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Tracking Elusive Harmful Algae

Thin, slender and in stepped chains, Pseudo-nitzschia is not just another common diatom in coastal waters. Certain species among the Pseudo-nitzschia produce a potent neurotoxin, domoic acid, which can accumulate in shellfish and fish and cause permanent loss of short-term memory in humans. Blooms of harmful algae (known as HABs or Harmful Algal Blooms) are responsible for the closure of Pacific Northwest (PNW) beaches to shellfish harvesting throughout the summer.

Since monitoring efforts are often laborious and time-consuming, CMOP scientists and their colleagues are working on two fronts to minimize potential impacts on PNW communities: Holly Simon and Mariya Smit are employing novel technologies to rapidly assess the potential threat of Pseudo-nitzschia in coastal waters by deploying near real-time biosensors tuned to detect toxin-producing species, and Tawnya Peterson, Angel White (Center for Microbial Oceanography Research and Education), Michelle Maier, and Morgaine McKibben are working to better understand environmental factors-such as nutrient concentrations, temperature, salinity, and physical features such as the extent of river plumes-that may be associated with the presence of HAB species in order to better predict their distributions and toxicity in coastal waters. Monitoring of domoic acid in Oregon is performed by Oregon Department of Agriculture and cell densities are provided by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Remote sensing, data analysis, and and predictive modeling are performed by MOCHA (Monitoring Oregon's Coastal Harmful Algae) personnel.



(Photo: Tawnya Peterson/CMOP)