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In March of this year the public began to take notice of the great abundance of Heterosiphonia washing up on beaches in MA and RI. With beaches being the main attraction for tourists, as well as locals, in both states, the media has been covering the actions being taken concerning the alga as well as spreading information and reassuring the public that it is safe to enjoy the beach. The few articles written about the algae have been through Boston media, however two Brazilian internet media sources and one Italian news paper has reported on the spread of algae to New England.

Links to international articles: (


On June 27 2012, the Boston Globe covered the algal issue. The article thoroughly summarizes the relationship that Heterosiphonia has had with Massachusetts over the past few years from its discovery to the current questions town officials are having about management strategies. Another great aspect of this article is the timeline of discoveries and explanation of it potential to continually alter the state of our local marine ecosystems by our project’s advisor and Marine Science Center Assistant Professor, Dr. Mathew Bracken. Overall, this is a great article that focuses on understanding the potential harm and current need for research and attention and addressing pressing common question on this issue.

Full Article:  ( )


While most towns whose beaches are plagued with red algae have taken to more conventional methods of management such as raking the seaweed with beach combers and disposing of it, the town of Manchester has been seeking other methods of removal.

An article was written recently in The Gloucester Times about the town’s research into alternative methods of disposal. They are considering the use of the product Bio Remedy by the manufacturing company Texas Refinery Corp. This product was origionally intended to decrease the odor and increase the decomposition of large quantities of livestock manure. This product boasts that it is all natural and environmentally safe for vegetation and soil as well as not harmful to humans and animals. There is little information available to the public about this product and it “ingredients”. Yet, there is little written about any issues farmers have had with the product Bio Remedy as well.

From an environmental standpoint our biggest concern with the use of any product near open water or marine ecosystems is the issue of runoff and contamination. When foreign elements such as sewerage, pesticides or construction materials enter into either a contained body of water or an open body of water, like a river or an ocean, they risk affecting all of the trophic levels in that body of water from smallest bacterium to large megafauna, such as whales or commercially valuable fish.

Here is a link to the full article: ( )


Laying out a bright yellow measuring tape in the middle of a crowded beach naturally draws a little attention. My favorite part of this project is being asked questions about Heterosiphonia by members of the public during my days where I collect samples for the intertidal drift survey. I believe that giving an honest answer can provoke further questions and interest that can spur the desire to be informed about environmental issues. These are the most common questions I come across while surveying beaches.


Q: By invasive species you mean…….?

A: An invasive species is defined by the USDA as a “non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration [or] whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health”.


Q: Where did it come from?

A: Heterosiphonia japonica is a red algal species native to Japan. I provided a more thorough description of its expansion from Japan in my first post. (Link to first post)


Q: How did it get here?

A: It is common for small marine plant and animal species to be captured in the bilge water and ballasts of large shipping vessels. After traveling long distances that water and all other organisms in it will be released. Those species will either acclimatize and survive in the environment that they are released in or they will not be successful outside of their native environments.


Q: How is it harmful?

A: Heterosiphonia is a highly competitive invasive species and is decreasing the abundance of other specie by out competing them in terms of available space, nutrients. etc. Currently up to 90 percent of the total algal biomass in Massachusetts is comprised of Heterosiphonia (Bracken Lab, NortheasternUniversity, unpublished data). It has no known natural herbivores in the Western Atlantic considering that organisms like snails that eat algae generally prefer the native species of algae.

Heterosiphonia is not only taking over the areas where lobsters are typically found it is also smothering the eel grass beds which provide crucial habitat for juvenile crustaceans, shellfish and finfish. Proper management of these eel grass beds and population habitats will not only benefit species health and abundance but it will provide security for the fishing industry.


Q: Can it cause human health issues?

A: Currently, there is no information to suggest that contact with Heterosiphonia can cause any human health problems. However, it is known that excessive nutrients such as from sewage run off in water can cause an increase in algal abundance.


Q: Where is it traveling this summer (2012) and does it have seasonal patterns?

A: So far this summer it has been confirmed at sites as far south Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island and as far north as Manchester-by-the-sea, Massachusetts. We have been observing both underwater beds and appearances in drift. The researchers at NortheasternUniversity and the University of Rhode Island are currently working to determine any seasonal patterns, as well as any expansion in its geographic range.


Q: How long will it survive in New England?

A: Once invasive are present in a new system, they are generally going to remain there indefinitely, however their abundance will fluctuate. The only way an invasive species could be totally removed from its new ecosystem is if a predator was introduced that would be in adequate numbers to eliminate the invasive.

Q: Does it have anything to do with red tide?

A: It is different than red tide or harmful algal blooms (HAB’s). “Red tide” is classified as algal colonies that grow in an abundance that is out of control producing harmful toxins that can be deadly to humans and all types of marine life. These harmful algal blooms are rare and the blooms of Heterosiphonia do not exhibit the same characteristics. This is a link to NOAA’s informational page on red tide for further information.

Q: Is it harmful for us to eat local fish, lobsters, clams etc.?

A: While it is dominating habitats for fin fish, crustaceans and shellfish, there is no evidence to suggest that Heterosiphonia is producing any harmful toxins as a HAB algal bloom would.

Q: How can we use it? Can it be composted?

A: Heterosiphonia decomposes very slowly and as it decomposes it releases a potent odor from the epiphytes (which is any type of algae that lives on a larger piece of algae) decomposing. These characteristics make its use as a fertilizer difficult..

I hope these answers were helpful. If you have any questions or comments fell free to post a comment below and I will get back to you soon.



Last week we began our second mesocosm feeding experiment. While diving to collect samples of Heterosiphonia, Chris noticed the large amount of Mitrella lunata snails as well as Lacuna vincta snails feeding on the algae. The previous feeding experiment conducted looked solely at if the native snails (Lacuna vincta) would eat the invasive Heterosiphonia and how much of it would they consume in a 3 day period. Due to the abundance of Mitrella lunata snails we were interested in understanding if and how much Heterosiphonia they would consume in a three day period when forced. Mitrella lunata are known as predatory snails and are not known for consuming algae. Considering their abundance in the beds of Heterosiphonia, we were interested in finding out if they were feeding of the algae or only using it for refuge.

On the similar idea of the previous experiment we used petri dishes with a divider in the middle and mesh covering the top allowing water flow through the entire container. In one half of the container we had one whole live piece of Heterosiphonia (weighing around two grams) and on the other side of the dish we had one whole live piece of Heterosiphonia with either ten Lacuna vincta individuals or ten Mitrella lunata individuals. There were 20 containers with Mitrella and 20 with Lacuna in order to get an accurate understanding of their feeding ability. Each piece of Heterosiphonia and each group of ten snails were weighed and the weights were recorded. After securing the containers in a water table with a continuous flow of seawater, the algae was left to soak and the snails were left to feast for three days.

After the three days the containers were collected and all the algae and snails were counted and weighed. Each piece of algae was then placed in a packet of tin foil with a known and recorded weight and weighed again for a combined weight with the foil packet. These packets were planed in a drying oven for two days where their final weights were recorded.  Next these algae packets were then placed in a furnace where the algae were incinerated at 500 degrees (f) for two hours. The final combined weight of the packet and the ash gave us the mass of the revieled to us the amount of organic material burned off in the incineration process when subtracted by the initial dry weight of the algae for a more finite understanding of the ”yumminess” of the algae for the snails.

Click on the Link below to watch the video:

WGBH Special Report on Heterosiphonia japonica and Interview with Matt Bracken

Each week I will be visiting WestBeach (Beverly Farms), SingingBeach (Manchester), MagnoliaBeach (Manchester/ Magnolia), GoodHarborBeach (Gloucester) and BackBeach (Rockport), where I will be collecting samples for the intertidal drift analysis project. I use the same methods of collecting with the 20 meter transect and the quadrat as I had previously. I chose some of these sites based on their diversity and placement around Cape Ann and their varying aspects relative to the water, while I chose to survey WestBeach, SingingBeach and MagnoliaBeach for their close proximity to each other, their similar aspects and wave-protected features.

After I collect these weekly samples I will be processing them with the same methods that I have previously used; separating the Heterosiphonia from the other types of algae. Weighing and recording the weights of the Heterosiphonia and the other algae found within each quadrat allows me to see the percentage and distribution of Heterosiphonia along each beach. From the data I was able to create graphs that depict the percentage and abundance of the algae I collected.

Currently I have processed and analyzed samples collected on May 28th and July 5th, 6th, 12th, 19th, 26th and 27th . I will also be collecting samples this Thursday. I have made graphs that demonstrate the average percentage of Heterosiphonia compared to other types of algae found along the 20 meter transect at these different sites. These visual representations will hopefully be helpful in understanding the fluctuating amounts of Heterosiphonia found weekly at each site.

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These charts are arranged in chronological order and are separated by site. While Magnolia and West Beach have the average highest percentages of Heterosiphonia found in the surveys, there has been a fairly cohesive pattern of Heterosiphonia in drift observed. The greatest amounts of Heterosiphonia were found in the first week of collection (6-28) and the last week of collection(8-2).  Heterosiphonia abundance tended to decrease between the first week of collection and the latest collection. Considering that this survey has only been conducted over a period of 6 weeks it is too early to make any strong assumptions about drift patterns, however it is a good start to understanding the abundance of Heterosiphonia drift around Cape Ann.

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Our names are Katie and Meg, and we are both Marine Biology majors at the University of Rhode Island(URI) entering our senior year. Over the course of the summer, we are also working on the Heterosiphonia project as part of the Coastal Fellows program at URI ( This program through the College of Environmental and Life Sciences gives undergraduate students research opportunities by matching them with a faculty mentor and their project. Students are given hands-on research experience while learning how to communicate their work and findings to the public. Our research focuses on surveying and conducting experiments at subtidal sites in southern New England (primarily Rhode Island and Connecticut) where Heterosiphonia can be found. Currently, we are monitoring abundance and biomass of Heterosiphonia and comparing it to other algal species at various sites around southern New England. This is achieved by SCUBA diving at these sites to collect algal samples and taking them back to the lab for processing. We are also beginning to conduct removal experiments in which 0.25 square meter plots are marked underwater and Heterosiphonia is removed from the plot, and its rate of growth is monitored over time. At URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography (Narragansett, RI) , we set up herbivory experiments in a controlled environment (outdoor seawater tanks with continuous flowing seawater ) with special separated containers called mesocosms (See earlier posts by Anna). We can then add herbivorous snails (Lacuna) and monitor the rate of algal consumption over a period of several days. All of these experiments and surveys of this invasive seaweed species will help us to better understand its rate of growth in the waters of southern New England and its potential impact on the ecology and biodiversity of these local subtidal communities.


Last week we began setting up our plots for our removal experiments. One of our chosen sites for these experiments is in Jamestown, Rhode Island, a popular recreational site for many water sports including diving and fishing. It is located west of Newport at the mouth of the Narragansett Bay. We started by laying down a 23 meter transect along a rocky subtidal area approximately 18 feet deep where seaweed abundance was high. Using marine epoxy and color-coded zip-ties attached to numbered tags, we marked each plot at every 0.5 meters along the transect. During the one dive, we were able to successfully mark 15 of the 45 plots for the site. The next day, we returned to the site to lay down the remainder of the plots but due to heavy currents and poor visibility. We were not able to finish setting up our experiment. We plan to return for a third time to finish establishing the plots. Once we have completed our set up at this site, our next site for removal experiment plots will be in Newport, RI.


Our next site for setting up plots for monitoring is in Newport, RI. Using our marine epoxy, we began marking plots using color-coded zip ties and numbered tags. During the first visit, we successfully marked 10 plots and have since returned to finish marking all 45. This will be the second of three sites for our plot experiments. The third is still to be determined. We also plan on soon returning to Jamestown, RI to check on those plots as well.


Last week, we started our second herbivory experiment, in which 40 different containers within a seawater tank at the Bay campus of URI were set up, each containing a piece of Heterosiphonia and half containing Lacuna snails. We hope that determining the rate of consumption of the algae by the snails will give us an idea of how resilient Heterosiphonia is to herbivory in southern New England. Today was the final day of the experiment, so we dismantled the mesocosms and took final weights of the algae and snails to determine if the snails ate a significant amount of the algae over the last few days. As our results are gathered from many experiments over the course of the summer and the fall, we hope to use this information to help further determine the ecological impacts of Heterosiphonia on the local coastal environment.

On Tuesday June 19th I took samples of the intertidal drift algae present at three sites throughout the North Shore; Long Beach (Manchester), Plum Cove Beach (Lanseville Gloucester), Front Beach (Rockport) and Good Harbor Beach (Gloucester). At each site, I laid out  a 20 meter transect parallel to the shoreline.  Every two meters, I laid down a quadrat and collected all the algae present in that quadrat. This method (unofficially dubbed “quadratting”), allows us to standardize each sample we take so that we are able to easily compare sites. I took pictures and carefully labeled the samples where I was able to take them back to the lab at theMarineScienceCenter in Nahant for analysis.

            On Wednesday and Thursday I went back to the MSC lab where I sorted out the Heterosiphonia from the other types of algae collected at each site. I dried and weighed out both the Heterosiphonia and the other types of algae and recorded their weights. From these weights, I am able to get a relative abundance of the amount of Heterosiphonia found in the wrack mats compared to all other species of macroalgae.



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As part of my internship this summer, I am conducting a side project on Heterosiphonia. The purpose of this project is to analyze the presence and abundance of Heterosiphonia in the intertidal drift throughoutCape Ann. Not only is this project necessary for my internship, but I am also doing this for my own personal experience and for the benefit of future studies in the area.

On Friday June 8th I drove around Cape Ann photographing all the beaches, coves and salt marshes that had a presence of “red fluffy” algae or were in close proximity to those areas. In a five hour period I was able to visit eighteen different sights from Beverly Farms to Rockport. Living on Cape Ann my entire life I guess it had never hit me how close together and easily accessible these beautiful and diverse ecosystems were to each other. At each sight I collected samples, took several pictures and took notes on any interesting features, such as high concentration of oil or high presence of sea foam along the shore line. I used what I observed on this field day to find locations as candidates for collecting samples of Heterosiphonia and algal debris in drift.

Last week we began preparing our mesocosm feeding experiment. Though it may sound complicated and scientific involving goggles and lab coats, it is a simple idea that can reveal important results. This particular mesocosm experiment is designed to understand if and how much of the invasive Heterosiphonia will be eaten by the native snails, Lacuna vincta.

Constructing the mesocosms started with a trip to Home Depot to buy 40 1-quart plastic paint buckets (aka our mesocosms). It was clear by the funny looks that Chris got when she asked if they had 40 of these little buckets and 40 paint strainer bags that Home Depot doesn’t get many people shopping there for scientific experimental supplies.

These buckets were placed in a water table at the MarineScienceCenter(Nahant, MA) that has a running supply of seawater. Six small squares were cut in the buckets and covered with mesh window screening to ensure water would flow through the bucket to keep the seaweed alive, while confining the snails within the mesocosm bucket. The paint strainers were placed inside each mesocosm to ensure that even the smallest juvenile snails would not be able to escape through the mesh in the buckets. We collected Heterosiphonia and Lacuna during a dive off of Castle Beach in Marblehead, MA.  Each mesocosm was given a piece of Heterosiphonia and half of those were given 20 snails as well. Both snails and algae were dried and weighed before putting them in the mesocosms. Samples of Heterosiphonia were also saved for genetic analyses.

Once our mesocosms were set up, we covered the seawater table with a piece of clear plexiglass on top of the buckets to keep out rain water, etc. The buckets remained in the seawater tables for three days, but were checked daily to ensure that the Heterosiphonia was still alive and that none of the Lacuna had escaped.

After three days we brought the mesocosms in to the lab where the snails and the algae were re-weighed. By taking the difference between the original weight and their final weight, we can determine how much seaweed was eaten by the snails. While the snails were unfortunately martyrs for science, the pieces of Heterosiphonia were saved to be incinerated in order for us to determine the amount of organic material (the “tastey” part of the seaweed for snails) that is present in each algal piece . Hopefully we will find a difference in the organic content between Heterosiphonia that had been exposed to snail grazing and Heterosiphonia that had not.

Our preliminary results showed that all the seaweed pieces lost biomass over the course of the experiment. This suggests that while the Heterosiphonia did not die in our mesocosms, they may not have been getting enough water flow or sunlight to grow. Therefore, we are in the process of modifying of experimental design and are planning on setting up the next round of experiments soon!

Meanwhile, our collaborators at the University of Rhode Island (URI) were running the exact same experiment in their seawater system at the Graduate School of Oceanography (Narragansett, RI). However, the seaweed and snails that were used during their experiments came from dives conducted off of FortAdams(Newport, RI). We will be comparing our results to the results of the RI researchers to determine if there are geographic differences, as Massachusetts Bayand Long Island Sound are two very different ecosystems, yet both have been invaded by Heterosiphonia.


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My name is Anna I am a natural resources and environmental studies major at Green Mountain College in Vermont. Additionally, I am a Cape Ann local. This summer I am interning at the Marine Science Center (Northeastern University) under Chris Newton (PhD student) and Dr. Matthew Bracken (Assistant Professor) I have an interest in managing invasive species and maintaining the ecological health of coastal ecosystems as well as an immense respect for the natural areas of New England. Due to its recent increase in abundance and the current lack of knowledge we have on Heterosiphonia, in my opinion it is particularly important to research.

Heterosiphonia japonica is an invasive red alga (seaweed) native to the Pacific Ocean. Since its unintentional introduction to European waters in 1984 it has been widely colonizing the Eastern Atlantic Ocean as far north as Norway and as far south as the Mediterranean Sea (Schneider 2010). It was first spotted in the Western Atlantic in 2009 by researchers in Rhode Island, and was discovered in Nahant, MA by researchers at the Marine Science Center in 2010. The current geographical range of this species in the Western Atlantic is from Cape Ann, MA to the mouth of the Connecticut River in Long Island Sound. Initial estimates suggest it can account for up to 90 percent of the algal biomass in Massachusetts.

Heterosiphonia is a completely subtidal species, meaning it only grows underwater at depths of 6-19 feet (2-6 meters). This species can grow both attached to rocks, other hard substrates, or even attached to other algae or it can grow as drift algae. The Heterosiphonia that washes up on beaches has become dislodged and will begin to rot as soon as it is exposed to air and sunlight.

Very little is known about invasive Heterosiphonia and even less is known about the impacts on its new environment or possible long term effects of its colonization. In a joint collaboration between Northeastern University and the University of Rhode Island, researchers are beginning a study of this invasive alga in the Western Atlantic Ocean through a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Woods Hole Sea Grant awarded to Dr. Matthew Bracken (Northeastern) and Dr. Carol Thornber (University of Rhode Island). This research, coordinated by Chris Newton (Northeastern), aims to address the following questions:

(1) To determine the current geographical range of Heterosiphonia over the entire New England coast.

(2) To determine what types of habitats (rocky beaches, shorelines protect from wave action, etc) may be susceptible to invasion by Heterosiphonia.

(3) To understand the potential ecological impacts of Heterosiphonia on the new areas which it invades.

(4) To determine factors such as growth and consumption, that led to the success of Heterosiphonia over other native species of algae.

Recently we have been visiting numerous sites throughout New England to confirm the presence of Heterosiphonia, including 18 sites on Cape Ann. Collecting samples and determining its abundance is the first crucial step in understanding the health of this species and the area that it is currently inhabiting.

For more information about the latest advancements made by the Heterosiphonia project be sure to keep up with this site and stay tuned for updates from the Marine Science Center. Thanks!