If you take a moment to Google “toxic algal bloom,” you may be surprised by the numerous recent new articles that are capturing headlines. But most daunting is that these articles don’t just encompass one or two big events. No, this is occurring around the world at threateningly fast rate as population, agriculture, and industry grows exponentially .
Although it has been known since the last several decades that nutrients, such as fertilizer and livestock waste that flush off farms and into the Mississippi River, can create harmful algal blooms in the ocean to spawn low-oxygen dead zones (like the one in the Gulf of Mexico), Raphael Kudela, a toxic algae expert at the University of California, Santa Cruz says it’s surprising, “just how little we really know about what these things can do.”
From off the coast of Oman, where fish kills stem from harmful algal blooms, to the “thick guacamole” that covered Florida’s coast just weeks ago and threatened beachgoers. From earlier this year where algae blooms suffocated millions of salmon in South America, enough to fill 14 Olympic swimming pools, to Lake Erie’s similar situation to a distinct bloom last year in Chile that could have resulted in the death last year of more than 300 sei whales.
"There's no question that we are seeing more harmful blooms in more places, that they are lasting longer, and we're seeing new species in different areas," says Pat Glibert, a phytoplankton expert at the University of Maryland. "These trends are real."
National Geographic reports that the it is curiously troubling that “scientists also now see evidence of harmful algae in places nearly devoid of people. They're seeing blooms last longer and spread wider and become more toxic simply when waters warm. And some are finding that even in places overburdened by poor waste management, climate-related shifts in weather may already be exacerbating problems.”
Scientists say a warming climate will make marine heat waves more common in the future, which will also affect how algae grows.