Orange substance discovered in Salish Sea a phytoplankton bloom

Orange substance discovered in Salish Sea a phytoplankton bloom
Coryn Wolfe-Milner
A local Island professor specializing in coastal ecology says the orange in the water is due to a phytoplankton bloom called Noctiluca.

A thick orange substance along the shorelines in the Cowichan region is capturing people’s attention.

Sarah Merriam noticed a thick orange substance by the Maple Bay Marina while she was out for a walk this past Wednesday.  After posting to a Cowichan community Facebook page, many were speculating whether or not it was related to red tide.

Maycira Costa, a University of Victoria professor who specializes in coastal oceanography, saw the video and has an explanation of her own. She says the orange colour in the water is most likely due to a phytoplankton bloom called Noctiluca.

“If you have the proper amount of light, nutrients, temperature, then they’re going to start to reproduce more and more, and that triggers the bloom,” Costa says. “These blooms typically happen around spring and summer time.”

Costa explained that this type of phytoplankton prefers inlets and areas with low circulation, which increases the nutrients in the area.

She also adds that sometimes nutrients from the discharge of sewage or fertilizer and intense sunlight can also contribute to the vibrant orange bloom.

Costa says this type of bloom is not directly harmful to humans and typically only lasts a few days.

Below a satellite image showcases just how visible the bloom is, from 786 km above Earth.

An aerial Google earth capture of bloom in the Maple Bay area.

This is a large scale Noctiluca bloom by the Burgoyne Bay Provincial Park or Xwaaqw’um. This was observed on May 20, 2023 with the European Space Agency Sentinel 2 satellite. Image processed by Post Doctorate Dr. Marta Konik from the UVic Spectral and Remote Sensing Lab.

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