Toxic Algae Outbreaks: The Impending Threat to the US West Coast

Toxic Algae Outbreaks: The Impending Threat to the US West Coast

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It's a beautiful and sunny day on the California beaches, but something sinister lurks beneath the surface.

Toxic algae blooms have turned the water blue, bright green, brown, or red, poisoning marine animals like sea lions and dolphins.

The phenomenon, supercharged by agricultural pollution and global warming, is set to worsen with the return of El Niño.

The climate pattern raises the likelihood of toxic algae outbreaks on the US West Coast and may do the same in Florida, though its influence there is not as clear.

Toxic algae can cause nausea, vomiting, and skin irritation in humans, and can kill dogs and marine animals exposed to it.

Severe blooms can force fishermen to shut down their operations due to risks to food safety, and their own health.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that such events cause about $82 million in losses for the US seafood, restaurant, and tourism industries.

El Niño is set to cause more weather turmoil, test power grids, and disrupt the global supply chain.

On the West Coast, blooms of algae harboring a toxin that can poison humans and animals are more likely to occur under El Niño’s influence.

Domoic acid is believed to have killed hundreds of sea lions off California in June alone.

Domoic acid (DA) is a kainic acid-type neurotoxin that causes amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP).

El Niño is also expected to push blooms of Pseudo-nitzschia further up the Pacific coast, to areas that have rarely experienced the problem.

So-called red tides will likely become more common along the West Coast this year, too, since Lingulodinium polyedra flourishes in warmer and wetter weather.

For Florida, El Niño is more of a wild card. Higher temperatures, intensified rainfall, and suppressed hurricane activity associated with the pattern all play roles in the growth of algae..

Projections for the Great Lakes region are more positive. Lake Erie will likely experience milder-than-average blooms.

A dry spring is expected to spare the fishing hub from a massive outbreak, according to a forecast released by NOAA last week.

Around the country, scientists have stepped up their efforts to predict and monitor when and where harmful algae blooms, providing insights for businesses and communities hoping to lessen the damage.

However, predicting these events accurately beyond several days is difficult. Toxic algae blooms are a serious threat to both human and animal health, as well as to fishing and tourism industries.

The US West Coast is facing an impending threat from toxic algae blooms, and it's up to all of us to take action.

Let's work together to reduce agricultural pollution and combat global warming to protect our oceans and all the creatures that call it home.