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San Francisco Bay. Toxic algae in the tank. Animals die, residents fear for their health

San Francisco Bay.  Toxic algae in the tank.  Animals die, residents fear for their health

Hazardous algae Heterosigma akashiwo spread from north to south of San Francisco Bay. As the researchers point out, it is the largest algal bloom in more than a decade. With so many fish and other aquatic animals dying, residents began to fear whether it was safe to approach the water.

Algae multiplication of species Heterosigma akashiwo It was first seen in late July. At the moment, the scale of the problem can be seen from a distance – the water has turned chestnut brown, and thousands of dead animals have appeared on the beaches.

sudden range

The last major algal bloom in this bay was in 2004, due to a heat wave. This time, the researchers say, the problem is more serious — the increased flowering is caused by severe drought and poor water quality.

In mid-August, the concentration of chlorophyll — an organic chemical compound associated with photosynthesis in plants and an indicator of algae density — in the southern part of the bay, according to Elaine White of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Monitoring Board, was at its highest level in more than 40 years. general.

“Blooming usually occurs in the summer, which in itself is not surprising,” White said. “But what is surprising is the scale of the phenomenon, how widespread it is, how quickly it has spread over the past few weeks, and the number of fish that have died,” she added. White added that people and pets should stay away from water because contact with water can cause skin or eye irritation. She also advised not to eat any dead fish stuck to it.

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According to David Cena, a researcher at the nonprofit San Francisco Estuary Institute, any presence of dead fish should be reported. “We were hoping that the algae’s range would be reduced now, but the weather conditions allowed it to persist and spread further,” he said.

The three-year drought has left its mark on the University of California, Santa Cruz, professor of oceanography, said Rafael Cudella.

Conditions are appropriate. The rivers flow very slowly, they are (…) warm. He added that the algae remain in the Gulf and are not washed away by rainwater.

The blooms began in East Bay near Alameda and Oakland, then spread to San Pablo Bay, as well as around Treasure Island and South Bay. As White mentioned, although the presence of algae was reported in Lake Merritt in early August, it was originally thought to be bacteria. Only recently was the existence of algae species finally confirmed Heterosigma akashiwo.

The presence of the dead fish was first reported to the San Francisco Estuary Institute on August 22. Then Sen himself noticed the deaths of five sturgeon and 50 striped rockfish. Things got worse over the weekend. White also added, there have been reports of onshore deaths from Lake Merritt, Coyote Point Marina, Bay Bridge, Dumbarton Bridge and Don Edwards San Francisco National Wildlife Refuge.

They are looking for the exact cause

White is still analyzing exactly the toxin that deprives the water of oxygen and kills the fish as a result.

Algal blooms are most harmful when several environmental and biological factors coincide, such as high water temperature, exposure to sunlight, and a large amount of nutrients simultaneously. It is also affected by the lack of stormy weather that would disturb the waters.

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Sen and other scientists from the US Geological Survey have been studying the Gulf’s waters since the beginning of the algal bloom in an effort to identify the root cause. As described by the researcher, it was a real challenge as he did not notice any significant changes in water temperature or weather. There was also no unusual discharge of sewage.

“I don’t think there will be an answer to that question today, or even in the next month or two,” Senn added.

Moreover, algae Heterosigma akashiwo It has been at the bottom of the bay for decades but last flourished in 2002.

dead fish from san francisco bay Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

While scientists can’t pinpoint the exact cause of this boom, they said possible direct factors – such as warm dry winters – were the result of climate change.

“Blooms like these are exactly what we’ve been expecting from climate change,” Kudela said.

Water quality management officials have long known that more and more harmful algae will appear there because of this. Therefore, the Gulf Strategy for Nutrient Management was developed – a regional initiative to investigate how to manage nutrient levels that mainly come from about 40 wastewater treatment plants in the region.

Mother Nature rules at this point.

Some argue that these establishments should do better and remove nutrients from drained water. In this way, such severe flowering can be avoided.

“The only cure is prevention,” said John Rosenfeld, a researcher with the nonprofit San Francisco Bay Keeper. “This means that regional authorities should put restrictions on the discharge of nutrients into the Gulf,” he added.

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Unfortunately, Senn and White both see that there is nothing they can do to stop the flowering. It is also unknown how long this will take.

Mother Nature rules at this point. There is not much we can do to influence this event except to investigate it and understand how it can be prevented in the future, White added.

Main image source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

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