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Puget Sound 'streaks' are likely harmless algae bloom

Washington Department of Ecology
Marine plankton at the surface of Puget Sound east of Vashon Island. 6/20/11

It may look like a toxic "red tide," but don't panic. Scientists with the Washington Department of Ecology say the reddish orange streaks in Puget Sound this week appear to be a harmless algae bloom.

The tomato-soup-like waters have been seen extending from Kingston to south of Alki, and across the Central Basin from Seattle to Kingston, Bainbridge and Colvos Passage.

Ecology officials are collecting water samples to confirm the outbreak is Noctiluca, a harmless single-celled micro-organism that bioluminesces and occurs normally at this time of year. This kind of plankton gets its red color from the phytoplankton it eats.

Concerned citizens have been reporting the bloom to Ecology, fearing it could be an oil or paint spill. If you see red, brown or orange colored water in Puget Sound, it's probably the algae bloom. But Ecology continues to encourage people to report any suspected pollution in the water. You can report spills or other environmental problems at the Department of Ecology website.