Scientists study algal blooms that harm ecosystems of Puget Sound

Under a microscope, Heterosigma akashiwo looks like a potato or a cornflake. To the naked eye, sea lettuce is a big, green sheet of seaweed. In most cases, these different algae are food for the ocean's vegetarians.

But every few years during summer and early fall they multiply in massive numbers until they harm the marine ecosystem, kill fish or die off themselves and wash onto Puget Sound beaches, where they reek like rotting seafood.

Two scientists, Suzanne Strom and Kathy Van Alstyne, at Western Washington University's Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes are studying these harmful algal blooms. Their projects have been awarded nearly $1.9 million in federal grants from the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration and the National Science Foundation.

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