Charles Schwab, Michael Illari, Southampton, Hamptons
27east.com

Story - News

Red Tide Presents New Threat To Humans And Fish

Publication: The Southampton Press
By Michael Wright   May 25, 2011 8:56 AM
May 25, 2011 11:41 AM

Even as the outbreak of toxic red algae in western Shinnecock Bay this month is drawing the attention of scientists and health officials, marine biologist Konstantine Rountos is focusing on other parts of the bay in preparation for an entirely different, and possibly much more destructive, algae outbreak expected later this year.

The algae bloom off Hampton Bays and East Quogue right now carries a natural toxin that can paralyze, or even kill, a human. But Mr. Rountos, a Ph.D. student at the Stony Brook University School for Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, is more interested in the effects of a cousin of that algae that has bloomed in each of the last six years in eastern Shinnecock Bay, the Peconics and Gardiners Bay, and the devastating effects it could have on the tiny forage fish that are the foundation of the marine food chain.

Last week, Mr. Rountos, who was assisted by Natasha Gownaris and his wife, Muriel, were dragging a seine net along the shorelines of eastern Shinnecock to collect Atlantic silversides, an abundant minnow species, commonly known as shiners or spearing, that is popular with anglers as bait. Mr. Rountos will use the minnows to grow their embryos in a laboratory as subjects for experiments on how the red algae affects the species in its earliest stages of life.

Other Stony Brook scientists have shown in laboratory experiments that dense blooms of the red algae, which has appeared in local bays in August each of the last six summers, can kill a variety of fully grown fish within an hour. But adult fish can swim, and do, fleeing areas where the red tide blooms are dense. Embryonic and larval fishes do not have that ability and can be slaughtered by the swimming red algae as it migrates from the bottom of the bays at night to the upper portions of the water column during the day.

“Silversides, menhaden, bay anchovies—these are the prey for many species of commercially valuable fish,” Mr. Rountos said. “To know what the economic and ecological harm of the red tides is, we need a detailed analysis of how it affects the life stages of these fish.”

Mr. Rountos chose silversides as his test subject because they are abundant and hardy, and because the laboratory at the Stony Brook Marine Science Center had already been set up for culturing embryonic silversides.

The minnows Mr. Rountos is studying, like most fish, go through a primary spawning routine in the springtime, and their offspring is likely able to flee the red tides by late summer. But silversides and many other prey species spawn intermittently throughout the year, and the small inputs of new brood could be hit hard by the red tides.

What effect the loss of those generations, if the algae is found to be killing them, will have on the overall abundance of the species remains to be seen. It is not even fully understood how the algae kills fish.

Mr. Rountos’s research will also look at other aspects of the red tide impacts on the shiners as well, including how predator species react to the red tide blooms.

“We observe the fish kills, but we have no idea the greater scope of the impact on the forage species,” Mr. Rountos said. “They are the base for fish and sea birds that are commercially and aesthetically important, so this could have wide impacts in a lot of ways.”

You have read 1 of 7 free articles this month.

Yes! I'll try a one-month
Premium Membership
for just 99¢!
CLICK HERE

Already a subscriber? LOG IN HERE

©2014, 27east.com / The Press News Group - Ph: 631-283-4100 - mailbag@27east.com