Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Great green blob covers Chinese waters

By Wilfred Chan, for CNN
updated 11:46 AM EDT, Sun July 7, 2013
Tourists swim in seawater covered by a thick layer of green algae on July 3, 2013 in Qingdao, China. A large quantity of non-poisonous green seaweed, enteromorpha prolifera, hit the Qingdao coast in recent days. Tourists swim in seawater covered by a thick layer of green algae on July 3, 2013 in Qingdao, China. A large quantity of non-poisonous green seaweed, enteromorpha prolifera, hit the Qingdao coast in recent days.
HIDE CAPTION
Swimming in slime
Swimming in slime
Swimming in slime
Swimming in slime
Swimming in slime
Swimming in slime
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Coastal waters near Qingdao covered with 28,900 sq km of green algae
  • Largest outbreak seen by local officials, doubling previous record in 2008
  • Scientist says algae is caused by pollution and sewage in water
  • Algae 'generally not harmful' to humans, but scientist urges caution

(CNN) -- For years, China has talked about promoting "green growth." But this probably isn't what they had in mind.

For the seventh year in a row, monstrous quantities of green algae known as enteromorpha prolifera have sprouted in the coastal waters near Qingdao, China. But this year's growth, covering 28,900 square kilometers (11,158 square miles), is the biggest outbreak ever recorded, state-run news agency Xinhua reported. The previous record was 13,000 square kilometers (5019 square miles) in 2008.

Ew ... what's he swimming in?!

Swimmers and beachgoers were pictured frolicking among the stringy piles of slime, while bulldozers attempted to scoop it away.

Chinese officials have blamed past algae outbreaks on unusually warm seas. Dr. Christopher Bolch, an algae expert at the University of Tasmania, says the explanation doesn't hold water.

Where your used electronics go in China
Pollution causing cancer in this village?

"You may get faster growth rates with higher temperatures, but you can't get such large amounts of biomass without access to nutrients," he explained.

According to Bolch, massive algae blooms feed off of high levels of nitrites and phosphates in the water, which typically comes from agricultural waste, industrial pollution, or human sewage from highly populated areas.

Enteromorpha is "fairly benign," said Bolch, but can harm marine ecosystems. Algae blocks sunlight from reaching aquatic life, reduces oxygen levels, and emits bacteria when the algae dies and rots.

Similar but more dangerous types of aquatic growths, such as phytobacteria or dinoflagellates, can produce harmful toxins and posion people. "They should consider themselves quite lucky that it's not one of those," said Bolch.

Chinese state media reported that the seaweed began proliferating on June 5, and that local governments had "taken measures" to minimize the impact to marine ecosystems. Officials reported that they had removed around 7,335 tons of algae.

Bolch said enteromorpha typically does not cause health problems in humans, but "large concentrations of anything can be problematic."

There could be a risk of skin inflammation, said Bolch. "If you were stupid enough to go in, I wouldn't go in naked."

In 2012: Melting Arctic 'blooms' with algae

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
See CNN's complete coverage on China.
updated 10:30 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
updated 5:11 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Is Xi Jinping a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
updated 11:44 PM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
updated 2:31 AM EDT, Fri July 4, 2014
26-year-old Ji Cheng is the first rider from China to compete for competitive cycling's highest honor.
updated 7:24 AM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, may not yet be a household name outside of China, but that could be about to change.
updated 12:14 AM EDT, Fri July 4, 2014
Hong Kong's narrow streets were once a dazzling gallery of neon, where banks and even bordellos plied their trade under sizzling tubular signs.
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
updated 7:59 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
Three more officials have been given the chop as part of China's anti-corruption drive, including former aides to the retired security chief.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
As thousands of Hong Kongers prepare for an annual protest, voices in China's press warn pro-democracy activism is a bad idea.
updated 12:37 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
Hong Kongers are demanding the right to directly elect their next leader, setting up a face-off with Beijing.
updated 2:56 AM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
The push for democratic reform in Hong Kong is testing China's "one country, two systems" model.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
Along a winding Chinese mountain road dotted with inns and restaurants is Jinan Orphanage, a place of refuge and site for troubled parents to dump unwanted children.
updated 4:36 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
CNN's Kristie Lu Stout invites Isaac Mao, Han Dongfang, and James Miles to discuss the rise of civil society in China and social media's crucial role.
updated 11:34 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
Chen Guangbiao wants rich people to give more to charity and he'll do anything to get their attention, including buying lunch for poor New Yorkers.
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Architects are planning to build the future world's tallest towers in China. They're going to come in pretty colors.
updated 7:47 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Anna Coren visits Yulin's annual dog meat festival. Dogs are part of the daily diet here, with an estimated 10,000 dogs killed for the festival alone.
updated 2:38 AM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
People know little about sex, but are having plenty of it. We take a look at the ramifications of a lack of sex education in China.
updated 4:12 AM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
Hong Kongers have reacted angrily to a Chinese government white paper affirming Beijing's control over the territory.
The emphasis on national glory -- rather than purely personal achievement -- is key.
updated 12:14 PM EDT, Mon June 16, 2014
A replica of the Effel Tower in Tianducheng, a luxury real estate development located in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang province.
What's the Eiffel Tower doing in China? Replica towns of the world's most famous monuments spring up all over China.
updated 8:13 PM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
Rapid development hasn't just boosted the economy -- it has opened up vast swathes of the country, says a man who has spent much of his life exploring it.
updated 2:54 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
The World Cup is apparently making a lot of people "ill" in China.
ADVERTISEMENT