Algae bloom on Puget Sound 'more intense' this year

Jun 14, 2012

If you’ve taken a ferry across Puget Sound recently, you may have wondered if someone dumped out cans of tomato soup in the water. Some have worried there's been an oil spill.

Large levels of algae called Noctiluca are visible in Puget Sound and people sailing on the water are noticing. The Washington State Department of Ecology says they are getting more worried calls this year.

“This is probably the more intense Noctiluca bloom we’ve seen in central Puget Sound. We’ve captured a couple other ones in other years, this one just seems to be more a bit more widespread in terms of area that it’s covering,” said Ecology’s senior oceanographer Brandon Sackmann.

(Below is one of the photos from Ecology's flyover of Puget Sound investigating the algae bloom.)

Ecology is monitoring the algae by flying in float planes and photographing the blooms’ dramatic red hues which can appear slick, like oil.  This is only the third year for the flyovers, so data thus far is limited, but Sackmann says scientists hope to build a baseline to understand the algae’s effects. 

"It’s not a photosynthetic algae, so it’s actually more of an animal. It’s grazing on the algae that are growing in Puget Sound. So by seeing these large blooms, that kind of gives us a sense of how the food chain is operating.”

Sackmann says Noctiluca algae is a normal part of the seasonal progression and is different than “red tide,”  meaning there are no safety or water quality concerns at this time. And while a large bloom isn’t cause for worry, scientists would like to understand more about when the blooms occur and what environmental issues promote them.

More photos of the algae bloom from Ecology

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