Monster Algae Bloom Off Jersey Shore

By By Brian Thompson,
19 August 2011

A satellite has identified a monster algae bloom off the New Jersey coast that could soon affect fishing and beachgoers.

Images from the NOAA satellite show a swirling blueish green blob stretching from Brooklyn past Sandy Hook all the way down to Cape May — a distance of more than 100 miles.

An arm of the bloom extends east from Long Beach Island for dozens of miles, then curls north and northeast across the middle of the New York Bight, also for a distance of about 100 miles.

When the algae dies in the next week or so, it could cause a huge dead zone just off shore.

"If there’s no way for oxygen to be replenished, yes it could have an impact on fish," said Josh Kohut, an assistant professor at Rutgers’ Marine and Coastal Sciences school.

Kohut explained that, as algae dies and sinks to the ocean floor, it is eaten by bacteria.

That process consumes oxygen in the water, which either suffocates fish that can’t get away in time or drives them to more oxygen-rich waters. 

Kohut said the bloom was caused by an unfortunate combination of southwesterly winds that allowed the upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich waters to come to the surface.

That upwelling gave the algae so much food they could quickly multiply. Kohut compared it to a sort of Miracle Gro in the ocean.

Some of the nutrients appear to have come from New York Harbor following heavy rains over last weekend and the overflow of sewage and storm drain systems.

"The secondary process with extensive rainstorms over the weekend seemed to fuel the secondary growth to the north," said Heather Saffert, a staff scientist with Clean Ocean Action, based on Sandy Hook.

"This is something from a science fiction movie," Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said in a statement.

Tittel took the opportunity to criticize what he called "failed environmental polices that do not protect our water." He slammed Gov. Chris Christie’s recent vetoes of two bills that would have set limits on the amount of pollution entering Barnegat Bay and would have helped local communities develop plans to control their storm water runoff, which carries more pollution to the ocean.

Neither of those bills would have had an effect on the current bloom.

Normally, Kohut said Nor’easters and hurricanes will churn up the waters enough to prevent a dead zone from Cape May to New York Harbor.

Without that, he warned fishing could be slim and beachgoers may notice a brown foam covering their bodies as they get out of the surf.