Red Tide: A Bloom Unwanted

A Spey Look at Red Tide - A Bloom Unwanted

We just adore receiving a sprightly bouquet of freshly plucked blooms, but particularly in the pearling industry, not all blooms are created equal. Enter the red tide – as far removed from a delicate flower as one might possibly be. Red tide is a marine phenomenon of alarming intensity. Great concentrations of algae (an aquatic microorganism) gather together and “bloom” in coastal areas; discoloring the water, robbing it of oxygen, and releasing petulant chemicals into the ecosystem. One might easily see how this could wreak havoc in the pristine waters of the pearl farm. At the very suggestion of disease or pollution, entire fields of mollusks are at risk. Red tide is then a problem most closely monitored by the guardians of the world’s most lustrous gem.

Many factors influence the strength and voraciousness of a red tide. Warmer ocean temperatures coupled with lower salinity and higher nutrient levels amount to the perfect storm for an algal bloom. These incidences can be agitated or encouraged by strong winds, currents, storms, or even ships – and very few temperate or tropical coastlines are considered invulnerable to the possibility of red tide. Thankfully, technological advances in satellite imaging and global monitoring have given pearl farmers advanced notice of the potentiality and trajectory of a red tide. Given the time (and resources, of course), a pearl farmer’s best remedy may be to migrate the mollusk stock altogether, shifting the farm further up-coast or away from the threatening algae.

Man may also (as is so often the case) be partly to blame for the increasing frequency of surges in red tide. Runoff from deforestation and land farming causes spikes in nutrient levels within coastal ecosystems, fueling the rapid growth and spread of red tide. These algae, typically the foundation of the marine food pyramid, then become a scourge to its health. Fertilizers compound the situation. Algal density during a bloom may exceed tens of millions of cells per liter of seawater, discoloring it to a deep reddish-brown hue and giving rise to its chill-inducing name. Alas, we shudder to think of the ecosystems destroyed (and lustrous pearls lost) to that strangler of oceans: the red tide.