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Researchers Plan To Kill Seaweed

July 21, 2000

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Marine researchers plan to use chlorine to poison an aggressive algae that invaded a Southern California lagoon and threatens to spread and destroy coastal habitat statewide.

The chlorine will also destroy most life in the lagoon, but is an essential strategy to prevent the spread of the algae, researchers said Thursday.

``This species is devastating to ecosystems,″ said Bob Hoffman of the National Marine Fisheries Service for Southern California. ``If it were to get into the coastal reefs, fishery and invertebrate populations would be severely affected, if not destroyed.″

The algae, Caulerpa taxifolia, ruined more than 10,000 acres of Mediterranean Sea marine habitat near France, Spain, Monaco and Italy after patches found in the 1980s were not immediately destroyed.

Caulerpa, while not a danger to humans, is toxic to most sea life, forcing fish to go elsewhere and harming fisheries. It is so hardy it can live for 10 days out of water and 30 days without sunlight.

Divers helping monitor habitat for a nearby power plant discovered the algae on June 12 in the lagoon, 20 miles north of San Diego. Recently, the largest patch measured 60 feet by 30 feet.

Researchers believe the algae got into the lagoon when someone dumped the contents of their aquarium into a storm drain or into the lagoon itself.

They have not found the algae anywhere else, and to stop its spread, workers have cordoned off a large part of the lagoon, leaving a buffer zone to prevent boaters from spreading the bright green, fern-like plant.

To eradicate it, workers will use tarps to enclose the algae patches, then administer chlorine, said Rachel Woodfield, the marine biologist who identified the species in the lagoon.

Eradication is expected to take at least three months. Officials said the cost is still unknown.

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