The West Coast is awash in the largest toxic algae bloom ever for the region, according to researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The bloom first appeared in May and now stretches from California up the coast to Washington state. The algae produces a neurotoxin called domoic acid that is potentially fatal to humans. Its increasing span and severity is likely to keep people out of the water.
Raphael Kudela, professor of ocean studies at UCSC, released a statement on the toxic algae bloom. “The domoic acid levels are extremely high right now in Monterey Bay, and the event is occurring as far north as Washington state,” he said. “It appears this will be one of the most toxic and spatially largest events we’ve had in at least a decade.” Researchers speculate there will be elevated levels of domoic acid in shellfish and other marine life, including razor clams, crabs, hake and West Coast sardines. When those fish and shellfish are consumed by humans, the results are deadly.
According to the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife, domoic acid is responsible for several deaths and caused at least 100 people to become ill. The neurotoxin doesn’t harm ocean dwellers but in humans, it crosses into the brain and interferes with nerve signals. Domoic acid has a similar effect on sea lions and birds that consume tainted marine life.
At this time, a specific cause for the massive algae bloom is still unknown. A team of Oregon scientists set off this week on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration vessel to study the bloom. They hope to determine whether it is related to the warmer water temperatures seen this year from Washington to California.