Editorial: Sea lettuce solution needed

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It looks disgusting, adds a rotting stench to an otherwise stunning walk along the harbour, and now sea lettuce is making kids sick.

Having grown up in Matua and Otumoetai, I can't remember a time when sea lettuce wasn't part of the beachscape. As children we stomped on it during family walks, collected it into piles and complained about the horrible smell.

As an adult, I'm far less intrigued by its texture or crunch and more about when or if the problem will ever be solved.

I had almost grown accustomed to the summer pong until family arrived from out of town and reminded me the pungent odour in the air was not part of life in inland New Zealand. Much like Rotorua, where residents got used to the smell of sulphur, I had been surprisingly used to the stench of sea slime.

But Monday's story about a family overcome by toxic sea lettuce gases, built up inside a waterfront house, is proof it should not be accepted. Their two children started vomiting and testing revealed extreme toxicity levels.

Not only does sea lettuce tarnish the image of Tauranga's beautiful coastal environment, it is showing to be potentially damaging to our health.

The council responds when residents complain about sea lettuce and sends a contractor to clean up the mess. Surely the need is there for an annual clean-up programme. In future some of the cost of such a programme could also be recouped.

Australian professor Rocky de Nys says sea lettuce could be turned into biofuels, which the aviation industry is considering as a more economically viable option than conventional fossil fuels. Local businesses can find other uses for algae, he says.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council is running a home garden mulching trial with sea lettuce, due for completion in July.

El Nino weather patterns mean sea lettuce is here to stay and we need to invest in a plan to efficiently remove it from our beaches and use it to save money.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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