Toxic ocean algae could worsen with warming waters

Toxic algae blooms that have been blamed for the indefinite postponement of this year’s Dungeness crab season could only get worse and more frequent in the future, possibly resulting in the deaths of marine mammals, a conservation group warned Friday.

Officials with the Center for Biological Diversity said toxic ocean conditions could become commonplace throughout the Northeast Pacific Ocean as the ocean becomes warmer.

The warning comes after the Department of Fish and Wildlife postponed the start of the Dungeness crab season indefinitely until levels of domoic acid, a neurotoxin, found in local crabs have returned to safe levels.

CDFW officials also closed the commercial rock crab fishery, which is normally open year round.

The recreational season for Dungeness crab was scheduled to start Nov. 7, and the commercial season on Nov. 15.

Dr. Abel Valdivia, marine scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement:

“This is another wake-up call that our oceans are in trouble, need help and need it soon. Waters warmer than usual are becoming more frequent in this region and studies show these toxic conditions may become more common unless we change our ways. There is just too much at stake to ignore this problem and hope it goes away.”

Domoic acid is a powerful neurotoxin that causes serious health problems for both people and marine animals.

According to the center, studies show that harmful algae like the one that produces domoic acid can be five times more toxic at levels of ocean acidification that are already occurring off the state’s coast.

Although crabs can metabolize the toxin, it accumulates in fish and travels up the food chain, center officials said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suspects that domoic acid poisoning is what has caused events such as sea lion strandings and bird deaths along the West Coast as well as the deaths of 30 large whales off the coast of Alaska, according to center officials.

Valdivia said:

“These are the kinds of events that are dramatically altering our oceans in vast and damaging ways, affecting not only marine ecosystems but also coastal economies. We must cut carbon emissions to decrease warming waters. The science is clear. Now we, as a human society, just need the political will to act on that knowledge.”