Climate change and global warming affect more and more of our environment. The toxin in shellfish around the U.S. Pacific Northwest has reached higher concentrations and the cause may be the increasingly warmer ocean temperatures. Researchers are optimistic, though, and state they have found ways to prevent a potential toxin outbreak.
The toxin is called domoic acid. It is produced by algae and other marine plants. It can also develop in seafood. If the percentage gets too big, the toxin can be dangerous for humans and it is not advisable for them to consume it.
The toxin-development preventing program is funded by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Their method of predicting and understanding toxic outbreaks to a larger extent is a new one. They were the first to link the increase in shellfish toxin concentrations to the raise of the water temperature caused by natural cycles of climate. Such cycles include El Nino and a weather pattern that is similar but more extensive. The other pattern is called Pacific Decadal Oscillation.
The lead author of the study is Professor Morgaine McKibben of Oregon State University. In the study, they created a tool for analyzing the outbreak risks and used physical, biological and chemical real-life data. They can offer this tool for fisheries in the affected area to use and predict the rise of the domoic acid in shellfish. The affected areas include Washington, Oregon, and California.
The risky level of toxin is dangerous not only for humans. Many fisheries had to close after the domoic acid killed numerous sea creatures, including even whales, dolphins, and sea lions.
Matt Hunter, member of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, participated in the study and declared that they are planning to enforce a more extended use of the tool to identify the potential risk of the domoic acid levels. Fisheries will be forbidden to commercialize during periods with high toxin concentrations. The industry requires an efficient handling so that no economic collapse or health hazard should outburst. The improvement of the predicting system of the algae toxin concentrations and the functioning of the fisheries in accordance to the results is the main target of the department.
The report on toxin levels can be found in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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