Red Tide in California's Abundant Lake Merritt Decimates Local Marine Life

Lizzy Rosenberg - Author

Sep. 1 2022, Published 1:47 p.m. ET

Lake Merritt
Source: Getty Images

Thanks to warming water temperatures, and various other factors, toxic algae is becoming an increasingly prevalent issue around the world. And while it often makes headlines for harming people and their pets, Lake Merritt's recent Red Tide is decimating local marine life.

Thousands of fish, including bat rays, striped bass, sturgeon, anchovies, and clams are among some of the most common victims, which could ultimately take a huge toll on the ecosystem.

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Locals, naturalists, and photographers have been doing everything they can to document the thousands of dead fish floating in the scummy-looking lake.

“The diversity of life in Lake Merritt is just incredible,” naturalist Damon Tighe told The Guardian. “This is like losing giant redwoods... I don’t think people quite understand the significance — this is really big.”

Researchers suspect contaminated water from nearby wastewater treatment plants may be the culprit.

“Researchers have known for decades that the levels in this estuary are really high,” Francisco Baykeeper conservation group scientist, Jon Rosenfield, stated via The Guardian. “In fact, many have wondered why this hasn’t happened yet... This is a problem society as a whole has ignored for too long.”

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Lake Merritt's Red Tide is a prime example of harmful algae blooms.

Nothing smells worse than thousands of dead fish lying in the sun — which is what garnered the attention of Oakland residents.

According to NBC Bay Area, crews took to Lake Merritt on Wednesday, Aug. 31 to clean up thousands of dead fish that had washed ashore the city's Lake Merritt. With high temperatures in the forecast for the remainder of the week, crews aimed to limit the nauseating odor as much as possible by setting a lofty goal to cover the circumference of the lake in one day.

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The fish and marine life die-off really started sometime last weekend, following a "red tide event," per The Oaklandside, which is when marine algae blooms and turns the water a red rusty hue.

“I’ve seen red tide before, but not on this scale,” James Robinson, the Lake Merritt Institute’s executive director stated. “It’s heartbreaking to come out here and see all these dead fish."

"I don’t know the toll this is going to take on the lifecycles of the lake, but it’s going to have an impact, from the birds that eat these fish to next year’s fish spawn," he continued.

As previously mentioned, the water is undergoing continuous testing, but some suspect it may be due to untreated water. Will this take a toll on human life?

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Toxic algae harms both wildlife and people.

Although seeing loads of fish on Lake Merritt's shores may be somewhat concerning, locals should also be wary of how toxic algae may affect people and their pets.

Some types of toxic algae take a toll on the liver, while others affect the eyes or stomach.

This type in particular, per NBC Bay Area, may affect the skin, causing irritation and other dermal issues. So if you or your pets regularly take a dip in Lake Merritt, we strongly suggest you avoid doing so until this mess is cleaned up.

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