February 3, 2009

Toxic algae found off Washington coast

Canadian and U.S. marine scientists have found a hot spot for toxic algal blooms is affecting the Washington and British Columbia coasts.

Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, San Francisco State University and the universities of Washington, Maine and Western Ontario said the hot spot for the toxic harmful blooms is a part of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which separates Washington state from Canada's British Columbia.

The scientists said they determined that, under certain conditions, toxic algal cells from an offshore initiation site break off and are transported to near-shore areas, sometimes triggering algal blooms that force the closure of Washington state shellfish beds along beaches.

Knowing more about these blooms is critical for protecting human and ecosystem health, said David Garrison, director of the National Science Foundation Biological Oceanography Program, which co-funded the research. This research is a very successful step toward addressing harmful algal blooms in the U.S.

The research appeared in the January issue of the journal Limnology & Oceanography.