This summer two Chinese beaches look like they’re covered with the toxic ooze responsible for creating the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The algae bloom has occurred annually for the last eight summers. The overgrowth of algae has forced the military into action in an attempt to clear the beaches. At the same time, Chinese residents so worried about maintaining pale skin that they invented the Facekini, are repurposing the ocean growth as an organic sunblock.
There is no evidence to suggest that the algae acts as an effective sunblock. According to Chinese media sources, it is more likely to leave irregularly shaped sunburns and tan lines than provide protection from the sun. Nevertheless, thousands of beach goers still lather on the bright green Ulva Prolifera algae. The two hardest hit areas are the coastal cities of Yantai and Qingdao. Over 12,000 hectares are covered by the algae, while sanitation workers have already removed 10,000 tons of the emerald green plant.
The algae first showed up on the eve of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. At that time, no one knew this phenomenon would become a regular occurrence. A similarly large algae bloom is also blanketing Florida beaches in the United States. In China, scientists and experts continue to debate the reason for the bloom. Some blame the higher temperatures and global warming. Other researchers point toward an expansion of edible seaweed farming. In particular, satellite images suggest that farmers growing the seaweed on rafts near the city of Suzhou, in the Jiangsu province, are responsible. They discard the Ulva Prolifera into the ocean when harvesting the seaweed. Warm currents then carry the plants north, where they grows rapidly, coating the famed beaches near Yantai City and Qingdao. Others argue high levels of nitrogen and ammonium in the water from industrial and agricultural runoff are the cause.
While there is no clear answer to the cause, local residents remain determined to enjoy their beaches. At the same time, a local industry has emerged to process the algae. Three years ago, residents removed over 20,000 tons of slimy algae from the ocean. A nearby company dried the algae and turned it into fertilizer and animal feed. Additionally, it produced a sweetener called Hutai Sugar, believed to help those with diabetes.