Red tide lingers, bringing allergies and fishy stench near Santa Cruz beaches

By Nsikan Akpan
Santa Cruz Sentinel

Photo: Matt Hoffman

1380521_10152325937002519_801953238_nSANTA CRUZ — Surfers are resisting the urge to dive into the waters near Santa Cruz because of a powerful spell of red tide that has lasted longer than usual.

The red tide is annual bloom of reddish-brown algae normally runs from early August to early October, but this year’s season has persisted, causing allergies even for people who don’t go swimming.

“It’s really obnoxious, and it seems noxious,” said local surfer Lee Lewis, who lives four blocks from the beach. “I’ve only gone surfing a handful of times in the last couple of months, whereas usually I’d be out a couple of times per week … plus, there’s the smell.”

The pungent fishy aroma hanging over certain parts of the coastline is also due to the plankton clouds. Algal blooms are peppered across the local coast, but the most visible are near the Cement Ship, Seacliff Beach, the Santa Cruz Wharf and the Pajaro River.

One theory for both the stench and allergies is the red tide attracts more fish to the area, leading to a hearty buffet for seabirds and a subsequent increase of bird droppings along the shore.

But the reek is mainly caused by the algae in the water, according to UC Santa Cruz ocean scientist Raphael Kudela.

The climate during early autumn was ideal for algae given the abundant warmth and calm oceans, he said. Steady days without upwellings provide strong red tide conditions.

“But when the blooms die, they can decompose and smell like seaweed, rotting marine material or dead fish,” Kudela said. “They also release chemical compounds that give off “the ocean smell.”


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