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Killer Algae

3.5 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226519234
ISBN-10: 0226519236
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It says something of modern times that a new branch of science should have had to come into being: "invasion biology." A flourishing division of conservation biology and ecology, invasion biology studies the ever-increasing introduction of alien species into new environments--the Chinese vine kudzu in the American South, for example, or the brown tree snake in Guam--where they rapidly displace native species and upset local balances of nature.

French scientist Alexandre Meinesz reports firsthand on his work in invasion biology in Killer Algae, a grim and frightening book. In it, Meinesz recounts a seemingly innocent transaction that has had appalling consequences. In 1980, a curator at the city zoo in Stuttgart, Germany, introduced a hybrid, cold-resistant variety of the alga Caulerpa taxifolia into the zoo's aquarium, where it proved to be a productive source of food. Encouraged, the curator sent a sample to the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, then headed by Jacques Cousteau. During a routine cleaning of aquarium tanks, a quantity of Caulerpa was dumped into the Mediterranean Sea. Meinesz, an expert on the alga, was called onto the scene when a museum worker noticed, some days later, that a mere bucketful had grown to cover a square yard. He suggested that the alga be removed, but his suggestion went unheeded. Now, nearly two decades later, the "beautiful stranger," as Meinesz calls it, has spread throughout the Mediterranean basin, covering some 10,000 acres and displacing native algae as it spreads. The result may be a wholesale remaking of the Mediterranean environment, already long victimized. Meinesz's sobering tale speaks much to the fragility of ecosystems--and to the short-sightedness of humans. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (May 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226519236
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226519234
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,004,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Nicholas Aschbrenner on June 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Positive: This book provides a very detailed account of the history of the invasion of Caulerpa taxifolia. I recommend this book to anyone who is concerned about nature (environmentalists), any students of biology, or anyone who has an interest in biodiversity issues. As a student of biology, I can say that he is completely correct in his assessment of nonreductionist scientific pursuits (ecology, etc.). The reader feels involved in the action (as dry as it may be) and cheers Dr. Meinesz as he time and time again evidences the incompetency of the general public (and government) in dealing with scientific matters. It's an excellent book, overall.
Negative: It is rather slow reading. It could have been told better. The story could float more easily if there were more anecdotes.
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By A Customer on December 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
A most remarkable story...poorly told. The runaway algae Caulerpa is negatively impacting the marine environment of the Mediterranean. Moreover the organism found its' way into the Mediterranean by a most unexpecteed route- via the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. What darma! The museum, run by Jacques Cousteau at the time of the introduction of the algae, has acted contray to its' own basic pricipals and contrary to the ideas of Commander Cousteau; first by causing the introduction and secondly by denying their own implication and third by acting to exacerbate the problem by delay. The problem with the book is the author spends too much time pointing to the museums shortcomings. Enough is enough! In the latter part ot the book the author addresses the biology of Caulerpa and the crisis in the present practice of biology- this part is much less repetative and flows much more smoothly. This portion could have been expanded to include such questions as; Is this an incipient species, and if so how does it relate to the process of speciation in general? Will a new dynamic take hold in the Mediterranean, and how dynamic will it be? How does the immedicate pre-Caulerpa environment compare to the older undersea world of Cousteau? Does Caulerpa trap sediment and change bottom topography? Does it clear the water (improve visability)? The answers to such questions are speculative, but few are better qualified to speculate than this author. Overall, largely because of the importance of the story, the wading is worth it.
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Format: Hardcover
This book describes how an invasive alga was released into the Mediterranean and details the political story of why it was allowed to spread. The alga, caulerpa taxiflora, was first discovered growing under the windows of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco in 1989. When Meinesz saw the alga, he approached the director of the museum and was told that the alga, being tropical in nature, would never survive the winter. However, it did indeed survive the winter, flourished, and over the next few years spread beyond Monaco to the coast of France, Spain, and as far away as Croatia.
Although one section of the appendix describes the biology of the alga, the vast majority of the book is devoted to documenting the various political battles that the author fought to try to convince the authorities to take action against the spread of the alga. Some of the behind-the-scenes tales of how the academic publishing establishment works were quite illuminating. After reading this book, I will also be rather skeptical when I come across scientific articles in the popular press, especially newspapers, since Meinesz points out how often reporters got the details wrong or pulled other facts out of context. When I picked up this book, I was more interested in learning the scientific and environmental implications of an invasive species, but that's not the focus of this book.
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