South Portland students first to report invasive red algae onshore in Maine!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 by Caroline Casals

Maine students from South Portland High School were the first to find and successfully identify a dreaded invasive red algae – Heterosiphonia japonica – onshore in Maine.

Photo taken by RedRiots, South Portland High School

            H. japonica is a native red algae in Japan that is spreading rapidly in New England, and up until the South Portland students find, it had not been known to make landfall in Maine. In the 1980’s it struck Europe, causing widespread damage to coasts from Italy to Norway.  H. japonica impacted native plants and animals, as well as human populations, especially fishermen, when it invaded European waters.  Now scientists are worried about what impacts it will have here.

            Scientists who study the algae worry that it could impact native seaweeds that don’t grow as quickly as the red invader.  They are also worried about what impacts the algae could have on fishermen, particularly on their gear.  Photo taken by RedRiots, South Portland High School

            One Massachusetts lobsterman, Dave Casoni, said his traps came up covered in H. japonica looking like “Cousin Itt” from the Addams family.  The algae could grow on nets and other fishing gear as well.

            In addition to its fast growth rate and its ability to survive very cold and very warm water, H. japonica can reproduce extremely quickly.  Whenever it breaks into smaller pieces, each piece can become a new clump of algae.  On top of all that it has a strong smell like rotten eggs when it washes up on shore and starts to die, making it a real problem for beach communities as well.

One of the researchers who studies H. japonica, Robin Hadlock Seeley, said that “the Vital Signs program is ideal for tracking Heterosiphonia. That’s a fact.”

Whatever may happen in here in Maine as the red invader spreads, Maine students have an important role to play in helping scientist track the species in order to learn more about it and how it is impacting ecosystems.

What will happen next?  Do you think that there is anything we can do to stop it?  Want to help track H. japonica and other invasive species?  Vital Signs needs YOU


Other links of interest:

Maine students in the news:

Invasive red algae in Massachusetts:

The observation made by South Portland students:

Vital Signs press release:

Photo credit: Vital Signs user RedRiots of South Portland High School

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