'Hot spot' for toxic harmful algal blooms discovered off Washington coast

January 30, 2009

A part of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which separates Washington state from Canada's British Columbia, is a potential "hot spot" for toxic harmful algal blooms affecting the Washington and British Columbia coasts.

Marine scientists found that under certain conditions, toxic algal cells from an offshore "initiation site" break off and are transported to nearshore areas, where they may trigger harmful algal blooms that ultimately force the closure of Washington state shellfish beds along beaches.

"Knowing more about these blooms is critical for protecting human and ecosystem health," said David Garrison, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Biological Oceanography Program, which co-funded the research. "This research is a very successful step toward addressing harmful algal blooms in the U.S."

The study, conducted by a team of scientists from NOAA's Fisheries Service, San Francisco State University and the universities of Washington, Maine and Western Ontario, is part of the interagency Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms Pacific Northwest Program.

"Understanding how and where harmful algal blooms originate will help provide early warnings to protect human health and reduce the impact of biotoxins on coastal shellfisheries," said Vera Trainer, lead author of a paper published in the January issue of the journal Limnology & Oceanography, and a scientist at the NOAA Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.

Scientists noted that the Juan de Fuca eddy, a circular water mass rotating some 30 miles off the northern coast of Washington at the mouth of the Juan de Fuca Strait, frequently contained significant populations of the microscopic toxic alga, Pseudo-nitzschia.

Over the course of the five-year study, the researchers took thousands of measurements at sea and conducted experiments onboard research vessels and in their laboratories. They hoped to better understand the factors that initiate and sustain the growth of this toxic alga, and to determine why it produces a deadly biotoxin.

This naturally-produced biotoxin, domoic acid, can accumulate in shellfish, crabs and some fish.

By attacking the nervous system it can cause adverse health effects or death in birds, marine mammals and humans who consume affected marine species. Fishing communities may suffer severe economic losses as a result of closures of recreational, subsistence and commercial harvesting, and lost tourism.

The Limnology & Oceanography paper is titled "Variability of Pseudo-nitzschia and domoic acid in the Juan de Fuca eddy region and its adjacent shelves."

Source: National Science Foundation

Explore further: Water quality expert discusses cyanobacteria bloom in the Charles River

Related Stories

Image: Algae bloom in Lake St. Clair

August 5, 2015

On July 28, 2015, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite captured images of algal blooms around the Great Lakes, visible as swirls of green in this image of Lake St. Clair and in western Lake Erie.

Dolphin health is connected to human well-being

August 19, 2015

Dolphins are known to marine biologists as sentinel animals, if they are ailing, we humans may be next. The Indian River Lagoon, an ecologically diverse estuary that covers 40 percent of Florida's east coast, is ailing. ...

Stinking mats of seaweed piling up on Caribbean beaches

August 10, 2015

The picture-perfect beaches and turquoise waters that people expect on their visits to the Caribbean are increasingly being fouled by mats of decaying seaweed that attract biting sand fleas and smell like rotten eggs.

Researchers predict severe harmful algal bloom for Lake Erie

July 9, 2015

University of Michigan researchers and their colleagues predict that the 2015 western Lake Erie harmful algal bloom season will be among the most severe in recent years and could become the second-most severe behind the record-setting ...

Recommended for you

New study sheds light on end of Snowball Earth period

August 24, 2015

The second ice age during the Cryogenian period was not followed by the sudden and chaotic melting-back of the ice as previously thought, but ended with regular advances and retreats of the ice, according to research published ...

Earth's mineralogy unique in the cosmos

August 26, 2015

New research from a team led by Carnegie's Robert Hazen predicts that Earth has more than 1,500 undiscovered minerals and that the exact mineral diversity of our planet is unique and could not be duplicated anywhere in the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.