Algae bloom at Virginia Beach Oceanfront resulting in ‘foul smell’ and discolored water

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — An algae bloom at several spots at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront is resulting in discolored and “foul-smelling water.”

According to an algal bloom surveillance map from the Virginia Department of Health, there are currently four spots at the Oceanfront where the algae bloom was reported.

A spokesperson with VDH’s Waterborne Hazards Program tells 10 On Your Side the bloom is an alga that commonly blooms at this time of the year in Virginia known as Margalefidinium polykrikoidies.

Margalefidinium polykrikoidies is not harmful to humans, but may cause fish kills due to the low oxygen which may result from bacterial decomposition, the spokesperson says.

For the past two weeks, officials have been recovering reports of the bloom. Of the four reported algae bloom spots at the Oceanfront, the highest concentration of Margalefidinium polykrikoidies was recorded at the 1st Street jetty with 6,990 cells/ml.

Another VDH official tells 10 On Your Side this is the same type non-toxic algae reported at Norfolk beaches at East Ocean View Beach and the area of the Chesapeake Bay by Bay Point Drive.

Marget Smigo, who is VDH’s waterborne hazards coordinator, says while the algae are not harmful to people, they still advise the public that “When in doubt, stay out” of water that is discolored, has an odor or dead animals present.

Chris Moore, who is a senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, says the algae bloom can negatively impact the local economy.

“The unfortunate thing about these algae is it can impact our local economy, our local shellfish farmers, our folks out fishing and things like that because they do negatively affect fish and oyster populations,” he said.

Moore believes the numerous 90-degree days, warmer water temperatures and changes in water salinity have made way for the recent algae blooms. Nutrients from fertilizer and water runoffs can increase blooms, which Moore says he’s seen more of over the last 10 years.

“They’re kind of sitting there waiting for the right water temperatures and the right salinity. Then these algae bloom. When we think of a bloom with plants, that’s a good thing,” he said. “In the case of algae, it’s a bad thing. The algae pop up, as you’ve seen, become very visible at times.”

While these blooms are the result of Mother Nature, Moore says we can do things to decrease the frequency of them to improve water quality in Virginia.

“Reducing the amount of fertilizer we put on our lawns, reducing the amount of waste from our wastewater treatment plants and factories, things like that. Continuing to fund the best agricultural management practices that help reduce the amount of pollution that runs off farm fields and things like that,” he said.

While groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will work to improve water quality to prevent the smell in the future, those working down at Oceanfront say the blooms are a good lesson for them.

Tom Gill, with the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service, says they started getting complaints about the smell Thursday.

“It was worth investigating. It was worth keeping our people safe. If there’s something wrong with the water, our people need to know as much as anyone else,” he said. “We followed up. The city is on top of it. The state seems to be on top of it. It was one negative in the world of positives down here at the beach and Oceanfront.”

Gill says they’ve dealt with blooms before, but not the extent of what they witnessed on Thursday and Friday.

He credits his team with doing a great job of not just handling the bloom issue but also addressing COVID-19 concerns. He says they’re at the Oceanfront to help in any way.

“If you come down to the beach and have a question and are not sure about what’s going on, go ask the lifeguard and ask them about it. If there’s no lifeguard, you probably shouldn’t be on that beach,” he said.

Officials encourage residents to report a bloom or suspected health effects from a bloom by contacting the Virginia HAB Hotline at 1-888-238-6154.

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