Evidence for a Novel Marine Harmful Algal Bloom: Cyanotoxin (Microcystin) Transfer from Land to Sea Otters

         After six months of no mention of the danger of the biotoxins that are produced by microcystis algae, I have stumbled across a study that confirms all of our suspicions. With the hard work of 12 scientists coming from all over California, for example the Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center, the Western Ecological Research Center, and the California Department of Public Health.
Not only did these scientists confirm that microcystin is a harmful type of algae, they also found that it is having a seriously negative effect on sea otters. This study confirms “deaths of marine mammals from microcystin intoxication.” And there weren’t just one or two otters killed by this poisonous algae, but 21! The otters got the algae into their system through a variety of ways, but the most important one is through eating clams, mussels and oysters. How did eating what sea otters normally eat cause them to get this suffocating bacteria in their system? Their food had it in them, which was then transferred to the otters! This shows a serious problem with the situation because it means that all levels of the food chain are affected by the algae. Biomagnification has occured, “suggesting a potentially serious environmental and public health threat that extends from the lowest trophic levels of nutrient-impaired freshwater habitat to apex marine predators.” This study is the first real confirmation of the harmful algal bloom in the Pacific coastal environment, and it is something that we all need to be aware of.

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My professor assigned us “Changes in a California Estuary: A Profile of Elkhorn Slough” for homework this weekend. And guess what I found?! More information about biomagnification, which is what is happening with this algae in the sea otters! There is an entire section of a chapter dedicated to it, and this is the conclusion: “in addition to having a wide range of acute or severe short-term impacts, such as mortality, slough contaminants can cause chronic effects that occur over longer periods. These maybe be expressed as sublethal impacts on reproduction, growth, behavior, or other physiological functions.” This just reiterates how important it is to get rid of the algae, because it is having such an awful effect on these poor sea creatures!

Miller, Melissa A., Raphael M. Kudela, Abdu Mekebri, Dave Crane, Stori C. Oates, and Timothy Tinker. “Evidence for a Novel Marine Harmful Algal Bloom: Cyanotoxin (Microcystin) Transfer from Land to Sea Otters.” PLOS One (2010): n. pag. Open Access. Web. 5 Nov. 2012.

Caffrey, Jane M. Changes in a California Estuary: A Profile of Elkhorn Slough. Moss Landing, CA: Elkhorn Slough Foundation, 2002. Print.

Published August 4, 2010.

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