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Destructive Algae Overtaking Mediterranean Waters

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 1, 1998 -- An unusually aggressive, novel species of algae is carpeting the Mediterranean seafloor in an invasion that has crossed the borders of five countries in just a decade, reports the July 4th issue of Science News. The algae, Caulerpa taxifolia, are equally adept at colonizing rock, mud, and sand in a virtually continuous swath that can extend from the beach out to a depth of about 150 feet. A single square yard of seafloor can be matted with 700 feet of runners from which emerge thousands of shaggy, thick leaves. This expansive growth suffocates most living things.

U.S. waters, so far, have not been infiltrated by the new form of Caulerpa. However, it has been observed in an aquarium in Honolulu, and there are no restrictions on its distribution through the aquarium trade. "We need to call attention on a national level...that this plant should not be imported," says James N. Norris of the Smithsonians National Museum of Natural History. "We definitely dont want it in Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, or anywhere else."

Scientists suspect the algae are a hybrid or even a new species, unintentionally created in a marine aquarium environment. Unlike its tropical cousins, the new form is able to endure waters where winter temperatures would be expected to kill it. It is also triple the size of any other known members of the species. One of the aquariums where it has been seen sits just across the beach from the waters edge where the aliens first Mediterranean sighting was documented, says Alexandre Meinesz, a Caulerpa expert at the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis in France.

The algae were first spotted in 1984 on about a square yard of seafloor off the coast of Monaco, according to Science News. By 1990, the interloper had reached France. Two years later, it was well established along the shores of the
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Contact: Ellen Wilson
ewilson@burnessc.com
301-652-1558
Science News
1-Jul-1998


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