Science News

West Coast’s Toxic Algae Bloom Is Possibly The Largest Ever


Federal biologists have embarked on a mission to survey what could be the largest toxic algae bloom ever recorded off the West Coast a bloom which is reportedly causing seizures in sea lions.

While NBC News reported the massive algae bloom in the Pacific Ocean to range from Southern California to Alaska, The Seattle Times indicated in a report that its effects stretch from Central California to at least British Columbia, possibly as far north as Alaska.

This spring, the algae bloom has shut down recreational and commercial shellfish harvests for Washington, Oregon and California after dangerous levels of the natural toxin domoic acid were detected.

According to researchers at Oregon State University (OSU), the toxic-green algae blooms may be responsible for the unexplained otter deaths in California, as the toxic blooms can travel through rivers to the ocean, The Associated Press reported via The Washington Times.

The aforementioned AP report quoted OSU researcher Timothy Otten as having said that one simply cannot assume that cyanobacteria are not going to be in flowing rivers “because they may be passing through.”

Back in January, the waters off the coast of Hong Kong were reportedly glowing blue at night as a result of an algal bloom produced by Noctiluca scintillans, also known as Sea Sparkle or Red Tide.

In March of this year, the National Park Service issued a warning to swimmers after plumes of algae were spotted across Lake Mead and Lake Mohave.

In addition to high levels of domoic acid in the waters of the Pacific off the West Coast, researchers have detected two other types of toxins rarely seen in combination with one another.

According to Vera Trainer, manager of the Marine Microbes and Toxins Programs at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, multiple toxins seen at the same time, high levels of domoic acid and a coastwide bloom “are indications that this is unprecedented,” Seattle Times reported.

The fact that we’re seeing multiple toxins at the same time, we’re seeing high levels of domoic acid, and we’re seeing a coastwide bloom — those are indications that this is unprecedented

About one-third of the lakes in the United States which are larger than 10 acres contain the toxin-producing cyanobacteria.

The frequency and duration of blue-green algae blooms appear to be increasing, according to Otten and OSU professor Theo Dreher. The pair believes rising temperatures, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, extreme weather and increased nutrient runoff to be contributing factors in the rising trend.

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