Red algae bloom closes Sydney's beaches, but probably not for long

Bloody waters before summer has even started may sound like a drag on tourism, but it's a mere drop in the sea for Australia.

Daniel Munoz/Reuters/File
A couple of young surfers play with a small wave during a morning surf at Coogee beach in Sydney, Australia, in October. A red algae bloom has closed 10 beaches so far in and around Sydney and up the more northerly Central Coast in Australia during the past 24 hours.

Don’t worry. It’s not blood. It’s not even poisonous, just an irritant to skin and eyes and to anyone hoping for a swim now that summer’s finally about to hit Sydney.

A red algae bloom has closed 10 beaches so far in and around Sydney and up the more northerly Central Coast in Australia during the past 24 hours. And more beach closures could be on the way, say officials. But aside from some startlingly other-world pictures, it's not likely to scare away the tourists.

The "crimson tide," or an algal bloom that has variously been compared to shark attacks or oily tomato sauce in the Aussie media, washed up on Sydney shores earlier this week, temporarily closing famed tourist beaches like Bondi. But it doesn't seem like too many around here are worried.

Turns out the blood-colored algal bloom isn’t a result of pollution, but rather an upswelling of nutrient-rich waters that the buoyant algae can feed off. Two different blooms have apparently come from the same source and essentially floated to Sydney’s shores. Their ammonia-rich diet can cause skin and eye irritations but little else problematic, according to experts. 

"This bloom has likely occurred as a result of the upwelling of nutrient-rich deep ocean water on to the continental shelf," the Metropolitan Sydney, South Coast, and Hunter Regional Algal Coordinating Committees told media Tuesday. They said tests had identified the algae as noctiluca scintillans or "Sea Sparkle" (for its phosphorescence) and pointed out that most algal blooms last around a week. 

Despite the closure of Sydney’s favorite beaches on the cusp of a hot summer – and a possible heat wave of a weekend, with temperatures predicted to pass 100 Fahrenheit – it’s doubtful this red tide will cause any longstanding problems either for locals or the tourism industry. And in the meantime, not all of Sydney's beaches are closed, and there are plenty of hotels with swimming pools.

And anyway, Australia has faced much worse in the water: Real blood in the water with the odd shark attacks, or stings from one of the many species of box jellyfish like the Chironex fleckeri, the world’s most venomous animal. The sting from this particular jellyfish can cause death in minutes, according to Australian jellyfish experts.

It will take much more to keep people from hitting Sydney's beaches.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.