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Killer algae
Meinesz, Alexandre.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Roman noir de l'algue "tueuse". English
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xvi, 360 pages, 4 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), maps ; 22 cm
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QK569.C37 M4513 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Two decades ago, a Stuttgart zoo imported a lush, bright green seaweed for its aquarium. Caulerpa taxifolia was captively bred by the zoo and exposed, for years, to chemicals and ultraviolet light. Eventually a sample of it found its way to the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco, then headed by Jacques Cousteau. Fifteen years ago, while cleaning its tanks, that museum dumped the pretty green plant into the Mediterranean.

This supposedly benign little plant--that no one thought could survive the waters of the Mediterranean--has now become a pernicious force. Caulerpa taxifolia now covers 10,000 acres of the coasts of France, Spain, Italy, and Croatia, and has devastated the Mediterranean ecosystem. And it continues to grow, unstoppable and toxic. When Alexandre Meinesz, a professor of biology at the University of Nice, discovered a square-yard patch of it in 1984, he warned biologists and oceanographers of the potential species invasion. His calls went unheeded. At that point, one person could have pulled the small patch out and ended the problem. Now, however, the plant has defeated the French Navy, thwarted scientific efforts to halt its rampage, and continues its destructive journey into the Adriatic Sea.

Killer Algae is the biological and political horror story of this invasion. For despite Meinesz's pleas to scientists and the French government, no agency was willing to take responsibility for the seaweed, and while the buck was passed, the killer algae grew. And through it all, the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco sought to exculpate itself. In short, Killer Algae --part detective story and part bureaucratic object lesson--is a classic case of a devastating ecological invasion and how not to deal with it.

"[U]tterly fascinating, not only because of the ecological battles [Meinesz] describes but also because of the wondrous natural phenomena involved."--Richard Bernstein, New York Times

"Akin to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Killer Algae shows the courage of a voice in the wilderness."-- Choice

"A textbook case of how not to manage an environmental disaster."--Kirkus Reviews

"Meinesz's story is a frightening one, reading more like a science fiction thriller than a scientific account."-- Publishers Weekly

Author Notes

Alexandre Meinesz is professor of biology at the University of Nice and is a member of various scientific committees on the environment. He is currently the president of the Environmental Commission for the region of Provence-Alps-Cote d'Azur.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Could the diversity of the Mediterranean's sea life be destroyed by one alga? In this compelling account of an ecological problem gone awry, French marine biologist Meinesz relates his harrowing attempts to alert the world to the threat posed to the Mediterranean Sea by a tropical alga escaped from the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. Meinesz demonstrates how the cold-adapted Caulerpa taxifolia has, kudzulike, begun to overrun millions of acres of diverse, undersea habitat. Healthy ecosystems that previously harbored numerous species are becoming algal monocultures. In addition to the ecological damage, the alga's rampant growth has provoked a decline in the fishing and tourism industries. Meinesz's story is a frightening one, reading more like a science fiction thriller than a scientific account. Officials at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, refusing to acknowledge their role in the alga's original release, undertook a major public relations campaign against Meinesz, attacking his credibility while praising the virtues of the alga. Amid the press reports, averted eyes of governmental officials and broken promises of research funding, the alga spread, disrupting new habitats. Although the book focuses on the French reaction to one algal species, David Quammen (Song of the Dodo) points out in his foreword: "This is not a little book about some noxious alga. This is a little book... about life on Earth." (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This book is not just a call to arms but the account of one man's struggle to raise awareness of a biological invasion. Biologist Meinesz recounts in meticulous detail his discovery and tracking of Caulerpa taxifoliaÄa foreign algae growing in the MediterraneanÄand his repeated attempts to gain the attention of officials who, had they acted promptly, could have stopped the algae from spreading irreversibly through the sea. Much of the book describes what Meinesz calls "a dialogue of the deaf," with three factions working at cross-purposes: scientists expressing grave concerns, public officials downplaying these concerns, and the press interested in the most sensational story. The text is written for non-specialists and, with its play of human drama, is certainly gripping. And although the story becomes a little lengthy and repetitive as we follow the author through one futile encounter after another, overall, this is an effective cautionary tale. Recommended for all academic libraries and public libraries.ÄMarianne Stowell Bracke, Univ. of Houston Libs. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

For readers interested in the timely topic of alien species invasions, Meinesz's book, translated by eminent conservation biologist Simberloff, carefully details the ecological and political ramifications of an exotic and toxic seaweed first seen in the Mediterranean in 1988. This is a fascinating, and at the same time depressing, account of the spread of the cosmopolitan tropical green alga, Caulerpa taxifolia, and how the invasion could have been held in check had the author's early warnings been heeded. This species, perfected for aquarium seascapes in Stuttgart, Germany, inadvertently was selected for characteristics that ultimately led to its devastating spread when released into the nontropical northern Mediterranean. The story unfolds with international cooperation and scientific investigation into the initial Monaco "wild" population, but as the organism spreads, completely outgrowing native seaweed populations, governments and oceanographic facilities not only deny Meinesz's suppositions but their own earlier admissions of complicity in releasing the alga. In just ten years, Caulerpa taxifolia found its way from Monaco and France to Spain, southern Italy, and high into the Adriatic Sea, wiping out former luxuriant ecosystems in its wake. Akin to Rachel Carson's classic Silent Spring, Killer Algae shows the courage of a voice in the wilderness. A must for all libraries. All levels. C. W. Schneider; Trinity College (CT)

Table of Contents

David Quammen
Forewordp. vii
Prefacep. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xv
Chapter 1 From the Discovery of the Alga in Monaco to Its Arrival in Francep. 1
Chapter 2 The Alga Grows ... and the Polemic Beginsp. 29
Chapter 3 Caulerpa taxifolia, Superstarp. 69
Chapter 4 The Stakeholders Squabble ... and the Alga Spreadsp. 115
Chapter 5 Research Progresses ... and the Polemic Persistsp. 179
Chapter 6 Chiaroscuro: 1997-1998p. 219
Chapter 7 The Three Lessons of Caulerpap. 239
Appendix 1 The Biology of Caulerpa taxifolia as Known in 1991p. 295
Appendix 2 Chronology of a Heralded Invasionp. 305
Appendix 3 Table of Measuresp. 309
Appendix 4 Acronyms of Organizationsp. 311
Appendix 5 Diagram of the French Governmentp. 313
Notesp. 315
Indexp. 351