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Clean Coastal Waters: Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution
tor applies not only to microscopic algae but also to benthic or planktonic macroalgae that can proliferate and cause major ecological impacts, such as the displacement of indigenous species, habitat alteration, and oxygen depletion. The causes and effects of macroalgal blooms are similar in many ways to those associated with harmful microscopic phytoplankton species.
HAB phenomena take a variety of forms. One major category of impact occurs when toxic phytoplankton are filtered from the water as food by shellfish that then accumulate the algal toxins to levels that can be lethal to humans or other consumers. These poisoning syndromes have been given the names paralytic, diarrhetic, neurotoxic, and amnesic shellfish poisoning (PSP, DSP, NSP, and ASP). A National Research Council report (NRC 1999b) summarized the myriad human health problems associated with toxic dinoflagellates. In addition to gastrointestinal and neurological problems associated with the ingestion of contaminated seafood, respiratory and other problems may arise from toxins that are released directly into seawater or become incorporated in sea spray. Whales, porpoises, seabirds, and other animals can be victims as well, receiving toxins through the food web from contaminated zooplankton or fish.
Another type of HAB impact occurs when marine fauna are killed by algal species that release toxins and other compounds into the water or that kill without toxins by physically damaging gills. Farmed fish mortalities from HABs have increased considerably in recent years, and are now a major concern to fish farmers and their insurance companies. The list of finfish, shellfish, and wildlife affected by algal toxins is long and diverse (Anderson 1995) and accentuates the magnitude and complexity of the HAB phenomena. In some ways, however, this list does not adequately document the scale of toxic HAB impacts, as adverse effects on viability, growth, fecundity, and recruitment can occur within different trophic levels, either through toxin transmitted directly from the algae to the affected organism or indirectly through food web transfer. This is because algal toxins can move through ecosystems in a manner analogous to the flow of carbon or energy.
Yet another HAB impact is associated with blooms that are of sufficient density to cause dissolved oxygen levels to decrease to harmful levels as large quantities of algal biomass fall to the sediment and decay as the bloom declines. Oxygen levels can also drop to dangerous levels in “healthy” blooms due to algal respiration at night. Estuaries and nearshore waters are particularly vulnerable to low dissolved oxygen problems during warm summer months, especially in areas with restricted flushing.
One of the explanations given for the increased incidence of HAB outbreaks worldwide over the last several decades is that these events are