Australia’s Murray River declared ‘critically endangered’ 135 years after first reported toxic algal bloom

27 August 2013

George Francis documented the first case of animal poisonings from toxic blue-green algae.

George Francis documented the first case of animal poisonings from toxic blue-green algae back in 1878.

Lake Alexandrina at the mouth of the Murray-Darling River (Source: Geoff Codd).

Lake Alexandrina at the mouth of the Murray-Darling River (Source: Geoff Codd).

Blooms of toxic blue-green algae are common in stretches of the Murray River – which flows from New South Wales into South Australia, draining to the sea via Lake Alexandrina south-east of Adelaide.  Lake Alexandrina has the somewhat notorious fame of being the locality at which deaths of sheep were linked to algal toxins by the chemist George Francis.  The history of this particular event was presented to the delegates attending the 9th International Conference on Toxic Algae (ICTC) held in South Africa at the beginning of this month. Read more »

Blue crabs affected by blue-green algae – and other stories

18 August 2013

Woman collecting mussels at low tide.  Photo: Bill Harding

Women collecting mussels at low tide. Photo: Bill Harding

An article from from Richmond (Virginia, USA) reports that the cyanobacterial liver toxin, microcystin, has been found in blue crabs near the mouth of the James River. According to the report, there is no cause for concern right now.  Fish, filter feeders and, it seems, crabs, can accumulate cyanobacterial toxins in their flesh.  Some years ago I was involved with a South African case where mussels, which formed an important component of the diet or income source for a poor community, were affected by an algal bloom in the lake upstream of the estuary. For interest I have included chromatograms from my analyses of two liver toxins, microcystin-LR and -YR in the algae and in the mussels.

Chromatograms showing accumulation of the cyanotoxins M-LR and M-YR in the flesh of marine mussels (Photo: Bill Harding)

Chromatograms showing accumulation of the cyanotoxins M-LR and M-YR in the flesh of marine mussels (Photo: Bill Harding)

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Blue-green algae get the blame for simply being green

18 August 2013

It must be horribly disconcerting to be erroneously selected out of a police line-up – if you are just there as a ‘filler’.  I wonder if algae and some water plants feel the same way about being identified as being “blue-greens” (= cyanobacteria)?

There have been two sets of press reports this week that have identified, incorrectly, algae and plants as blue-green algae.  While this is often an easy mistake to make, the knock-on effects can be substantial as the public may subsequently make the same mistake.  The first article I will deal with appear in the MailOnline and showed a series of great photos, none of which included blue-green algae.  Rather, the green covering on the water is due to a member of the harmless duckweed family (genus Lemna).  The identification clue is that the green stuff is floating ON the water, not in it.  The second image from the same article shows this more clearly.  Gratifyingly, I noted that a number of the comments submitted had noted that this was indeed not algae.

While we cannot expect the press to be scientifically-correct, we can reasonably expect them to do their homework.  Toxic algae in water resources is a very important issue and there is little leeway for misinformation.

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The cyanobacterial toxin BMAA and Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS)

16 August 2013

Droplets has previously posted articles on the possible role of the algal toxin, BMAA, as a cause of the frightening and fatal Lou Gehrig’s Disease – also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a degenerative motor neuron disease.  I frequently get asked for updates on this issue.  Well, here’s one.

Just a few days ago, a very informative review of current research and thinking emerged from an Italian research group at the  Second University of Naples, with their paper being made available on the internet (link).  I have placed the abstract of their work below for those who may not wish to download the whole paper – published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (Trojsi, F.; Monsurrò, M.R.; Tedeschi, G. Exposure to Environmental Toxicants and Pathogenesis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: State of the Art and Research Perspectives. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 201314, 15286-15311.):

Abstract: There is a broad scientific consensus that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal neuromuscular disease, is caused by gene-environment interactions. In fact, given that only about 10% of all ALS diagnosis has a genetic basis, gene-environmental interaction may give account for the remaining percentage of cases. However, relatively little attention has been paid to environmental and lifestyle factors that may trigger the cascade of motor neuron degeneration leading to ALS, although exposure to chemicals—including lead and pesticides—agricultural environments, smoking, intense physical activity, trauma and electromagnetic fields have been associated with an increased risk of ALS. This review provides an overview of our current knowledge of potential toxic etiologies of ALS with emphasis on the role of cyanobacteria, heavy metals and pesticides as potential risk factors for developing ALS. We will summarize the most recent evidence from epidemiological studies and experimental findings from animal and cellular models, revealing that potential causal links between environmental toxicants and ALS pathogenesis have not been fully ascertained, thus justifying the need for further research.

Algal toxins kill dog at California’s Konocti Bay (Clear Lake)

16 August 2013

Seems that Clear Lake is not so clear right now, in fact a tad turbid with algae.   If its owners had been better informed they might have been aware of the risks of letting your dog go into green, soupy water.

Lake County officials said they have confirmed elevated levels of algae-related toxins in samples of Konocti Bay water taken following the death of a dog that fell ill after swimming in the bay.  The microcystins found are associated with certain types of blue-green algae.  A dog visiting Clear Lake with its owners became severely ill the first week of August and had to be euthanized, health officials said. The dog had played fetch in water where there had been thick algal blooms. Read more »

Ethics and the ecosystem services paradigm: an opinion for the biodiversity debate

7 August 2013

Photo: Bill Harding

Photo: Bill Harding

In this guest post, republished here with permission of BioFresh Blog,  Martin Sharman opens up a rich area of debate by arguing that as a policy concept, ecosystem services puts human wants first and foremost and undermines moral-aesthetic value arguments for conservation that are widely held in society. 

A “resource” is something that is useful to someone. A “natural resource” is something in the natural environment that a human can use to satisfy want or increase wellbeing. Read more »

Oil exploration threatens African lakes and the Virunga World Heritage Site

2 August 2013

This post is reproduced with the permission of The BioFresh Blog:

Virguna’s Lake Edward under threat from oil exploration: WWF launches global campaign calling for Soco International to respect World Heritage Site.

This guest post by Dr Susanne Schmitt flags the significance for Africa’s freshwater biodiversity of WWF’s major new campaign to stop oil exploration in the Virunga World Heritage Site. Susanne isWWF-UK’s Extractive and Infrastructure Manager. Read more »