It’s spring, and the plankton are in bloom in Hood Canal

Don’t be alarmed, but the waters in southern Hood Canal are beginning to look like autumn leaves.

<i>A multicolored plankton bloom has been seen at Twanoh State Park and other areas. </i><br><small>Photo courtesy of Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group</small>
A multicolored plankton bloom has been seen at Twanoh State Park and other areas.
Photo courtesy of Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group

The color results from the growth of a species of plankton called Noctiluca, which multiplies rapidly in the presence of nutrients and sunlight. Conditions were ideal over the weekend for the water to turn colors — reported as red, orange or yellow. (The photo contains green hues, doesn’t it?)

The plankton aren’t harmful, experts say, and it is too early to say whether the plankton growth we are seeing will contribute to a decline in oxygen levels this fall. These colors are temporary and disappear as the waters get stirred up.

Hood Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program offers more information on its Web site.

Here is a brief story I prepared for Wednesday’s Kitsap Sun:

Plankton bloom making for a colorful Hood Canal

Residents of southern Hood Canal are reporting a plankton bloom that is making the water look like tomato soup, according to Dan Hannafious of the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group.

The cause of the coloration, which can also be orange or yellow, is an organism called Noctiluca, which is not harmful to humans or marine life, experts say.

The organism, which grows rapidly on sunny days, can clump together, float to the surface and be pushed around by wind.

The “bloom” made itself evident starting Saturday on the North Shore of Hood Canal outside Belfair from Cherokee Beach to nearly Sisters Point. The ribbon of color was 10 to 20 yards wide along the shoreline. A similar ribbon of color was reported Sunday on the South Shore from Twanoh to Sunset Beach.

Other sightings have been reported elsewhere in Puget Sound this year and in Hood Canal in May 2007 and July 2005.

Researchers with the Hood Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program are watching the oxygen levels to determine if conditions could increase the risk of a fish kill. So far, overall oxygen levels are high compared with recent years.

Researchers would like people to call the state’s Spill Response Line if they see plankton blooms, fish kills or other unusual conditions in Hood Canal, (800) OILS-911.

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