Ed Ricketts Memorial Lecture
Professor of Ocean Sciences, Ocean Sciences Department, University of California, Santa Cruz
A Local Story: Harmful Algae in Monterey Bay?
In coastal waters worldwide, accounts of harmful algal blooms are on the rise. The Monterey Bay region has long been known as hosting toxic algae (phytoplankton) that can cause human illness. Indeed, the original connection between shellfish poisoning and algal toxins resulted from shrewd detective work by physicians and marine scientists investigating a shellfish poisoning event that affected individuals from Monterey Bay to San Francisco in the late 1920s. Since then, California has achieved the record of having the longest running monitoring program for paralytic shellfish toxins, the agent of poisoning in the 20's event and one of the most dangerous marine toxins. Since 1991, however, poisoning events involving seabirds and marine mammals have pointed to the presence of previously unknown algal toxins in the Monterey Bay region. At least 3 and possibly 4 classes of algal toxins have now been found locally. Because of the animal kills, the Monterey Bay region has become a center for research on algal toxins, not so much due to potential dangers to humans, but to the opportunity the toxins have provided local scientists to examine physiological and ecological processes that these dramatic tracers highlight. Indeed, reports of medical problems caused by algal toxins are rare in Monterey Bay, whose coastal waters are still relatively clean. Fortunately, the unusually heightened state of awareness of these toxins provides a measure of local protection not found in many other regions of the world. Research on the patterns of occurrence of toxic species, the passage of the toxins through food chains, plus the development of powerful new technologies for their detection, suggest that the Monterey Bay research community will help protect regional fisheries as well as clarify the oceanographic and biological context of a phenomenon increasingly present in coastal