Scientists Keep an Eye on Seaweed Invading RI Waters

Jul 8, 2013

A biology professor at the University of Rhode Island is conducting an inventory of the types of seaweeds that grow in Rhode Island ocean waters. 

Seaweed may be an annoyance, but it offers vital clues into the health of an ocean.  That’s why University of Rhode Island biology professor Christopher Lane has embarked on a study of the slimy stuff with an eye towards learning how many species of seaweed exist in Rhode Island, and which are the most invasive.

URI scientists are keeping track of the types of seaweed washing up on the state's shores.
Credit URI

The idea is not to get rid of the stuff, said Lane, but to compile a data base of the types of seaweeds found in the state so that future scientists can make judgments about the health of the ocean.

“The idea is to set up a baseline inventory so that we have DNA sequence from all the seaweeds in Rhode Island that we can compare it to in the future to make accurate species descriptions,” said Lane. “We also want to have an archive of actual physical samples that they’re linked to and make that an online data base that people can access.”

Lane said he’s especially concerned about the recent arrival of a red feather-like seaweed native to Japan that’s growing rampant in Rhode Island.  It is not eaten by New England fish.It’s becoming a very dominant member of the ecosystem,” he said. “So it’s growing on and around pretty much everything right now. We’ve been out in the water a few times and it’s pretty prominent whereas before, only a few years ago, it was completely absent.”

Lane says seaweed can harm tourism and clog aquaculture facilities.  The idea behind is project is not, however, to remove it but to catalog it so that future generations of scientists can identify how the various species are changing.

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