**Red tides occur sporadically in the waters of southern California. The causative organism is usally the red dinoflagellate protozoan animal Gonyaulax polyhedra. This animal is microscopic in size, but when countless numbers of them are present, the water becomes red in color. The more northern species, Gonyaulax catenella, which is the causative agent of paralytic shellfish poisoning, may cause some red tides in southern California. The triggering agent or agents bringing about these red tides are as yet unknown. Goyaulax polyhedra has characterstics of a plant; it is able to manufacture its own food by the process of photosynthesis. This organism is also able to move about like many of the microscopic animals. This organism is bioluminescent which means it is capable of giving off "living light" at night whenever it is disturbed. Whenever red tides occur in Alamitos Bay, it is possible to stand on a floating dock at night and observe fish swimming through the red water and leaving a trail of light behind.
Red tides occur within Alamitos Bay whenever a sufficient quantity of these organisms are swept into the bay from the open ocean. If conditions are ideal for Gonyaulax polyhedra in the bay, they will reproduce within the bay leading to a more intense red tide. The most extensive red tide in Alamitos Bay in recent years occurred from September to November 1962. The die-off of the dinoflagellates lead to decomposition of these organisms which reduced the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. The reduction of dissolved oxygen killed other animals, such as the bay mussel, which further aided in reducing the amount of oxygen in the water. The net result was that the majority of the plants and animals attached to the boat floats were killed. It took about six to eight months for these organisms to become reestablished on the boat floats following this mass mortality.
The mussel quarantine, which extends from May 15 through October 15 each year, should be observed because of the possibility that mussels or other shell fish may contain within their bodies the paralytic poison found in Gonyaulax catenella. **
**Quoted Excerpt Source = Marine Life of Alamitos Bay. By Donald Reish, 1968.** For further information, see MARINE LIFE OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, also by Donald Reish. Doctor Reish is a marine biologist and professor of biology at California State University at Long Beach.
Today, in 2001, nearly 40 years after the Red Tide were analyzed by Donal Reish in Alamitos Bay, Red Tides still occur in southern California. They are a beautiful and unique phenomenonon of the ocean that I look forward to witnessing each year. At night on the beach during June, 2001 at Zuma and Leo Carrillo, each wave lit up like electricity for a mile or more as the wave curled and broke onto the shore. It was absolutely fantastic. I hope that science does not discover how it occurs, because government and fisheries agencies will probably try to rid California of Red Tides, in order to make fish, mussels, and other marine life less risky to eat. I would rather see people stop eating fish and mussels and clams. Marine life is so polluted these days, there needs to be a law to prevent stores and restaurants from selling fish, mussels, and clams. The police and wardens and other law enforcement must prevent people from eating marine life that is caught in urban coastal southern California. Government is to be blamed for allowing people and citizens to be exposed to contaminants, cancer-causing agents, and other chemicals that are found in fish, clams, and mussels.
The earliest reference that I know that discusses Red Tides in California is 100 years ago by H.B. Torrey (1902). In the magazine, American Naturalist (volume 36,p.187-192) he wrote an article entitled: "An Unusual Occurrence of Dinoflagellata on the California Coast." Everyone should read this article for its historical and scientific origin for studying Red Tides in California.
Shortly after this article, scientists at Scripps Institute and U.C. Berkeley also published articles on Red Tides as follows:
1. Kofoid, C.A. 1906-1911. Publications on Dinoflagellates in Vols. 2,3, and 8 of the University of California Publications in Zoology.
2. Kofoid, C.A. and Olive Swezy. 1921. The Free-living Unarmored Dinoflagellata. Memoirs of the University of California,Volume 5, p.1-562.
3. Michael, E.L. 1919. The Problem of Organic Fertility of the North Pacific Ocean. Bulletin Number 9 of the Scripps Institution of for Biological Research p.51-57.
By 1927, when the first book to seashore animals was published by Myrtle Elizabeth Johnson and Harry Snook, they were able to write a nice brief passage about Red Tides, which it appears were called "Red Waters" in those days:
"When large numbers of certain dinoflagellates appear we often see patches of "red water" by day and luminous displays that accompany it at night. Many marine animals are capable of producing light but these protozoans are the cause of th diffused phosphorescence often seen in the breakers during summer and early fall. This luminescence is frequently spectacular and beautiful when seen on a dark night. The fish in the water shine with a blue-green light as they dart about, and the wake of a boat becomes a long trail of soft light. The surf is brightly illuminated and if one stamps upon the wet sand, sparkling points of light suddenly appear and disappear with a radius of several feet. By shaking some of the water in a bottle, rather bright, sudden flashes can be produced, for the animals glow momentarily when disturbed instead of giving off a continuous light. While many species of dinoflagellates are luminous when stimulated, the most important ones on this coast are Gonyaulax polyedra Stein and Prorocentrum micans Ehrenberg. The dinoflagellates are so named becasue each one is usually provided with two flagella, or whip-like lashes, used in locomotion. Some kinds of dinoflagellates produced a yellowish-green discoloration of the water which resembles red water in being luminous when disturbed at night. An aftermath of extensive outbreaks of red water is the decay of inconceivable numbers of microscopic bodies stranded upon the beach, causing very offensive odors and poisoning the water sufficiently to kill animals such as sea cucumbers, crabs, sometimes even fish, with the result that their bodies wash ashore and increas the stench."
"If mroe detailed information of our Pacific Ocean Protozoa is desired, the papers of Kofoid and Swezy should be consulted. Among them will be found some remarkable color plates of the dinoflagellates."
In conclusion, it was over 75 years ago in 1927, that a woman and man scientist team coauthored the first popular analysis for the lay public about "Red Waters" but which leaves us with the mystery of when the public began to call it Red Tides.