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Destructive Algae Overtaking Mediterranean Waters

Spanish island of Majorca and, a year after that, along the coast of Sicily. By 1994, it was growing in the Croatian Adriatic. Like its tropical counterparts, the algae can spread asexually, regenerating a new plant from barely visible fragments of itself. This has rendered all but useless any attempt to pull up the algae either by hand or by using the underwater equivalents of plows. In fact, the plant appears to be spreading throughout the Mediterranean, primarily from fragments dispersed by fishing nets and anchors, reports Science News.

"Over the eight years that we have observed this Caulerpa in the Mediterranean, we have never seen evidence of sexual reproduction," says Meinesz. The only reproductive cells it releases are male, fostering a suspicion that all C. taxifolia in the Mediterranean are clones of a single aquarium plant.

Science News reports that there are efforts underway to harness a natural predator, a mollusk, to control the voracious algae since other strategies have proved to be too expensive or toxic to try on a large scale. Meinesz is leading the team of scientists working toward a biological control effort. They are using sea slugs whose mouth structures allow them to eat only Caulerpa algae. The big question is whether the control organisms will make a dent in the algaes invasion, because these predators eat at a snails pace literally, says Meinesz. He presented his analyses at a recent meeting sponsored by the Redmond, Wash.-based Marine Conservation Biology Institute.

Though biological control is becoming quite common in agriculture and gardening, it has never been attempted in a marine environment. Andrew Cohen of the San Francisco Estuary Institute in Richmond, Calif. questions the wisdom of turning so quickly to biological control. "This stems from my sense that we are not very good at predicti
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Contact: Ellen Wilson
ewilson@burnessc.com
301-652-1558
Science News
1-Jul-1998


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