June 4, 2005

Red Tide Idles Shellfish Beds in Massachusetts

BOSTON -- The worst red tide in decades idled about two-thirds of the shellfish beds in Massachusetts on Friday as the toxic algae bloom spread off the coast to Nantucket.

The state shut down all shellfish beds on the island and in waters three miles around it, as well as the remaining open beds in Chatham on Cape Cod, because of unsafe levels of toxins.

Don Anderson of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said it was the first time he could recall Nantucket being affected by red tide.

Late last month, officials closed shellfish beds from the New Hampshire border to Cape Cod when an algae bloom moved in from the Gulf of Maine. Shellfish beds in New Hampshire and Maine north to Penobscot Bay were closed shortly thereafter.

According to experts the bloom is unlikely to have any impact on summer beachgoers on the Cape and elsewhere. Still, it's the worst red tide to hit Massachusetts since 1972, when the state enacted a blanket closure of shellfish beds.

Scientists say the algae contaminate only shellfish, making them unsafe for animals and humans to eat. Swimmers, fish, and popular sea foods such as lobster or shrimp are unaffected, as are scallops because people don't eat the part that absorbs the poison.

The toxic algae is called red tide because it colors the water a rusty color at extremely high concentrations.

Each year, a bloom of the algae moves from the Gulf of Maine to Cape Ann, off Boston's North Shore. Usually, the wind isn't right to push it westward into Massachusetts Bay, but this year, strong east and northeast winds blew in a particularly heavy algae bloom that flourished in the bay's warmer waters.


Associated Press writer Jay Lindsay contributed to this report.