Toxic algae bloom growing rapidly in Monterey Bay
A large algae bloom is growing in the Monterey Bay and releasing some of the highest levels of deadly toxins that scientists have seen in years.
Raphael Kudela, a researcher at the University of California Santa Cruz, said the bloom is part of a stretch of Pseudo-nitzschia, a type of algae being found from Washington to Santa Barbara.
When it blooms, it releases domoic acid, which can be deadly to some species.
MBARI sensors in the bay record toxins in real-time. Kudela said scientists have not seen toxin levels like this in the Monterey Bay since 2000.
"(There's) one right out of Monterey, and one just south of Santa Cruz, and we're seeing these really high domoic acid levels in both locations, which is very, very unusual," Jim Birch of MBARI said.
Birch said toxins from the bloom will have a chain reaction on marine animals, and reports of dead seabirds are already coming in.
For humans, the concern is shellfish poisoning. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric data, toxin levels are 30 percent higher than what’s needed to put a stop to shellfish harvesting.
"It causes illnesses in humans rarely. But it causes this thing called amnesic shellfish, poisoning where it affects neurons in the brain, and you start to not remember things. In really, really high concentrations it can kill you," Birch said.
Scientists don’t know what is causing the bloom to grow like it is right now, but Kudela said they have theories.
Kudela said the blooms are naturally occurring and respond to nutrients. Nutrient pollution from rivers can cause the blooms to get large like they are in the bay. But weak ocean water upwelling can do this too. The Monterey Bay has been in a pattern of weak upwelling for the past year.
Researchers believe that another factor could be the warm blob of ocean water that’s been sitting over the West Coast this winter and spring.
"Both last year and this year, there are the warm blobs across the whole West Coast, and that is at least suspicious," Kudela said.