"..and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. And the fish that was in the river died and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river and there was blood through all the land of Egypt."

This very first record of algal blooms is in Exodus 7: 19-21.

The Red Sea is said to owe its name to the colour imparted to its waters by the algae of the group Myxophyceae, when they are abundant. Three freshwater species, Anabaena, Aphanizomenon and Microcystis give rise to this phenomenon. Potentially toxic, to man, no one has yet died. Animals have, however, been killed in Britain and elsewhere. But now a relatively new species is invading our oceans: deadly... unstoppable... with nerve toxins which many of the war mongers on our planet would be proud to have in their arsenal. These organisms threaten not only fish but people too! Scientists fear the increase of these microscopic and deadly creatures is yet another signal that pollution and its result on our planet have generated new conditions for such species to become abundant....

24 life-stages... 9 years of invasion... billions of fish killed... attacks people...


A quick focus on a microscopical threat by Micscape Magazine

Back last year, our News page touched on the subject on a new algae which is little understood,  and is in need of extensive study... not least - because in its toxic stage - it represents a hazard to our own species!

The original news item started something like this:-

The Killers of the seas

No, they are not great white  whales  or sharks, but microscopic algae which are killing billions of fish. These algal blooms are so dense they can be seen by satellite. They release dangerous toxins that can be devastating to other forms of marine life! Scientists have reported a dinoflagellate algae called: Pfiesteria piscicida - which not only ambush fish with deadly toxins but nourishes on their blood... or human blood too!

Well, here we are halfway through a new year and we learn that not only have they not gone away, but they are on the increase, especially off the coast of America.

With recent widespread coverage in the news on Television and in National papers, we contacted our team member in the States to get a first hand account. Is this hysteria, we asked him... or is it a real threat?!

Our colleague and friend, Bill Amos, was quick to respond:-

"This hits rather close to home....

I've seen reports on TV and in news magazines, but am still mystified, as
are many others. Years ago I spent two summers studying the coastal
dinoflagellates of Frenchman Bay in the state of Maine, but thank heavens
never ran into this bad actor. When it comes to life cycles and population
explosions, even benign dinoflagellates defy easy understanding. As soon as
I saw an image of the critter on TV and before it was publicly named, I
knew it to be one of the evil dinoflagellates, but nothing like what it has
turned out to be. Its polymorphism (different cell forms, each with its own
characteristics) makes it unlike free-living dinoflagellates I know well,
marine or fresh water. What is it? Even though it has its own
classification (genus, species) some lean toward it being a "new"
dinoflagellate, others toward aberrant forms of a known dinoflagellate. A
classic monograph on dinoflagellates doesn't list Pfiesteria, so its
discovery only nine years ago does not give us much time to understand it.

Pfiesteria has appeared in my old haunts of Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay where my former marine lab was situated, and I fear it is marching up thecoast.

The way it is moving, it may get as far north as Cape Cod, which is
a major barrier to organismal distribution, but let's hope it goes no
further. The toxicity of the thing is alarming and unlike any of the better
known red tide organisms, which are bad enough in their own way.

A year or two before I retired in 1984 I was called to examine an enormous
fish kill in Chesapeake Bay, but could not determine the cause. I assumed
it had to do with unusually high seasonal temperatures exacerbating
already-present pollution and the lesions on their bodies I thought were
only signs of illness and bacterial infection (cultures showed bacterial
involvement, but not lethally). Then just four years ago a similar fish
kill in the same bay was found to be due to Pfiesteria about which we knew
nothing a decade earlier. Not sure I'd like to go back to study it after
hearing what its toxins do to the nervous system and memory. Looking back
upon my experience in Chesapeake Bay, I remember for some months following I had some health problems of an indefinable nature, but never associated them with several weeks of looking over plankton and dead fish.

News reports simplistically call it an alga, which bothers me as a
biologist. Definition depends upon one's perception and background. I used
to place dinoflagellates together with other protozoan phytoflagellates,
and still would do so, except now under the umbrella of being a protist
rather than a plant or animal. I think calling Pfiesteria an alga diverts
or diminishes public attention from this frightening thing, for people tend
to say, Oh, it's only a plant and we certainly can do something about that.
Well, no, we can't.  Not yet. It is a life form we do not understand at

So, Dave and Mol, by all means continue to call attention to this strange
and worrisome organism, whatever it is called."

regards, Bill Amos

Editor's note: And this is the problem with microscopical life forms: there simply is not enough study going on in areas which are deemed unprofitable. Amateur microscopists are often the first to detect new species or mutations of existing ones -  and they labour for love alone. We have predicted many times that the study of microscopical life on a large scale is becoming increasingly important, and that more and more media content will be drawn towards covering the microscopical domain.

We can't add much more right now to the truth about this life-form or its implications to the environment and the people who encounter it. Of course - it is often the evocative elements which make mass-media news. We  would do better by not all getting hysterical, yet at the same time, recognise that serious study  into this living thing is required. We searched out a few sites on the web which contain images and references on this phenomena.

So if you would like to know more, please visit one of these other sites which provide different perspectives of the topic...

Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology, NC State University

Tragedy of the seas - Charleston, S.C. - The Post and Courier

Facts about Pfiesteria

Comments to the compiler Maurice Smith welcomed.


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