Tag Archives: Phytoplankton

Orange plankton bloom is not a good sign for ecological health

If you notice an orange tint to the waters of Central Puget Sound, it’s not your imagination. It is a dense plankton bloom dominated by the dinoflagellate Noctiluca scintillans.

Noctiluca scintillans bloom comes ashore at Saltwater State Park in Des Moines on Monday of this week.
Video: Washington Department of Ecology

Noctiluca is often seen in some numbers at this time of year, but it may be a bit more intense this time around, according to Christopher Krembs, an oceanographer with the Washington Department of Ecology. Christopher tells me that the orange color may stick around awhile.

The orange-colored species does not produce any toxins found to be harmful to humans, but it is not exactly a friendly organism either. It often shows up in marine waters that are out of balance with nutrients or impaired in some other way. It can gobble up other plankton that feed tiny fish and other creatures, but it does not seem to provide a food supply that interests very many species — probably because of its ammonia content. Consequently, Noctiluca is often referred to as a “dead end” in the food web.

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Plankton bloom in Puget Sound: art on the water

Eyes Over Puget Sound shot some amazing plankton blooms this week, including this one between Bainbridge Island and Seattle. Photo courtesy of EOPS
Eyes Over Puget Sound shot some amazing plankton blooms this week, including this one between Bainbridge Island and Seattle. / Photos courtesy of EOPS

Team members for Eyes Over Puget Sound, a Washington Department of Ecology program, were excited to discover and report on a second major plankton bloom during their flight this week.

Here are a few notes provided in the latest EOPS report, dated June 17, presumably by team leader Christopher Krembs:


“The real show came at the end of the day when we got to Edmonds and started to see a bright orange Noctiluca bloom. It was huge! It persisted all the way to South East Passage. It was the most extensive bloom I have ever seen. Every direction you looked, there it was. It’s as if Puget Sound was on fire!

“The size of this bloom made me wonder … Why is it happening in the Main Basin and not in South Sound? Why is it happening again? Why don’t we know more about its appearance and ferocious appetite for phytoplankton? Could it be that our imprint on Puget Sound is artfully surfacing to remind us of our daily connection to the Sound? Could these large blooms be a clue of a shift in the food chain?”

The report provides all kinds of good information, which I will review more carefully when I get the chance. General observations include red-brown blooms in Port Townsend Bay, Discovery Bay and Bellingham Bay. Large mats of accumulated plankton were seen in Samish Bay. Clusters of jellyfish were spotted in Budd, Totten and Eld Inlets, all in South Puget Sound.

References were made to a previous Noctiluca bloom, which we discussed in Water Ways May 23. Also check out the previous EOPS report.

EOPS provides aerial observations of sea surface conditions between landings, when water is sampled for a variety of conditions. Weather and general oceanographic conditions also are reported after each flight.