Sea let­tuce makes mal­odor­ous mark

Record Observer - - News - By AN­GELA PRICE bay­times@kibay­

STEVENSVILLE — Some­thing’s rot­ting on the shores of Kent Is­land, and the smell has peo­ple talk­ing — even gag­ging. They’re com­plain­ing, think­ing the odor is com­ing from the county’s wastew­a­ter treat­ment plant or a neigh­bor’s sep­tic sys­tem. But the smell is de­com­pos­ing sea let­tuce washed up on beach, ac­cord­ing to Mary­land Depart­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment. And it has been go­ing on most of June.

On June 14, John O’Brien of Queens Land­ing, on the east­ern side of Kent Is­land, said he had seen a river of green slime float­ing by and lots of the foul-smelling stuff had washed up on the shore near the com­mu­nity, but no one he called seemed to know what it was or want to do any­thing about it.

Calls to Mary­land Depart­ment of Natural Re­sources re­sulted in the the­ory that re­cent storms had torn sub­merged aquatic veg­e­ta­tion loose and it was float­ing down the Bay, wash­ing up on the shore and rot­ting.

Queen Anne’s County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Gregg Todd said the San­i­tary Dis­trict has been in­un­dated with com­plaints — most of them from the western side of Kent Is­land, con­cen­trated in the area of Route 8 and the Bay Bridge.

“There is ap­par­ently a bunch of seaweed wash­ing up on the shore of Kent Is­land and it stinks to high heaven. Un­for­tu­nately the smell is quite sim­i­lar to raw sewage,” Todd said.

Ac­cord­ing to San­i­tary Dis­trict Di­rec­tor Alan Quimby, they’ve re­ceived more than four dozen calls in the past three weeks.

An MDE en­gi­neer even came out to check the wastew­a­ter col­lec­tion sys­tems at Bay Bridge Marina and Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Beach Club, where the smell is es­pe­cially con­cen­trated. The en­gi­neer found no prob­lems with the wastew­a­ter sys­tem, but he noted a large amount of de­com­pos­ing sea let­tuce in the area.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion’s “Guide to Un­der­wa­ter Grases,” sea let­tuce is a species of al­gae some­times con­fused with un­der­wa­ter gasses.

The Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram’s field guide says, “Sea let­tuce grows in thin, green sheets with wavy, ruf­fled edges. It looks sim­i­lar to wilted let­tuce. It grows to be 6 to 24 inches and usu­ally grows in large masses.”

The rot­ting sea let­tuce pro­duces hy­dro­gen sul­fide, which smells like sewage or rot­ten eggs, and dimethyl sdul­fide, which smells like rot­ting shell­fish. Adding to the putrid aroma along Hem­ing­way’s beach are dead fish and trash mixed in with the rot­ting sea let­tuce.

Af­ter this ar­ti­cle was pub­lished on­line, {span}Clyde Macken­zie Jr., fish­eries bi­ol­o­gist with the {/span}Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion, sent the Bay Times a link to his journal ar­ti­cle, “Re­moval of Sea Let­tuce, Ulva spp., in Es­tu­ar­ies to Im­prove the En­vi­ron­ments for In­ver­te­brates, Fish, Wad­ing Birds, and Eel­grass, Zostera marina,” in Marine Fish­eries Re­view.

In his ar­ti­cle, Macken­zie said the best way to con­trol the prob­lem is by re­duc­ing the quan­ti­ties of nu­tri­ents feed­ing the al­gae.

He said haul seines, hand rakes and even a float­ing ma­chine can be used to gather sea let­tuce to be hauled away to a com­post­ing fa­cil­ity.

Edi­tor’s Note: While we wouldn’t rec­om­mend eat­ing the stuff washed up on the shore, fresh sea let­tuce is ed­i­ble. Ac­cord­ing to, it is the “salad greens” of sea veg­eta­bles and good in soups or sal­ads.


The beach­front near Hem­ing­way’s Restau­rant cov­ered with rot­ting sea let­tuce.


The rock wa­ter­front wall along the shore­line of Ch­e­sa­peake Es­tates is cov­ered with rot­ting sea let­tuce.

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