Harmful Algal Blooms

Photo Credit: Dave Caron

Certain algae (i.e. Pseudo-nitzschia a and Alexandrium catenell) are capable of toxic or harmful algal blooms (HABs), releasing compounds (for example, domoic acid or saxitoxin), which can accumulate up the marine food chain, causing severe illness and death in marine mammals, birds, and even humans. Another species, Lingulodinium polyedrum, is probably the most common dinoflagellate in the region and causes the red water often seen near the beach; when its population crashes, it consumes large amounts of oxygen in the surrounding water. This can cause hypoxia in regions with low circulation (ports, marinas, lagoons, etc.), resulting in fish kills. Scientists still do not know what conditions trigger a toxic algal species to bloom and produce toxin, but understanding complex coastal oceanographic processes is certainly a key to unraveling this mystery. It is also important for sustainably managing human use and enjoyment of the coast. USC Sea Grant focuses its research funding and outreach programs on answering these questions.

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