Toxic algae bloom returns to Maine coast


PORTLAND (AP) – The red tide, which shut down much of the Maine coast to shellfish harvesting last year, is back.

Red tide has now shut down harvesting in an area near Harpswell from Dickson Point to West Cundy Point. Shellfishermen say they hope the shutdown doesn’t spread like it did last year.

“We’re all worried,” John Lyon, a clam digger, told WCSH-TV. “We don’t want another year like last year.”

Toxic algae bloom, or red tide, infects shellfish and can make people sick if they eat infected products. State officials say that shellfish for sale does not have red tide and is safe to eat.

The Department of Marine Resources is collecting shellfish to be tested for red tide and will close beaches where it’s found. The department’s David Kent said he hopes red tide isn’t as prevalent this summer as it was last year, but there’s no way of knowing what the rest of the season will bring.

A massive bloom of red tide struck the New England coast last May following stormy weather that blew the phytoplankton from offshore waters to the coast. At its worst, the bloom forced the closure of most shellfish harvesting areas from Maine to Cape Cod.

A study this year by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Cape Cod, Mass., shows little threat in southern New England but more cause for concern in Maine.

Microscopic cysts dropped by toxic algae blooms on the ocean floor act like seeds for future red tide outbreaks. Despite the intensity of last year’s bloom, the cysts are far less widespread than expected on the southern New England sea floor, Wood Hole scientists said.

While researchers found an average of 10 to 40 cysts per cubic centimeter of sediment off the Massachusetts coast, some Maine concentrations remained in the 1,000 to 6,000 range.

But scientists caution that cysts are only one of a variety of factors needed for a crippling red tide. Other factors include weather patterns and ocean currents.

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