Featured Health & Environment

Nasty Harbor Sighting is Just Algae, Not Sewage

News from Bruce Berman at Save the Harbor / Save the Bay regarding a nasty looking, but relatively harmless algae bloom in Boston Harbor.

Over the past few days Save the Harbor/Save the Bay has received a number of reports from boaters and beach-goers who have mistaken what appears to be a fairly dramatic though harmless diatomaceous algae bloom from Nahant to Nantasket for a sewage discharge.

Some algae blooms like Alexandrium, which causes red tide, can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning in people who consume contaminated shellfish. Others, like Pilayella Littoralis on the North Shore, can rot on the beach creating a terrible stench.

Though final lab results are not in yet, this appears to be a harmess diatom bloom, though it looks pretty disgusting in the water and on the beach. It actually smells quite sweet, which both sewage and the algae in Lynn, Nahant and Swampscott definitely do not!

Blooms like this are fairly common, often triggered by wet weather followed by calm sunny days.  We expect it to end fairly soon.

According to Dr. David Borkman of Batelle  “Often times diatoms exude excess carbon during unbalanced growth in which there is plenty of nutrient and light for photosynthesis, but not enough silicon to divide and make new cells. The ‘excess’ carbon is dumped out of the cells as long-chained carbon molecules–mucilage like material–that can result in “Mare sporco” or “dirty sea” in which the mucilage accumulates and fouls beaches.”

You can find out more at the Save the Harbor blog.