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Lagoon lovers celebrate end of invasive seaweed

CARLSBAD — Local businesses, Hollywood celebrities and North County residents celebrated the annual Carlsbad Lagoon Day July 24. The event served as a commemoration of the eradication of the Caulerpa taxifolia in 2006, an invasive seaweed species that was discovered in the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in 2000.
As one of two wetland areas ever to successfully eradicate the species in California — the other being Huntington Harbour in Orange County — the Agua Hedionda Lagoon rejoiced for their fifth anniversary of Caulerpa-free water.
The event kicked off with three simultaneous runs from each Carlsbad lagoon and ended with a barbeque at Agua Hedionda to spotlight the achievement.
“This year was the first time all three Carlsbad lagoons — Batiquitos, Buena Vista and Agua Hedionda — joined forces to celebrate their collaborative efforts at preserving native wetland species and life” said Greg Reubin, chairman of the Board of Directors for Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation (AHLF). “If we hadn’t stopped the Caulerpa, it would have turned this lagoon into a biological desert, completely shut off to human activity.”
The entire community pitched in a helping hand to support the cause. Tip Top Meats donated food for a barbeque, a dozen sponsors donated $1,000 each for conservation efforts and the Community Coaching Center donated vans for transportation.
Local hotels also donated rooms for Hollywood stars including Christopher Knight from “The Brady Bunch,” Jerry Mathers (“The Beaver”) from “Leave It To Beaver,” Brenda Epperson from “The Young And The Restless,” Millena Gay from “General Hospital,” and Jenn Gotzon from the Academy-nominated film “Frost/Nixon.”
“This year was the best we’ve ever had,” said event producer David Mirisch, whose seven months of diligent planning with AHLF Executive Director Lisa Cannon-Rodman finally came to life. “Three hundred people from around North County are participating, and we even got the mayor of Carlsbad to come down! We’re already planning next year’s Lagoon Day for June 22, 2012.”
Yet no one knew more about Caulerpa taxifolia than Eric Munoz, past president of AHLF and current member of its Board of Directors. In 2002, Munoz attended the International Caulerpa Taxifolia Conference held in San Diego, joined by a hundred other scientists from six countries also affected by the species.
He credits his own passion for wetland preservation to a conversation with Alexandre Meinesz, professor of Biology at the University of Nice, France and author of “Killer Algae,” a compilation of research on Caulerpa.
“That day Professor Meinesz told me the truth about the seaweed,” Munoz said. “He looked me in the eyes and said, ‘I think the Trojan Horse has entered the United States, and it’s your job to find it.’ When we discovered Caulerpa in Agua Hedionda, I thought to myself, ‘I finally found the Trojan Horse, and it’s in Carlsbad!’”
Munoz explained that the plant was originally manufactured in Germany in the 1970s and then distributed worldwide in home-owned aquariums in the 1980s because they looked good and were low maintenance.
Without knowledge of proper disposal, homeowners subsequently dumped the contents of their aquariums — Caulerpa and all — down through storm drains that later emptied out into wetlands and oceans.
Fortunately for Agua Hedionda, the species was spotted by scuba divers in 2000 and exterminated by chlorine traps before spilling into the Pacific Ocean.
The Mediterranean Sea and shores off Australia weren’t so lucky. Over the past few decades, Caulerpa has smothered coral reefs, decimated natural ecosystems, and hurt local fishing, boating and recreational industries.
Already blanketing 30,000 acres of sea floor, the plant continues to grow an inch a day and can withstand extreme water temperatures and degrees of sunlight, heightening its already merciless nature.
Munoz warned against the dangers that often arise when artificial and natural worlds collide.
“It’s like meeting Frankenstein for the first time. At first he’s cool to look at, until you shoot him in the face and he keeps walking towards you.”
Though Carlsbad dodged a major bullet in 2006, Munoz now hopes to bring his concerns about Caulerpa taxifolia to the international domain, using press coverage, community outreach and education initiatives as vehicles for further prevention and treatment.