Harmful Algae Species Identified in Narragansett Bay

In Rhode Island, the arrival of summer means longer days and warmer weather. It also means algal “spring,” blooms that can form large rustic red or green mats on the water surface, which can create low-oxygen environments and contaminate shellfish – a potential harm to the state’s $14 million oyster and clam wild and farmed harvests.

This rapid increase and over abundance of phytoplankton is caused by temperate coastal waters mixing with sub-polar currents deep below the surface, along with longer days, warmer water temperatures, and greater availability of light in the water column, that lead to an abundance of available nutrients, such as nitrogen, which fuel temporary surges in various phytoplankton populations.

David Borkman, a planktologist from theURI Graduate School of Oceanography, has been observing the presence of the toxic dinoflagellates, specifically, Alexandrium tamarense, Alexandrium peruvianum andAlexandrium fundyense, in Narragansett Bay for nine years.

His recently published research in the journal Harmful Algae has shed new light on the expansion of these species in Rhode Island waters. His observations of the Alexandrium peruvianum species, which raises some concern due to it’s neurological impacts if consumed, in Narragansett Bay is only the third siting on the East Coast of North America and the first in New England. Other sitings reported in Europe and Malaysia suggest this particular species is an emerging one globally.


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