Media Releases - 26 November 2020

More phytoplankton an omen of climate change & symptom of pollution in Tasmania’s warming waters

Bioluminescent phytoplankton blooms like this one captured off Jervis Bay, NSW, are increasingly taking place along the coast of Tasmania. 

  • Bioluminescence looks beautiful but should come with a health warning 
  • Phytoplankton an invasive species born on warming waters 
  • Huge nutrient loads from fish farm pollution fuel plankton blooms 

Every photo of bioluminescent phytoplankton in Tasmania should come with a warning, “Symptom of climate change & marine pollution”, said the Wilderness Society Tasmania and marine biologist Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin said today.

“Seeing bioluminescence makes for a truly wondrous and magical experience that brings out the child in all of us. But as we are clicking our shutters and dreaming of dancing in the blue sparkles, there’s another darker, more sinister side to it,” said Dr Gershwin. 

“The species that causes it, Noctiluca scintillans, is an introduced marine pest. There is strong evidence that it has spread to Tasmania, and now down into the Southern Ocean, with climate change. 

“Two things exacerbate Noctiluca blooms: warmer water and more nutrients. It’s getting the warmer water thanks to climate change, and there’s simply gob-smacking levels of nutrients due to salmon farming and urban effluent. 

“So yes, we should absolutely delight in the magic of the sea sparkles, but we should at the same time say a prayer for the native species that are struggling as a result,” said Dr Gershwin. 

“Like the invasive spiny sea urchin spreading with warmer currents and feeding on the all-but-gone kelp forests, bioluminescent phytoplankton is also introduced and borne on warmer waters. It is a pest, albeit a pretty one,” said Tom Allen for the Wilderness Society Tasmania.  

“This species of phytoplankton arrived here in the mid-nineties and should be viewed as a fingerprint of fish-farm pollution and an eerie omen of things to come—unless we get serious about carbon emissions reductions and sequestration. 

“Tasmania’s slow-growing temperate forests are the world’s best at absorbing carbon, yet the Government continues to log this, our best combined climate and species protection solution: high conservation value native forests. Worse still, this logging of public state forests is subsidised by public money. It’s crazy,” said Mr Allen. 

For further comment contact Dr Gershwin on 0408 080 829, Tom Allen on 0434 614 323