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Large Algae Bloom Forms off Jersey Shore

Scientist explains bloom will impact ecosystem more than people

A series of environmental circumstances over the past several days has led to a major algae bloom of the coast of New Jersey.

Satellite images from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show a large bloom of algae stretching much of the 127-mile length of New Jersey's coastline. The bloom is noted to be nearly 50 miles wide in some locations and is particularly dense between Barnegat Inlet and Cape May.

In a press release sent early Friday evening, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection acknowledged the bloom and explained that they, in conjunction with a team from the Rutgers University Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, would be monitoring the bloom.

The DEP confirmed that the bloom would not lead to any beach closures or have an adverse affect on swimmers.

"There's a few conditions that contribute to it," John Tiedemann, Assistant Dean and Director of the Marine and Environmental Policy Program at Monmouth University, said.

Tiedemann explained that warm water, which the Jersey Shore has experienced for most of the summer, provides algae with ideal conditions to bloom.

Additionally, a recent string of rainy days has led to an increase in storm water runoff, which carries nutrients from the land into the ocean, Tiedemann says.

When those nutrients enter warm, relatively calm water, algae is able to proliferate quickly. Fueling the bloom, a stretch of calm seas has prevent mixing of ocean water, allowing the algae to stagnate.

While, the bloom may alarm some, Tiedemann says that, by and large, algae blooms do not present a public health risk.

"It's mainly going to be aesthetically displeasing," he said, though he warned that a certain variety of plankton called dinophlagellats have been known to cause minor respiratory discomfort and asthma-like symptoms. The composition of the bloom and the amount of dinophlagellats within will determine the health risk.

The real problem is the potential effect continuing algae conditions may have on the environment.

"There's more potential for an ecosystem impact than a human health impact," the professor said.

Tiedemann notes that when an algae bloom grows large enough, organisms that typically feed on it will not be able to consume it entirely. Algae has a short life span and when it dies, it will wash up along beaches where it will be broken down by bacteria. The bacteria draw oxygen from sea water to do so and should the amount of oxygen drawn from the ocean be significant enough, other organisms higher up the food chain may suffer.

"That will put stress on fish and shellfish," Tiedemann said.

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