Wrangling Algae with a Super Sucker

This isn’t exactly newly minted news in the world of science, but it is new to me.  I noticed a little blurb in the latest issue of Science concerning an invasive algae in Kaneohe Bay (thats in Hawaii y’know).  Initially cultivated for harvest of agar, a species of Gracilaria has been let loose on the coral reefs along Oahu’s coasts. 

Elegant solution?  A giant siphon pump worked by a crew of divers and surface support.  Divers uproot algae from coral cover and toss it into the intake path of the tube where it travels to the surface for eventual disposal (although that point wasnt well clarified).  They call it the Super Sucker, and its been in faithful use for nearly two years.  Its been working so well that they recently commissioned a junior Super Sucker for work on reefs at other sites in Hawaii. 

As you might imagine, there has been a lot of discussion on how to curb invasive algae.  Some researchers argue that mechanical methods – like the Super Sucker – fail to address the root causes of invasive algae blooms.  In a healthy reef system herbivores keep algae cover to a minimum.  In unhealthy reefs where herbivores have disappeared, or eutrophication is promoting alga growth (maybe due to coastal pollution and runoff), the little photosynthetic greenies can persist indefinitely until environmental conditions no longer allow them to grow. 

But – as many reefers know – herbivores don’t like all species of algae and even super low nutrient environments can have alga persist in large quantities.  In those cases we’re left with mechanical methods to change things back to normal and it seems that natural reefs will need the same.

I cant help but wonder if these methods might be a useful in targeting other invasive species of algae, like the ubiquitous Caulerpa.  Of course there we have the confounding talent of the genus… even the smallest fragment or bit of rhizoid tissue can regenerate. 

Can you imagine though?  Working as an algae wrangler for a living?  Wait, do I already do that? 

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One Comment to “Wrangling Algae with a Super Sucker”

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