins to rot, Nolan said.

Where did all of the algae come from? University of Cambridge and EnAlgae Project researcher Dr. Brenda Parker told the Guardian that algae thrive on an abundance of nutrients in the water, and that the massive blooms could be the result of unnatural ecosystem changes, possibly due 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," Parker said. "That would probably be an indicator that something is a little bit unbalanced."

"Officials have blamed warm seas for bringing in the algae in the past, but many scientists blame pollution for the phenomenon," added Nolan. "Some experts say that the algae blooms in water with high levels of nutrients blaming farmers using too much fertilizer on their crops and cities failing to treat sewage properly."