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Killer Algae's ?

Written by Thomas A. Frakes
( Submitted during the hearing in California concerning the proposed bill # 1334 )

Many people have read of the outbreak of Killer Algae (Caulerpa taxifolia) in the Mediterranean Sea and more recently in Southern California. For a number of years the press and a few scientific journals have reported that C. taxifolia was going to destroy the environment by smothering all life in it¹s path as it relentlessly spreads. Fish and other organisms would disappear leading to serious economic harm to the areas. Recently the
popular book Killer Algae was released by Alexander Meinesz who is the principle source of information on the event. Based on the reports of all the terrible consequences that will follow the recent finding of C. taxifolia in S. California, the State has spent an estimated million dollars and counting to eradicate it. Now there is a bill to ban not only this species but also the entire genus from the State of California. Before going any farther on this path to ban all Caulerpa from the State of California please consider all the facts. This ban could have dire
consequences on the marine aquarium trade in California and the rest of the country that depends on shipments through Los Angeles. I ask that you objectively look at the emerging scientific data that clearly refutes the claims that C. taxifolia will cause an ecological disaster.

First it should be noted that the many species of Caulerpa grow all around the world in tropical and sub-tropical seas. Many species are native to Florida and Hawaii including C. taxifolia. This Killer Algae is also found off both coasts of Africa, the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and the Pacific from Japan to Australia to Hawaii. Caulerpa alga occasionally bloom up locally
and then die off just as suddenly. They are particularly successful in areas of pollution with anoxic, nutrient-rich sediments, such as mud bottoms near sewage outfalls. Often these areas are no longer suitable for seagrasses and the bottom deteriorates into a barren muck bottom. Caulerpa can actually thrive in this environment and help reclaim it. When a meadow of any species of Caulerpa is found it is often associated with a source of pollution (Raloff 2000, Chisholm et al. 1996).

The claims that Killer Algae will over grow all substrates and kills seagrass beds has been shown to be greatly exaggerated or even totally false. A recent study published in a top peer reviewed journal, Journal of Phycology (Jaubert et al. 1999), found no deleterious effects to seagrass beds in the Bay of Menton (France) since the colonization of C. taxifolia. This study, which covered eight years, found that the polluted areas that the Caulerpa populated where actually improving and seagrass (Posidonia) was starting to return to these areas where it used to live. Rather than kill off the seagrass it actually enhanced it. Dr. Susan Williams, who is in
favor of the ban, cited this report in a recent article "Caulerpa Invasions" (She failed to list it in her bibliography). She however went on to express her opinion that the eelgrass in San Diego suffers from poor water quality and other stresses which "might make the local eelgrass more susceptible to invasions." She however does not seem to take into account the fact that in
the Mediterranean study the improvements to the substrate actually improved the health of the seagrass beds. Thus it is entirely possible that the stressed beds in San Diego might actually do better after a period of Caulerpa colonization. This is because Caulerpa has been shown to be able to extract nutrients from polluted substrates (Chisholm et al. 1996) that have been shown to inhibit the growth of seagrasses. Throughout the tropics there are many places where eelgrass and Caulerpa sp. co-exist.  Certainly Caulerpa can grow on many types of substrates but the areas where it forms the smothering meadows pictured in the press releases are typically polluted bays near sewage outfalls.

The areas near the wastewater discharge sites in the Mediterranean have been studied for years. Meinesz complained as early as 1978 that pollution was killing the seagrasses off Monaco and adjacent France. This was years before he started blaming Caulerpa for killing the seagrass beds. A major concern has been the enormous amount of bottom that has been reported to be smothered with Caulerpa taxifolia up to 10,000 hectares by some newspaper
reports.  The Bay of Menton study (Jaubert et al. 1999) used a combination of aerial photography with high-resolution multispectral imagery verified with SCUBA diving to map the Caulerpa beds, Posidonia beds and other bottom types. This work is continuing and so far 75 % of the area claimed to have been affected by Caulerpa have been mapped. A preliminary review of this data shows that these claims of smothering thousand of hectares have been exaggerated by 100 times or more (Jaubert 2001, personal communication.).
The mapping will resume this June and soon the truth about the extent of damage will be published, not in the newspapers, but in respected peer re-viewed journals.

Another concern has been the claim that fish populations and biodiversity would drop when Caulerpa smothered the bottom. The biodiversity and fish populations of some of the affected areas were already greatly reduced. This was due to the mud bottom habitat that resulted from wastewater discharge and the decline of the seagrasses. Recent work in Italy from Relini et al. (1998a, 2000) has compared areas colonized with C. taxifolia with nearby seagrass beds. The fish biodiversity and biomass were found to be equal or greater on two Caulerpa sites than the two seagrass sites. Thus the predictions that fisheries would suffer are also false. Relini et al. (1998b) also looked at epiphytic fauna on beds of C taxifolia and the seagrass Cymodocea nodosa. When they compared the two in terms of standard bottom surface, they found "species richness and diversity were higher on the Caulerpa". These papers show that the predictions of ecological doom were unfounded.

There have been claims that the Mediterranean strain was genetically altered while kept in public aquariums in Europe but this is just science fiction. I may have been selected to withstand the rigors of tropical aquarium life. It is actually quite difficult to collect and successfully acclimate species of Caulerpa to aquariums. On average about 90% of the
material dies quickly. 

If Killer Algae (C. taxifolia) is not so bad, what was all the fuss about? It should be noted that since the alarms went out about this "disaster" there have been many more research grants to study the "problem". Since grant money in this field is scarce those involved have certainly benefited from this crisis.

I contend that Caulerpa taxifolia is not the great threat portrayed in the press and soon this will be proven to be the case. However the Mediterranean strain of C. taxifolia is already on the Federal List of Noxious Aquatic Species. It is already illegal to import this cold tolerant strain. The proposal to ban the entire genus is totally unfounded. One species, C. racemosa or grape algae, that has been targeted as a "bad" species is native to the Gulf of California. If it could tolerate the climate it would surely have found it¹s way up the coast. It also ranges all around the world in the tropics. The Baja Peninsula has four native species (James Norris 2001-
personal communication). More species are found down the Mexican coast and may be residents of some of the East Pacific Islands. If the risks from C.taxifolia turn out to be greatly exaggerated then extending a ban to the entire genus is ludicrous.

When I first became involved with this topic I agreed with the proposals to ban the Mediterranean strain of Caulerpa taxifolia but after a thorough review of the emerging literature even that ban now starts to look unnecessary. I ask you to carefully consider the serious impact this ban could have on the private and public aquariums, retailers and wholesalers in California and the rest of the country that depends on products coming
through California.

Respectfully submitted,

Thomas A. Frakes
Technical Consultant to Aquarium Systems/ Marineland Aquarium Products

Selected Bibliography

Adams, Nancy, 1994. Seaweeds of New Zealand. Canterbury Univ. Press,
Christchurch, New Zealand, __ pp.

Benzie, John, E.Ballment, J. Chisholm, and J. Jaubert, 2000. "Genetic
variation in the green alga Caulerpa taxifolia". Aquatic Botany 66:131-139.

Bolton, John ­ Algae-L @ listserv. June 1,2000. Botany Dept.,
Univ. of Cape Town, S. Africa. <bolton  @>

Cribb, A.B.,1996. Seaweeds of Queensland, a naturalist¹s guide. Queensland
Naturalist¹s Club, Inc. Brisbane, 130 pp.

Chisholm, John, J. Jaubert and G.Giaccone, 1995. "Caulerpa taxifolia in the
northwest Mediterranean: introduced species or migrant from the Red
Sea".C.R. Acad. Sci. Paris, Sciences de la Vie/Life Sciences, Vol. 318:

Chisholm, John, C. Dauga, E. Ageron, P. Grimont, J. Jaubert, 1996. " ŚRoots¹
in mixotrophic algae" Nature Vol. 381, May 30, p. 382.

Chisholm, John, F. Fernex, D. Mathieu, and J. Jaubert, 1997. "Wastewater
discharge, seagrass decline and algal proliferation on the Cote d¹Azur".
Marine Pollution Bulletin, Vol.34(2), pp.78-84.

Chisholm, John, Jean Jaubert, 1997. "Photoautotrophic metabolism of Caulerpa
taxifolia (Chlorophyta) in the N.W. Mediterranean". Mar. Ecol Prog. Ser.
Vol. 153:113-123.

Chisholm, J. and J. Jaubert, 1999. "Comments on article of Olsen et
al.(1998):¹Mediterranean Caulerpa taxifolia and Caulerpa mexicana are not
con-specifics¹". J. Phycol., 35:438-440.

Chisholm, John, M.Marchioretti and J. Jaubert, 2000. "Effects of low water
temperature on metabolism and growth of a subtropical strain of Caulerpa
taxifolia (Chlorophyta)". Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. Vol. 201:189-198.

Ferrer, E., A. Gomez Garreta, M.A. Ribera, 1997. "Effects of Caulerpa
taxifolia on the productivity of two Mediterranean macrophytes". Mar. Ecol.
Prog. Ser. 149: 279-287.

Gayol, P., C. Falconetti, J. Chisholm, and J. Jaubert,1995. "Metabolic
responses of low-temperature acclimated Caulerpa taxifolia (Chlorophyta) to
rapidly elevated temperature". Botanica Marina, Vol. 38:61-67.

Jaubert, Jean, 1997. "Sur l¹expansion de Caulerpa taxifolia en
Mediterranee". Extrait des actes du Seminiare Scientifique International.
Academie de Sciences de Paris: 13-15 Mars, 1997: 209-217.

Jaubert, Jean, J. Chisholm, D. Ducrot, H. Ripley, L.Roy, and G.
Passeron-Seitre, 1999. "No deleterious alterations in Posidonia beds in the
Bay of Menton (France) eight years after Caulerpa taxifolia colonization".
J. Phycol. 35: 1113-1119.

Jaubert, Jean 2000. "Being objective about ŚKiller Seaweed¹". Letter to
Caribbean-Biodiversity. (http:// /message/

Lipkin, Y., 1985. "Algae in the Gulf of Eilat", In: Plants and Animals of
the Land of Israel, Vol. 6 Flowerless Plants. pp 97-100 (In Hebrew).

Littler, Diane and Mark Littler, 2000. Caribbean Reef Plants. Offshore
Graphic, Washinton, D.C., 542 pp.

Magruder, William and Jeffrey Hunt,1979. Seaweeds of Hawaii, a photographic
identification guide. The Oriental Publishing Co. Honolulu, HI , 117 pp.

Meinesz, Alexander, 1999. Killer Algae. Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 360

Norris, James, 2001. Personal Communication, Smithsonian Institution, Marine
Botany, 3/27/01. Caulerpa species of the Gulf of Calif. and Baja.

Raloff, J., 2000. "Algal bloom is smothering Florida coral". Science News,
Vol.157, June 10, 2000.

 Relini, G., M.Relini, G. Torchia, 1998a. Fish biodiversity in a Caulerpa
taxifolia meadow in the Ligurian Sea. Ital. J. Zool., 65 Suppl. 465-470.

Relini G., A. Molinari, M. Relini, and G.Torchia, 1998b. Comparison in
epiphytic fauna of Caulerpa taxifolia and Cymodocea nodosa. Biol. Mar.
Medit., 5 (1): 185-195.

Relini,G., M. Relini and G. Torchia, 2000. "Fish population changes
following the invasion of the allochthonous alga Caulerpa taxifolia in the
Ligurian Sea (N.W. Mediterranean)". ICES-CM 2000/ U:17. (www.
/asc/2000 /abstracts/list.u.htm).

Reyna, Gabriela and R. Rodriguez, " Macroalgas del arricife Coralino de Cabo
Pulma-Los Frailes, BCS, Mexico". ( www . ots duke. edu/ tropibiojnl).

Scrosati, Ricardo, E.Serviere, G.Mendoza and P. Cruz, 1999. "Ecology and
Genetics of Seaweed populations from Southern Baja California". Abstract No.
5289, Poster No. 1148, from Intl. Bot. Congress 1999.

Yip, Marcela, 1999. "Essay about Caulerpa taxifolia (or C. xenogigantia = C.
godzilliana)". In Colloquial Meeting of Marine Biology I.


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