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Underwater microscope helps prevent shellfish poisoning along Gulf Coast of Texas
Date:4/11/2008

eployed the instrument in the fall of 2007 at the University of Texas Marine Sciences Institutes lab in the Mission Bay Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Their principal goal was to observe Karenia brevis, another toxic alga that blooms periodically in the Gulf and can lead to neurotoxic shellfish poisoning. The research team would like to observe the next K. brevis bloom before it happens; such blooms are most common and most extreme in the Gulf of Mexico in the late summer and fall. The team is also working to catalog the types and relative abundances of marine plants in the area throughout the year.

In mid-February 2008, Campbell reviewed plankton images collected by the Imaging FlowCytobot and detected a substantial increase in the abundance of the dinoflagellate Dinophysis, which occurs naturally in ocean waters worldwide but not usually in harmful quantities. We have never before observed a bloom of Dinophysis acuminata at such levels in the Gulf of Mexico, Campbell said.

After reporting the increase to fellow researchers in coastal Texas, Campbell and colleagues collected water samples to confirm that algal toxins were present in the water. Other researchers collected oyster samples and sent them for toxin analysis at a U.S. Food and Drug Administration laboratory.

On March 8, the Texas Department of State Health Services closed Aransas, Corpus Christi, and Copano bays to shellfish harvesting and recalled Texas oysters, clams, and mussels that had been sold between March 1-7. A week later, six other bays and estuaries along the coast were closed. As of April 11, most shellfishing areas had been re-opened, and the Aransas, Copano, and Corpus Christi were expected to re-open in a matter of days.

The bloom and subsequent warning occurred just days before the Fulton Oysterfest, a major shellfish festival in the region. At last report, no shellfish-related human illnesses have been reported in Texas this spri
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