SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill 655 into law on Thursday, Jul. 27, enacting a state-wide ban on the invasive Caulerpa genus of algae.
Under the new law, Californians are prohibited from selling, possessing, importing, transporting, transferring, releasing alive in the state, or giving away without consideration all saltwater algae of the genus Caulerpa.
An exception was written into the law for qualified scientific research of the algae.
The genus of algae is popular in the aquarium trade because of its attractive green hue, fast growth rate, and hardy nature.
Caulerpa is naturally found in the warm, tropical waters of Florida and the Caribbean, but has been found to easily adapt to thrive in California's relatively cooler coastal waters.
When Caulerpa prolifera was discovered in the past, such as the patch positively identified in Newport Bay's China Cove in early 2021, it has been shown to rapidly outcompete native California plants, displace natural wildlife, and impact the local ecosystem due to a toxin it contains that repels fish from outside its range.
A cousin of that previously identified patch in Newport Bay, Caulerpa taxifolia, was discovered impacting the California coast in 2000 and took approximately seven years and $7 million to completely remove.
The most common source of Caulerpa introduction to California waters is from illegal dumping of aquarium water, the cause cited as the most likely culprit for previous invasions.
“I am proud to partner with California Coastkeeper Alliance and Orange County Coastkeeper to advance this bill into law to ban all species of Caulerpa algae and prevent the irresponsible dumping of this highly invasive species into our coastal waterways,” said Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Irvine), the author of the bill signed into law on Thursday. “AB 655 allows the state to protect our coastal waters from invasive Caulerpa algae by creating safeguards for costly infestations that pose a serious risk to our coastal ecosystems and native marine life.”
A state law in 2001 banned the transportation and sale of several species within the Caulerpa genus, but some species, including C. prolifera, remained legal to sell and trade. This new state law banning all species within the genus will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.