Don Anderson gave a virtual presentation at the University of Alaska Fairbanks on 10/13/21 focusing on the potential for a significant increase in Alexandrium catenella harmful algal blooms due to warming Arctic waters. During annual blooms, the cells produce saxitoxins, potent neurotoxins, which accumulate in the food web and can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), a potentially fatal human poisoning syndrome. Recent data shows that most forage and predatory fish in Southeast Alaska have trace or low levels of saxitoxin that are not considered harmful, and levels of toxin measured thus far in Arctic fish have also been low. However, saxitoxins in shellfish consumed by walruses and other marine animals raise concerns for food security for Native Alaskan communities that rely on wild harvests.
Data from 2018 and 2019 Arctic research cruises showed extensive beds of Alexandrium cysts, a dormant stage of the algae, in seafloor sediments north of the Bering Strait, in the Chukchi Sea, and in the western Beaufort Sea near Pt. Barrow. In the Chukchi sea, cyst counts show a massive and persistent cyst distribution extending at least 200 km offshore and up to 600 km alongshore. This Alexandrium catenella cyst seedbed was found to have 17,000 cysts per cubic centimeter, among the highest ever reported for this species globally. Describing this as a “sleeping giant” Arctic cyst bed, Anderson explained that Alexandrium cysts in bottom sediments can survive from decades to a century, so this would “represent a significant and dangerous site for in situ bloom inoculation as waters warm.” In addition, warming Arctic waters support earlier and faster germination of cysts as well as longer periods during which blooms can occur. In his concluding remarks, Anderson emphasized: “Everything described here speaks to the potential for significant and increasing HAB impacts on human and ecosystem health in the Alaskan Arctic. Recognize that many regions of the world face similar risks, and yet are able to maintain healthy communities and ecosystems.”
Here is a link to a recording of the “Strait Science” lecture presentation, which was sponsored by the UAF Northwest campus and UAF Alaska Sea Grant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zksf9Fd78Nw
News stories in Nome, Alaska featured research Don Anderson presented at a “Strait Science” lecture in October 2021 sponsored by the UAF Northwest campus and UAF Alaska Sea Grant. His presentation discussed the recent expansion of harmful algal blooms in the Alaskan Arctic, and the potential impacts to regional residents. Listen to the story on KNOM radio here. The full story in the Nome Nugget is available here.
Don Anderson and colleagues were recently funded by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through a competitive research program to improve the nation’s collective response to the growing problem of harmful algal blooms (HABs). This five-year research program will investigate the prevalence of HAB toxins in Alaskan marine food webs, and will model their movement and impacts on human and natural ecosystems. View the full press release here.
On February 19, 2020, Don Anderson spoke at a congressional briefing entitled “Controlling Harmful Algal Blooms”, co-hosted by NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and U.S. Congressman Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania). This briefing focused on the challenges of controlling HABs, a highly diverse and complex phenomena, and ways of evaluating different mitigation and control strategies currently in development. Additional featured speakers were Peter Moeller from NCCOS, Kathryn Coyne from the School of Marine Science and Policy at the University of Delaware, and Steve Thur from NCCOS.
A news story was aired on KNOM radio on December 20, 2019 about research findings on algal toxins in the Arctic/subarctic and potential impacts for marine mammals and wildlife health in collaboration with Don Anderson (WHOI) and the HEALY cruise that took place in the summer of 2019 with Bob Pickart (WHOI), Janet Duffy-Anderson (NOAA/AFSC), Jackie Grebmeier (UM), and Research Assistants Evie Fachon and Victoria Uva.
Click here for a link to the story.
“Everything You Need to Know about Toxic Algae Blooms” featured an interview with Don Anderson. The story, published in the Los Angeles Times on August 14, 2019, focused on toxic blooms of cyanobacteria and algae and the harmful effects associated with human and animal exposure. In oceans and freshwater lakes and streams, harmful algal blooms are becoming more frequent, driven in part by higher water temperatures. “We’re seeing that these problem organisms are changing the ranges in which they occur because of climate,” Anderson said. Here is a link to the story: https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2019-08-14/everything-you-need-to-know-about-toxic-algae-blooms
Evie Fachon was recently highlighted by PolarTREC, an educational research program for teachers. Evie and Victoria Uva are currently participating in a research cruise in the Arctic aboard the USCGC Healy. The objectives of this research are to investigate the distribution, prevalence, and geographic extent of HABs in Arctic waters, with an emphasis on the dinoflagellate Alexandrium catenella and diatoms in the genus Pseudo-nitzschia. Read the PolarTREC journal entry here, and learn more about our Arctic program here.
Don Anderson, PhD was interviewed by Barbara Moran at WBUR about summer 2019 toxic algae blooms in Massachusetts in the Charles River basin, sites on Cape Cod, and other areas in Massachusetts for National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” The program “Summertime, And Toxic Algae is Blooming: Here’s What You Need to Know” aired on WBUR on July 26, 2019, one day after the Department of Public Health posted alerts for 8 freshwater locations for cyanobacteria blooms in Massachusetts. The full story can be found at this link: https://www.wbur.org/earthwhile/2019/07/26/toxic-algae-cyanobacteria-charles-river
The Anderson Lab is launching a new project in response to this year’s record red tide events in Florida. In August, a state of emergency was declared due to a massive coastal bloom of the toxic dinoflagellate Karenia brevis. This event is responsible for creating widespread fish kills, causing respiratory distress in coastal inhabitants and visitors, and costing millions of dollars in economic loss for Florida communities.
We will test a clay flocculation technique widely used in China and Korea to mitigate red tide events. This method involves dispersing clay in the water which adheres to the toxic algae and inhibits swimming capabilities, effectively causing it to fall from the water column. Testing will be conducted in the laboratory and in a pilot-scale field study, with the goal of determining effectiveness and monitoring environmental impacts. Any expansion of the program to larger areas in Florida would only occur once data are collected and analyzed from these small control applications. Learn more here.
The Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health (WHCOHH) was granted five more years of funding by the NSF and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. This funding will be used to continue interdisciplinary work understanding the relationship of harmful algal blooms and marine pathogens to public health. Learn more about this award from the WHOI press release, and more about the Anderson Lab’s involvement at the WHCOHH website.