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Jul 27, 2011 12:02 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sea foam Off Dune Road Nothing Unusual

Jul 27, 2011 12:05 PM

Beachgoers on Dune Road in the western half of Southampton Town this weekend noticed something a bit strange while splashing in the waves: a large amount of sea foam—almost resembling a bubble bath—in the ocean surf.

A number of environmental experts familiar with the ocean have differing opinions of what is causing the white, almost paint-like substance that follows the breaking waves, though all agree it is a natural phenomenon and nothing that should chase anyone from the water.

Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister said on Tuesday after examining a photograph of the foam that it was caused by the release of proteins from the jellyfish budding process. Mr. McAllister said that it is common this time of year because the jellyfish are expected to reproduce and become a common sight in the ocean waters within the next few weeks.

“A lot of jellyfish are reproducing. There’s a lot of protein in the water, and when it gets agitated, it actually foams up,” Mr. McAllister said. “The offspring are present from right around now into August.”

The superintendent of Southampton Town’s Parks and Recreation Department, Chris Bean, said that he had received word that the foam was also at Pikes Beach in West Hampton Dunes. Mr. Bean echoed Mr. McAllister’s thoughts that the foam was the result of jellyfish reproduction and that the warm water temperatures—an estimated 70 degrees on Saturday—caused the wave of foam for several hours that day. “It’s happened before, but I haven’t seen it in several years,” Mr. Bean said. “It’s part of the reproductive cycle.”

No other town beaches reported a large increase in sea foam in its waters.

Christopher J. Gobler, associate professor at the Stony Brook Southampton School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said in an email on Tuesday night that the large amount of sea foam is nothing to be concerned about and is a common result of the oceanic ecosystem.

“Sea foam is not an uncommon phenomenon. It’s usually caused by the release of organic material from specific types of phytoplankton or plankton,” Dr. Gobler wrote in the email. “As is often the case, the densities of plankton are exacerbated by excessive nutrients or, in some cases, climate change, leading to higher levels than usual.”

On Wednesday morning, Dr. Gobler added that because the foam is only in the ocean—and not in the bay—it is possibly caused by jellyfish budding or the complete opposite—the demise of a group of aquatic organisms, possibly brought on by the unusually hot temperatures. “Something in the water has probably died off and is releasing protein,” Dr. Gobler said. “When it’s churned up it turns into foam.

“Frankly,” he added, “I don’t think we’ll ever know.”

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