Today, scientists from the NOAA-funded Gulf of Maine Toxicity (GOMTOX) project issued an outlook for a significant regional bloom of a toxic alga that can cause 'red tides' in the spring and summer of this year, potentially threatening the New England shellfish industry.
An abundant seed population in bottom sediments has set the stage for a significant bloom of the toxic alga Alexandrium fundyense. This organism swims in the water, and divides again and again to form a "bloom" or red tide, but it also produces dormant cells or cysts that fall to the ocean bottom at the end of these blooms.
A cyst survey conducted in late 2009 shows the highest amount of cysts the team has ever measured, more than 60 percent higher than what was observed prior to the historic red tide of 2005. The cyst bed also appears to have expanded to the south, and thus the 2010 bloom may affect areas such as Massachusetts Bay and Georges Bank sooner than has been the case in past years.
This year's bloom could be similar to the major red tides of 2005 and 2008, according to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) biologist Don Anderson, principal investigator of the GOMTOX study. The 2005 bloom shut down shellfish beds from Maine to Martha's Vineyard (Mass.) for several months and caused an estimated $20 million in losses to the Massachusetts shellfish industry alone. The 2008 outbreak was similar in scale.
Although the algae in the water pose no direct threat to human beings, the toxins they produce can accumulate in filter-feeding organisms such as mussels and clams which can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) in humans who consume them.
In order to protect public health, shellfish beds are closed when toxicities rise above a quarantine leveloften during the peak harvesting season. Due to effective monitoring by state agencies, there have been no illnesses from legally harvested shellfish in recent yearsdespite some severe b
|Contact: WHOI Media Relations|
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution