Apparent “red tide” around Bowen Island may look scary, but it’s not toxic

While Vancouver had its corpse flower, neighbouring island gets floating Noctiluca scintillans blooms

Parts of the ocean around Bowen look like someone’s spilled gallons and gallons of tomato soup, but it's just a Noctiluca scintillans bloom.

“Noctiluca is a non-toxic species of algae,” said Elysha Gordon, Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program Coordinator for Department of Fisheries and Oceans. “[It] does not hurt humans if they swim in this bloom.”

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Since last Friday evening, the algae has prompted worry on social media about “red tide.”

“Red tide” popularly applies to harmful or toxic algae blooms. Such blooms include the algae that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), which is relatively common along the B.C. coast. When bivalves (think mussels, oysters, and clams) ingest the algae and then humans consume the shellfish, the toxins can cause severe and potentially fatal neurological illness.

“Most people think the PSP variant is red, but it’s colourless,” said Gordon.  She says that the “red tide” misnomer may come from the fact that multiple species of algae often bloom at once, including red/orange algae.

While Bowen’s current case of algae is non-toxic, it doesn’t eliminate the gross factor. “Most people don't want to swim in the water when it is bright red or orange,” said Gordon.

So with this current heat wave, you can either dive in with the algae or just wait until the current washes away the dinoflagellates.  

Keep in mind that beaches may have sanitary closures due to e.coli levels. For that check


Editor's note: this article first appeared on the Bowen Island Undercurrent on July 16.

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