California Fish and Wildlife Identifies Invasive Seaweed at Newport Bay

California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has identified an invasive algae species at Newport Bay known to grow quickly, choke out native seaweeds and potentially harm marine life through lost habitat.

The unusual patch of the algae, whose scientific name is Caulerpa prolifera, was found by a diver at Newport Bay and later identified by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which has alerted other federal, state and local agencies. Work is underway to determine the extent of the infestation of this algae, which is native to Florida and other subtropical and tropical locales. Authorities there said a similar invasive algae, Caulerpa taxifolia, was identified in California in 2000 and has since been successfully eradicated, thanks to a joint local, state and federal effort in 2006.

California authorities said the Caulerpa species can reproduce by fragmentation, which happens when small pieces of the algae break off and then root and quickly reproduce, causing them to rapidly outcompete with native algae and sea grasses. While harmful to native species this algae is not known to endanger humans. Still, people are being warned to avoid contact with the plant due to its extreme ease of recolonizing from tiny fragments.

Anyone who feels they have seen the invasive algae should not attempt to collect a specimen, which could lead to further spread, but to visit the “Reporting a Caulerpa Sighting” webpage – and complete a suspect invasive species sighting report.