A 90-metre stretch of Japanese algae bloom bore down on Carvoeiro beach recently, requiring a major clean-up operation Photo: SIC Notícias
A 90-metre stretch of Japanese algae bloom bore down on Carvoeiro beach recently, requiring a major clean-up operation Photo: SIC Notícias

Japanese algae ‘invades Algarve beaches’

Likely to become a national problem; driving octopus and other species away

Bit by bit Portugal’s southern beaches are being ‘invaded’ by a type of Japanese algae bloom that sits thick in the water, washes up onto shores, and when dry, smells horrible.

The trouble with this algae is that it creates an almost impermeable ‘barrier’, explained Lagoa councillor Mário Guerreiro. (Lagoa municipality has spent tens of thousands cleaning Carvoeiro beach up from tonnes of washed-up algae recently). Swimmers give up trying to break through to clear water; octopus and other species are being ‘repelled’; tourist boats are seeing their lines of customers deplete. 

And the worst of it is that this is no passing problem; it looks like Japanese algae could be not only here to stay, but here to multiply.

Algae blooms right now are worst between the beaches of Albufeira and Portimão, says SIC Notícias. But further west in Praia da Luz, for instance, there was already quite a bit of this floating algae in the waves over the weekend. Nothing insurmountable; nothing like on the scale that Carvoeiro has suffered. But sign perhaps that the problem is spreading, and that piecemeal interventions cannot be the answer. The answer will have to be “a national response”, says Lagoa municipality.

Scientists at the University of the Algarve and partner organisations are already “working to find answers”, while Spain (which began suffering from this problem before Portugal) predicts that a large extension of national coastline will come to be affected.

André Dias, of Wildwatch Portugal, says models of probability point to Japanese algae covering “the whole of the Mediterranean”, up to the Bay of Biscay and down to the north of Morocco. For Portugal, this suggests it will end up ‘invading’ the coast from the Algarve to Lisbon – and so far, there is no pharmaceutical benefit derived from this type of algae.

What seems to be happening as the climate warms up is that this algae is slowly but surely covering the rocky bottom of the sea, close to the shore.

Fishermen are finding it impossible to fish as before; too much algae gets caught up in their nets which then require more than the usual amount of cleaning. As for touristic boats, taking people into grottoes etc., “it is a nightmare”: the algae once installed “never leaves”, says André Dias. The dynamics (of the ocean) is reduced in grottoes, meaning the force of currents and winds cannot push the weeds away.

The problem is particularly acute when there is a southwesterly (synonymous with heatwaves), bringing rolling waves to southern beaches – and we are constantly being told that heatwaves are features we must increasingly expect.

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