As a first-ever precautionary response to an unprecedented bloom of the toxic alga Pseudo-nitzschia in its waters, Maine officials have temporarily banned shellfish harvesting along part of the coast. A survey cruise and a volunteer monitoring network, both funded by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, identified the bloom species and mapped where and how big it is, and how much of the algae's toxin is in the water. They also documented other environmental conditions associated with the bloom, such as the distribution of other phytoplankton species which might compete with or hinder the spread of Pseudo-nitschia.
This information will allow Maine to assess this bloom's threat to human health, and precisely target which shellfish beds to close. Some Pseudo-nitzschia species produce a potent neurotoxin called domoic acid that accumulates in shellfish and can cause illness or death in people who collect and eat the seafood. Commercial beds undergo extensive testing by the state to ensure the safety of restaurants' and retailers' supplies.
The NCCOS Event Response Program funded the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution survey cruise and shoreline identification by the Phytoplankton Monitoring Network.