Multiple federal, state and local agencies have been notified of an invasive algae species discovered in Newport Bay, Calif. The algae, which is native to Florida and other subtropical and tropical locales, is scientifically known as Caulerpa prolifera. It can grow quickly, choking out native seaweeds and potentially harming marine life through lost habitat. The unusual patch of algae discovered by a diver in Newport Bay was eventually identified by the California Department of Food and Agriculture which alerted other agencies.
Federal, state and local agencies have been meeting and working quickly to identify the extent of the algae’s infestation in Newport Bay. California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) scientists and divers are currently being deployed to map and identify the location of the species.
A similar species of invasive algae, Caulerpa taxifolia, was identified in California in 2000 and was successfully eradicated through a comprehensive joint local, state and federal effort in 2006. Due to the similarity between these two species, scientists believe this algae species may pose a serious threat to our local coastal ecosystems. Caulerpa species can reproduce by fragmentation, which is when small pieces of this algae break off and can root and quickly reproduce, rapidly outcompeting native algae and sea grasses.
Although there is significant concern this species could potentially be harmful to native species, there is no danger to humans. However, it is imperative that the public avoid contact with the plant due to its extreme ease of recolonizing from just tiny fragments. If you believe you have seen this invasive algae, please visit the Reporting a Caulerpa Sighting webpage and complete a Suspect Invasive Species Sighting Report. Please do not collect a specimen, as this may lead to further spread.
Additional information will be released as CDFW gathers more information with their state, federal and local agency partners.
CDFW photos of invasive Caulerpa prolifera by Environmental Scientist Amanda Van Diggelen.