Pieces are in place for New England red tide
By Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
May 12, 2008

The outbreak could be similar to the historic 2005 red tide outbreak, which shut down shellfish beds along the New England coast and cost about $50 million in losses to the Massachusetts shellfish industry alone.

Red tide is the common name for a harmful form of microscopic algae that turns the ocean a rust color and accumulates in shellfish, which can be deadly to humans if eaten. Each spring, warming ocean water and sunlight cause the explosive growth in the Gulf of Maine, usually around the end of April.

Just like the winter and spring of 2004-05, heavy snow and rain spread across New England this past winter and spring, says Don Anderson, a Woods Hole biologist and lead scientist on the study. "This brings a tremendous amount of fresh water into the Gulf of Maine, which is favorable for the growth of the red tide organism."

Anderson reported early Tuesday that New Hampshire coast -- and some of the Maine coast -- have been closed to shellfish harvesting, as a precaution against red tide.

New England's red tide algae contaminate clams, mussels and oysters — but not lobster, crabs, shrimp or fin fish. The shellfish that ingest the algae aren't harmed, and they flush it out of their systems after the water clears. But people who eat the tainted shellfish can develop paralytic shellfish poisoning, which can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and tingling or burning sensations on the face and extremities. In extreme cases, death can result.

"It's very important to point out that states in the region have extremely effective monitoring programs for these outbreaks," Anderson says. "They have learned through the years to keep the dangerous product off the market."

Anderson says the harmful red tide cells are out there in the Gulf of Maine right now and are just waiting for a strong easterly or northeasterly wind to push them back toward shore.

"We don't want this to be viewed as a true forecast" of a red tide bloom, Anderson says, "since we would also have to predict one or more major Northeast storms in the next month or so. So all we can say is that there is the potential for a major outbreak."

Dennis McGillicuddy, another Woods Hole scientist, says that when southwesterly winds dominate, the algae tend to stay offshore.

"We have not done this type of prediction before, nor has anyone anywhere. It is a major scientific step forward in this regard," Anderson says.

The research relied on both computer models and actual observations as part of Woods Hole's Gulf of Maine Toxicity Study.


Original article: USA Today
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