Have you heard? Toxic algae is taking over the West Coast, and has become denser and more widespread and deeper than scientists predicting a few weeks back. According to surveyors aboard a National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration research ship found a coastal ribbon microscopic algae up to 40 miles wide and 650 feet deep in places. It seems to be growing rapidly in areas of the unusually warm Pacific Ocean. Now stretching from California to Alaska, the algae has even shut down larger fisheries.
These "red tides" are on a cycle and have happened many times before but ocean researchers say this one is much larger than cycles before. The algae this time around contains a lot of neurotoxins bring severe outcomes for the Pacific seafood industry, coastal tourism and marin ecosystems.
This is causing a short crab fishing season along the area this most occurs. This area of the state stretches as long as 157 miles.
Survey data will hopefully provide a clearer picture of what is causing this bloom which is a brown color, opposite of the blue and green algae found in polluted freshwater lakes. Marine detectives are growing nervous, as the areas this is flourishing is in a large patch of watch that is as much as 3 degrees centigrade warmer.
The question of course is: is this related to climate change?
Scientists say there's no questions more algae blooms are happening more often, in more places and lasting longer.
Off the coast of Santa Barbara was where the algae was particularly thick.
The algae contains domoic acid. Domoic acid is harmful to people, fish and marine life. It accumulates in anchovies, sardines and other small fish as well as shellfish that eat the algae. Marine mammals and fish-eating birds in turn can get sick from eating the contaminated fish. In people, it can trigger amnesic shellfish poisoning, which can cause permanent loss of short-term memory in severe cases.
State health officials stress that seafood bought in stores is still safe to eat because it is regularly tested. While there have been no reports of human illnesses linked to this year’s bloom, authorities aren’t taking chances in fisheries with dangerous toxin levels.
California public health officials have warned against eating recreationally harvested mussels and claims, or any anchovy, sardines or crabs caught in waters off Monterey, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara counties. Other shellfish harvests are shut down along Oregon’s coast.
The most recent samples showed the highest-ever recorded concentrations of domoic acid in the internal organs of Dungeness crab, Ayres said.