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Iron Fertilization Causes Toxic Algal Blooms

March 16, 2010


The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A., provided the following press release concerning an article soon to be published by Charles Trick, Mark Wells and others:  "A design scheme to engineer microalgae blooms in the world’s oceans in order to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels could contaminate the oceans with a neurotoxin, according to a new study. Mark Wells, University of Maine, and colleagues report that fertilizing the ocean with iron, a strategy proposed to boost the number of co2-consuming organisms living in the ocean’s surface waters, would likely favor the growth of Pseudo-nitzschia, a genus of phytoplankton that produces a potent neurotoxin that causes amnesic shellfish poisoning. The naturally occurring toxin could render some seafood inedible—potentially causing severe human health risks if planktivorous fish such as anchovies, and sardines were consumed—and damage other components of the food web, including marine mammals and seabirds which feed on these small fishes. The researchers examined water samples obtained during iron enrichment experiments conducted in the subarctic north Pacific Ocean, and determined that the population of Pseudo-nitzschia had doubled compared to controls, that iron-rich environments may increase the amount of neurotoxin produced by individual organisms, and that the natural release of toxin specifically favours the growth of Pseudo-nitzschia, thereby increasing the chances of toxic blooms upon iron fertilization. The study could impact international climate policy initiatives and commercial ventures aimed at iron fertilization and deep ocean carbon sequestration, according to the authors."  

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