‘Mahogany Tide’ | Algal bloom sightings reported near Virginia Beach, around Chesapeake Bay

Officials say accumulations of algae have been spotted near Hampton Roads, as well as the York and James rivers.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – This is not a color normally associated with water.

“People have been going out trying to swim this week and then going, ‘What is this? All of a sudden it looks like this mahogany red color,” Christopher Moore, senior scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, told 13News Now on Wednesday.

According to Moore, the CBF has received reports over the past few days in communities facing the Chesapeake Bay in Hampton Roads of sightings of algal blooms just off the shore.

Algae buildups are caused by several environmental factors, including recent rains followed by warm, sunny days, according to Moore. They are also caused by an imbalance of phosphorus and nitrogen chemicals in the local watershed. The chemicals were given “D” and “F” grades respectively in the 2020 State of the Bay Report.

“In the right amount they are great, but with excess nutrients there are cloudy water conditions and algal blooms,” Moore said.

Algae are an integral part of aquatic environments, but in significant numbers, they can cause “harmful algal blooms” that can lead to oxygen depletion and harm marine life, according to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Flowers can be seen on either side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, as ripples of mahogany-colored spots contrasting against the steady water of the Chesapeake Bay.

“They can negatively affect oysters, finfish species in particular. In oysters, it shows it’s eroding the gills, making it harder to breathe,” Moore said.

Algae affects not only animals that live below the surface, but also people who might live near it.

“I swam a bit. Everything turns orange or red, visibility goes from 3 to 4 feet to zero feet. It was uncomfortable,” said Jim Deppe, a Virginia Beach resident who is also an active swimmer in the bay.

On Tuesday, he took off his swim shorts when he realized what he was going through.

“The fishing community is suffering as much as the swimming community,” Deppe said with a laugh.

These recent accumulations have now been reported across the larger Chesapeake Bay watershed, including the York and James rivers.

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