Below the ocean surface in the Gulf of Maine lie millions of tiny seeds with the potential to harm thousands of people...
(SOUND: foghorn, rain)
These algae seeds, or cysts, lie dormant until conditions are right to germinate and grow. They may have been a factor in the most recent outbreak of a harmful algal bloom in New England, known as red tide. During a red tide, shellfish consume the algae in the water, making them toxic to humans, seabirds and other animals. Scientists think many factors contributed to this outbreak, including heavy rain adding fresh water to the sea, high abundance of red-tide cysts, and wind and currents which helped spread the outbreak.
(SOUND: waves splashing)
Biologist Don Anderson, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, headed a research cruise with colleague Dennis McGillicuddy last May. Scientists collected data at different water depths from 160 stations in Massachusetts Bay to the Bay of Fundy, and analyzed the algae content to create a model of the outbreak, which helped state agencies respond quickly.
A severe situation, sure, but Anderson cautions people about overreacting. A red-tide affects only shellfish, while other seafood is perfectly safe. Scientists are still working to find a way to stop red tides from occurring, or stop them once they've begun. I'm Eric Phillips.
"Imagine That!" covers projects funded by the U.S. government's National Science Foundation. Federally-sponsored research -- brought to you by you! Learn more at www.nsf.gov.