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UMaine Researchers Awarded Grant to Study Red Tide Effects

University of Maine Research Professor Laurie Connell will lead a team of researchers investigating methods that would provide early warning detection of toxic Alexandrium blooms, also known as red tides, in the Gulf of Maine.   

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is based in the U.S. Department of Commerce, announced the anticipated three-year, $574,028 project. UMaine is will receive $201,187 in the first year.

Some species of Alexandrium algae produce toxins that can become concentrated in shellfish tissue. Eating shellfish tainted with these toxins can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), a potentially fatal human illness.

The research will allow scientists to detect and measure levels of toxic Alexandrium cells in water samples, providing Maine officials with an early warning of increased potential of PSP contamination in shellfish. The project could pave the way to similar projects in other regions affected by harmful algal blooms.

“The ability to directly detect toxic Alexandrium species using the inexpensive monitoring devices we have developed will increase Maine’s ability to focus limited resources to areas that are either emerging PSP hot spots or to safely allow for targeted closures of shellfish harvests, focusing only on impacted beds,” Connell said. “Our project will serve as a demonstration model for other state and local agencies for the implementation of these detection platforms.”

The monitoring advancements will improve capabilities and cut costs for the red tide forecast system, a NOAA investment in New England to protect public health and jobs, and coastal economies.

This project was funded to UMaine through a national competition of NOAA’s Monitoring and Event Response of Harmful Algae Blooms (MERHAB) program. Research will be carried out at UMaine with research partners at the Maine Department of Marine Resources Biotoxin Monitoring program.

“These resources will enable the university’s world-class scientists and students, in collaboration with the critically important Biotoxin Monitoring program at Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, to explore cost-effective ways to properly detect the spread of red tide in the Gulf of Maine,” said Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine. “The technological advances made by research like this, along with continued funding for shellfish monitoring programs, will ensure that our state’s hardworking harvesters have all the tools at their disposal to ensure the continued success of this vital fishery. While we have made great strides in bloom prediction and monitoring, it is clear these problems are continuing to increase in magnitude and demand our ongoing commitment and attention.”

Contact: Laurie Connell, laurie.connell@umit.maine.edu

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