The Sea Pearl Enigma

One question about our reef that comes up more than any other is: "What are those magical black pearls??"


To start, they are not pearls at all...


Here are a few other things they are not:


-Unicorn poop


-Sailor's eyeballs


-Toxic to touch


And what they are:


They are Macroscopic algae (Ventricaria ventricosa), also known as "bubble algae" or "sea pearl," is widespread algal species that can withstand low light. Each of the bubbles is a single cell, making it one of the largest single-celled organisms known, reaching up to 5 centimeters in diameter. They are often found in mangrove forests, growing on the mangrove roots, and some people consider it a pest.


In Bocas there is a myth that bubble algae are toxic, and the locals will not touch them. To get to the bottom of the myth, we decided to grab hold of one (not easy since they are actually soft and slimy) and bring it to the surface to study it. We did not suffer any ill effects, but with the help of a pH meter, we learned that the liquid inside is more acidic than the surrounding sea water. So it is possible that when they pop, they damage the corals directly in the vicinity.


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