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Toxic waves

According to statistics released in January 2006, the year 2005 was the second deadliest on record for Florida's endangered manatee population. One of the leading causes of fatalities was the toxins produced by "red tide" blooms of the alga Karenia brevis, which appear to be growing increasingly common in Florida. A recently completed collaborative study now suggests a surprisingly tight connection between the effects of the toxins on manatees and on humans, and potential implications for human impacts.

On Saturday, Feb. 18, Gregory Bossart, a marine mammal veterinarian and pathologist at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Ft. Pierce, Fla., will discuss results of the study during a 9:00 a.m. Central Time press conference at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in more detail at a scientific session later that day at 2:30 p.m. Central Time.

"It appears that these red tide events are increasing in nature, especially on Florida's west coast," says Bossart, who directs the Harbor Branch Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Division. "I think that manatees and other animals impacted by these events are sentinels for serious environmental and human problems, " he says, "and in fact our research makes a strong case for potentially severe human red tide impacts."

Hoping to determine if brevetoxins are having an impact on humans that parallels increasing threats to manatees, Bossart and colleagues began a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded 5-year study of the problem in 2000. The project included scientists from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, the University of Miami in Florida, Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., and the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque, N.M., as well as other scientists from Harbor Branch.

Researchers have been familiar with the human threats posed by brevetoxin-tainted shellfish, which can cause neurotoxic s
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Contact: Mark Schrope
schrope@hboi.edu
772-216-0390
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution
18-Feb-2006


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