The bodies of a family who went missing after a hike near Yosemite National Park last week were found, and toxic algae may be the cause of their deaths.
Jonathan Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their 1-year-old, and their family dog were found deceased in Sierra National Forest near Yosemite National Park with no signs of trauma, injury, or suicide. Officials are testing the local waterways for any signs of poisonous algae that’s been a problem in the area.
Kristie Mitchell, a spokesperson for the Mariposa County sheriff’s office, told the AP,
“This is a very unusual, unique situation.”
The family had recently moved to the area during the pandemic to raise their 1-year-old. Both Gerrish and Chung were experienced outdoors.
The day was supposed to involve a simple day-hike, but when the family’s babysitter arrived at their house Monday and Gerrish didn’t show up to work, friends notified police.
At first, officials speculated toxic gases may have been seeping out of an old mine 3 miles away from where the bodies were found and investigated under a hazmat warning.
Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese said,
“I don’t believe it’s connected to a mine.”
Now, the State Water Resources Control Board is investigating the area for toxic algae blooms and lists the area near where the bodies were found as a place of “caution.”
The Sierra National Forest issued a similar warning on July 13 regarding toxic algae blooms, advising visitors to avoid swimming in some bodies of water within the forest.
Algae blooms are common in many bodies of freshwater and salter but when fertilizer and man-made materials heavy in phosphorus and nitrogen (like city runoff) seep into the water, the intensity of the blooms explodes, especially along with rising temperatures.
In Florida an infamous algae bloom known as red tide occurs every year, and sharks have been spotted in people’s backyard waterways because their natural habitat is being overrun.