Sucking Invasive Algae Off of Reefs

Well, that's one way to get rid of those troublesome algae: use an underwater vacuum cleaner to suck them clear off the reefs. Biologists in Hawaii are using devices known as "Super Suckers" to eliminate tons of gorilla ogo, a species of invasive algae that is killing coral reefs, fouling beaches and smothering beds of sea grass. Invasive algae have long been considered a grave threat because of their ability to outcompete local algal communities and coral alike, allowing them to gradually take over the reefs and, in so doing, drastically reduce species diversity in the area.

Super Suckers are made up of a pump and a tube to suction algae from beneath the ocean surface to the deck of a barge. The 100-foot long suction hose is operated by divers, who feed in chunks of algae by hand. The algae are screened to ensure no marine life were accidentally caught during the suctioning process, and they are then stored in bags to be used as fertilizer later on. The devices are capable of removing close to 800 lbs of algae per hour — which helps restore several hundreds of square feet of reef in a day. Studies have demonstrated that areas cleaned with the Suckers experience a revival in their native algal communities and renewed coral growth.

"When you pull the algae off, there is often live coral underneath that is fighting to survive," said Brian Hauk, a director of the Super Sucker project with the state's Department of Land and Natural Resources. "Removing the algae recreates the three-dimensional nature of the coral reef, and recreates homes used by all types of fish and invertebrates." The project is a joint effort by the department, the University of Hawaii and The Nature Conservancy.

Biologists working on the project recently unveiled the "Super Sucker Junior" — a smaller, more versatile form of the device that can be used in shallower waters — at a scientific conference in Japan. They hope to one day be able to turn over their responsibilities to the reef's natural managers: the local algae. "Native algal consumers can keep [the invasive algae] from coming back. The areas we are targeting will need to have those native communities restored," said Cynthia Hunter, a marine biologist at the University of Hawaii.

Via ::National Geographic News: "Super Suckers" Slurp Invasive Algae Off Reefs (news website)

See also: ::Lake Algae Outbreak Sounds Green Alarm in China, ::Algae Bloom In Chinese Lakes Causes Panic Buying of Bottled Water, ::Biodiesel from Algae and the Biofuels Discussion in Argentina

Tags: Algae | Hawaii

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