Noctiluca blooms turn parts of Puget Sound bright orange

An earlier than normal noctiluca plankton bloom is turning parts of the Puget Sound the color of tomato soup.

“It makes me sick. I’d like to keep the water wholesome and pure,” said Denise Durbin.

The bloom, which looks like a large patch of orange or brown in the water, is actually a gathering of algae or plankton. Blooms can vary in color depending on the type of phytoplankton present in the water.

Noctiluca blooms, which are common in Puget Sound, are nontoxic and usually appear to be the color of tomato soup.

“It’s not harmful, it doesn’t harm the animals, it doesn’t harm the people, it’s just this little phytoplankton and it gets really, really abundant,” said Rus Higley, Highline College MaST Center Director.

The Department of Ecology said calls and emails started pouring in Sunday, spanning from Tacoma to Edmonds, with boaters and beachgoers asking what was in the water.

“It’s a plankton and other animals don’t like to eat it and that’s why you see it in large amounts, like you see right now,” said Camille St. Onge, Department of Ecology Communications.

While algae are present all year, sunshine and warm temperatures contribute to larger seasonal blooms. This bloom is earlier than usual, which the Department of Ecology attributes to recent unseasonably warm temperatures in the area.

“Bloom just means it grows a lot and the best analogy is your lawn, your lawn is growing like crazy right now, well, so is the ocean’s lawn,” said Higley.

Because of the wind and waves, the blooms broke up a bit Wednesday, but the plankton is still in the water.

“There’s a little bit of orange tinge in the water and all those little kind of flecks, there’s a lot of different kinds of plankton, but one is the noctiluca,” he said.

The Department of Ecology is asking people to tag photos of the blooms on social media with the hashtag, #PugetSoundBloom. Photos will be added to their research archives.

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