Summer’s arrived and China‘s green menace has returned along with it… we kudzu not! The massive bloom of stringy, slimy, and smelly Enteromorpha Prolifera algae that recently infested the seashore near Qingdao succeeded in keeping most (but not all) swimmers from enjoying a day at the beach.
Green Goo Go Home!
The east may be red, in the words of the popular Chinese government anthem, but the shocking green tide of algae that swamped beaches in the northeast part of the country is neither politically, aesthetically not environmentally correct.
Enteromorpha Prolifera, to give it its official name, is a form of green algae that bursts into bloom if nutritional and meteorological conditions are just right. When that happens, the results are, well, just wrong.
According to the North China Sea Branch (NCSB) of the State Ocean Administration, reports of the unsightly algae infestation began to be received in late June at the busy port and popular resort of Qingdao.
Air temperatures approaching 30°C (86°F) and water temperatures just offshore reaching 20°C (68°F) had created the perfect storm for the mother of all algae blooms. Anyone complaining about China being “slow to go green” obviously hasn’t spent a summer in Qingdao!
From an initial area of 330 sq km (127 sq mi), the algae bloom rapidly grew to cover a 12,400 sq km (4,790 sq mi) expanse of the Yellow Sea by June 23.
(images via: SMH)
The advent of a persistent onshore wind then drove waves of floating algae onto the beaches near Qingdao: at one point approximately 440 km (275 miles) of shoreline was subsumed in bright green goop!
A Verdant History
Qingdao’s green plague is of relatively recent origin and can be directly attributed to the exponential growth of the city of Qingdao. A little over a century ago, the city’s current location on the Shandong Peninsula was occupied by a small and sleepy fishing village.
The peninsula, however, was/is strategically located and Qingdao itself boasts a fine natural harbor. In 1897, Imperial Germany seized the environs and arm-twisted China’s decadent and decrepit government into granting the Kaiser a 99-year lease of the Kiautschou Bay concession.
(image via: Travelpod)
Development of the city and surrounding area proceeded quickly: within just a few years several large stone churches had been built, the city and port boasted clean water and electric lighting, and the Tsingtao Brewery opened for business. It all seemed too good to be true, and so it was. Shortly after World War I began, a joint Japanese-British force conquered the German concession. Given the tumultuous series of wars and revolutionary upheaval which followed, it’s a wonder any hints of Qingdao’s German heritage remain, but they do – most notably the brewery (above).
From an original population of around 85,000 at the time of the German seizure of Qingdao, the city itself has ballooned to an astounding 7.5 million (2009) with millions more living in newly developed suburban areas.
(images via: DailyMail/AP)
The city’s port is one of China’s busiest and the beaches that run along the Shandong Peninsula’s south-facing shore are hugely popular with vacationers from across northeastern China. Unfortunately, Qingdao’s economic success is negatively impacting its appeal as an unspoiled getaway.
As the city grew, its infrastructure was hard-pressed to keep up. As well, agricultural activity on the peninsula resulted in nitrogen-rich runoff being swept into the bay and ocean. The combination of organic effluent from fertilizer and sewage with warm marine temperatures acted to produce algal blooms of ever-increasing size.
(images via: YachtPals)
Thousands of fishermen, students and “sea police” were dragooned into clearing the algae from the shoreline and over 100,000 tons of noisome seagrass were removed, allowing the Games to go on.
Even the army was drafted (so to speak) into what became an all-out, epic effort to save the sailing venue – and save face for China in the bargain. Join the army and see the world? I’m guessing a lot of the PLA’s raw recruits figured they had a better chance of invading beaches than cleaning them up.
A Blooming Shame
Just what is this algae, seagrass or seaweed? Enteromorpha Proliferaso is a form of algae that grows to resemble seaweed. Its long branches and kelp-like fronds help it clump together into huge, floating rafts of vegetation that casts a dark shadow on the sea life below.
(images via: Yahoo News)
As the algae dies and sinks to the seafloor it can spark creation of vast “dead zones” as the bacteria digesting the dead algae suck the oxygen out of the seawater.
Found on seashores all over the world, Enteromorpha Proliferaso known in Hawaii as Limu ‘ele‘ele and is said to be edible… though considering the nutrients it grows on might cause one to lose their appetite. Unlike the algae in Red Tides, Enteromorpha Proliferaso isn’t toxic… just messy, smelly, annoying… and very, very green.
Slime and stink notwithstanding, thousands of Chinese vacationers weren’t about to let a little (or a lot) of seaweed deprive them of their cherished dip in the ocean. You know, the ocean… that cool, clear, liquid underneath the rippling carpet of green slime?
Some beachgoers appear to be somewhat acclimated to the algal overgrowth, with one child enthusing “It is like the green grass. It feels so soft.”
(images via: Scott Brauer)
Meanwhile, local authorities seem to be in denial regarding the problem. “We don’t know where it originated and why it’s suddenly growing so rapidly,” said Professor Bao Xianwen from the Qingdao-based Ocean University of China. “It must have something to do with the change in the environment,” Bao speculated. Gee, ya think?