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'Red Tide' Likely in New England This Season, Experts Warn

FRIDAY, April 13 (HealthDay News) -- A moderate "red tide" is expected in New England this spring and summer that could force the closing of shellfish beds, according to experts.

A red tide is a type of harmful algae bloom. The algae in the water don't pose a direct threat to people, but toxins produced by the algae can accumulate in mussels and clams and cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in people who eat them.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-funded scientists used a new computer model to forecast the 2012 outlook for the Gulf of Maine and concluded that a moderate red tide could cause the closure of shellfish beds along 126 to 250 miles of coastline.

The prediction is based on the quantity of the algae Alexandrium fundyense in its dormant (cyst) state detected in gulf sediments last fall. This information was combined with computer simulations of weather and ocean conditions -- winds, sunlight, rainfall, tides and currents -- that influence the size of the bloom.

The scientists noted that many factors -- such as water characteristics and wind direction -- could affect their forecast.

"The surveys of cyst abundance gives us an indication of the potential extent of the bloom, but whether or not that potential is realized depends on the growing conditions," Dennis McGillicuddy, senior scientist in applied ocean physics and engineering at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said in an institution news release.

"In 2010, we forecast a large bloom but we got it wrong. That spring, an unusual mass of warm, fresh water that was low in nutrients changed the growing conditions," he noted.

"Each year, we add another set of environmental conditions to our archive of model runs. In the future, a winter that is warmer and drier than normal can be represented by 2012, but right now, we have no similar year in that archive," Don Anderson, senior scientist in biology at Woods Hole, said in the news release.

More information

The Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services has more about red tide.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, news release, April 4, 2012

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