The Guardian (UK) writes that the Chinese government has pulled together an armada of more than 60 ships to head off a 400-square-kilometer tide of algae heading towards the coast of Qingdao. The rapid growth in algae is thought to be caused by increased agriculture and aquaculture nitrogen runoff and higher ocean temperatures. If enteromorpha, which is a type of seaweed, reaches the shore it decomposes, filling beaches with toxic fumes. This “green tide” is eutrophication in the extreme.
The armada is just one piece of the fight against the plume. In addition to the more than 60 ships sent, China has added a large shoreline net. Still, ten forklift trucks were need to clean up the tons of seaweed that landed on the beach. On one beach, more than 3,900 tons had been collected in one day. One engineer on the project said: “If the enteromorpha on the beach can’t be cleared on time, it will rot and affect the ecosystem in the bay area. Also the smell will be really bad.” The Guardian says the seaweed is turned into natural fertilizer or animal feed once collected.
While rising summer temperatures are leading to increased algae growth, green and red tides have been occuring since the 1970s (see earlier post). “An even bigger outbreak off Qingdao, estimated at 170,000 tonnes, in 2008 threatened to ruin the sailing events for the Olympics, prompting the authorities to call on hundreds of local fishermen to help them in the cleanup operation.”
Another fear is that the algae will choke off oxygen and life below, creating undersea dead zones. Mao Yunxiang, a professor at the College of Marine Life, Ocean University of China, told The Guardian: “at a fundamental level, the way to deal with this should be to combat climate change and control pollution,” but, perhaps seeing the silver lining in the grey cloud, he added that green tides could also provide much-needed fertilizer.
Also, it seems algae growth isn’t just a problem for China. In Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio, an algae bloom shut down tourism in an economically depressed area during the summer high season. Read more
In related news, the Department of Energy (DOE) just released its “Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap.” Greenwire writes that the DOE is “working on building comprehensive life-cycle models of algae fuel production.” Some ideas include “devising growth systems like open ponds or closed containers that will allow for inexpensive algae farming.” In the near future, rapidly-growing algae may be harvested to meet increasing fuel needs on a broader scale. To date, most of the projects have tested on a pilot basis. Given China’s algae problems, it seems any body of water used for algae fuel production would be too severely degraded to serve any other purpose.
Image credit: (1) Pacific Environment, (2) Foreign Policy magazine blog