BLYN, Wash. – The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe is on the hunt for harmful algal blooms in Sequim Bay this summer so they can get a better picture of how the explosions of micro organisms affect the bay.
“We’re looking at the effects of these blooms on such factors as water quality and toxins in shellfish,” said Chris Whitehead, tribal shellfish biologist. “We also hope that the information will help contribute to the development of a harmful algal bloom early warning system.”
Harmful algal blooms occur naturally when water temperatures rise or when there are excess nutrients in the water. The blooms can cause toxins such as Domoic acid to develop in shellfish. While not harmful to the bivalves, humans can become ill if they consume toxic shellfish.
The tribe’s effort focuses on sampling shellfish and water at four sites each week at the same time through September 2009.
The Washington Department of Health and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been conducting studies of the bay to determine when toxins are in the water. But the tribe, which uses the bay for a wide range of cultural and economic uses, believes more information is needed to get a better grasp of the bay’s overall health.
“There seems to be a gap in the data collected by DOH and NOAA, since they’re not collected at the same time or at the same location. That makes it difficult to link water toxin levels and algae counts with toxin levels in shellfish,” Whitehead said.
Funding for the study comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The University of Washington is also collaborating on the project.