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Red algae blooms stain Virginia waters feeding bay

NORFOLK, Va. — Red algae blooms have returned to Virginia waterways that feed the Chesapeake Bay.

The blooms have been active in the lower James, York, Elizabeth and Lafayette rivers for several weeks, Old Dominion University researcher Margaret Mulholland told The Virginian-Pilot ( ).

The blooms suck oxygen from the water, making it difficult for marine life to survive. They are driven by warm water and excessive nutrients, and typically occur in the lower Chesapeake Bay in July or August.

Old Dominion conducted tests in 2009 in which baby fish and oysters were immersed in concentrated algae blooms. Most died.

“It really wasn’t anything toxic, but it was more like the fish ate this stuff and it just gummed up their gills and killed them,” Mulholland said.

She said research indicates that algae blooms in local waters begin in the Lafayette River, and then are spread by winds and currents into the Elizabeth and James rivers.

Chris Moore, a scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the blooms are a sign that water quality improvements are needed.