Tuesday May 7, 2024


The spring of 2020 saw one of Southern California’s most prolific red tides on record, and while the bioluminescence left beaches from Santa Barbara down through Baja California with ravishing visual displays at night, the algal inundation – more of a chocolate-brown than a crimson-red– resulted in graver consequences for many creatures within it.

Red tides are notorious for causing grandiose algal blooms (in this case, of the dinoflagellate Lingulodinium polyedra), then sucking up all of the oxygen in the water and leaving for dead everything from small invertebrates to any fish unfortunate enough to be in the area at the time. Last week week, a multi-institutional team of researchers led by UC San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published a report on a several-years-long study in the academic journal Elementa, identifying deteriorating water quality.

The 2020 incident saw mass mortality among snails, topsmelt, round stingray, sarcastic fringehead, sanddabs, rockfish, and thornback guitarfish. Marine mammals were spared, it seems, with no more reported strandings than usual – probably because they were able to bail out and away from the bad water.

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