Scientists from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science-funded Gulf of Maine Toxicity (GOMTOX) project have issued an outlook for a moderate regional bloom of a toxic alga that can cause ‘red tides’ in the spring and summer of 2011, potentially threatening the New England shellfish industry.
Principal investigators Don Anderson and Dennis McGillicuddy of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and North Carolina State University’s (NCSU) Ruoying He have developed a computer model to predict the intensity and location of the blooms in the Gulf of Maine. According to the model, the bloom severity will fall somewhere in between the large blooms of 2005 and 2008, and more mild outbreaks in 2006 and 2007. However, there are signs that the bloom this year could be suppressed by recent changes in ocean conditions in the Gulf of Maine.
Although the algae in the water pose no direct threat to human beings, the toxins they produce can accumulate in filter-feeding organisms such as mussels and clams – which can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) in humans who consume them. The economic impacts of PSP toxicity are significant in the region. Direct and indirect costs of the 2005 Alexandrium bloom were estimated at nearly $50 million for Massachusetts and $23 million for Maine.
The GOMTOX project, funded by NCCOS’s Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB) Research Program, is a collaboration of investigators from NOAA’s National Ocean Service, National Weather Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, WHOI, NCSU, University of Maine, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Rutgers University, the Food and Drug Administration, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Maine Department of Marine Resources, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, and the North Atlantic Clam Association.