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Feb 12th
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Something in the Water

news_birdsUCSC scientists win grant to study toxic algae blooms along California coast
A curious event happened in the summer of 1961.  One foggy night, birds began acting confused, suicidal, even violent. Hundreds of sooty shearwaters are said to have crashed into buildings and power lines across Capitola in the middle of the night. Residents who ventured from their homes found themselves attacked by some of the birds who seemed drawn by their flashlights. The next morning streets and rooftops were found littered with the bodies of the birds, and those avian creatures that survived the night filled the streets, noticeably confused and disoriented.

At the same time, a successful filmmaker living in the hills near Scotts Valley caught wind of the event and requested a copy of the Santa Cruz Sentinel story for “research.” Two years later, Alfred Hitchcock released his landmark thriller The Birds.

At the time, scientists blamed the dense layer of fog that evening for the crashes and confusion, claiming the light emitted from houses and street lamps served as beacons for the unsuspecting shearwaters. New theories suggest a biological culprit: a neurotoxin released during large blooms of the algae pseudo-nitzchia that works its way up the food chain. New research is under way to better understand and predict the outbreaks of the hazardous toxin.

Raphael Kudela, an oceanographer at UC Santa Cruz, is leading a team of researchers that just received a $792,000 grant from the Ocean Protection Council and California Sea Grant to develop a computer model to forecast the periodic blooms of the toxic algae across the California coast. The hope is that public health agencies will be able to use the models to better predict when the harmful algae blooms (HAB) will occur, and make the necessary closures to protect the public.

“We’ve been looking at pseudo-nitzchia which produces domoic acid here in California, for about 10 years,” says Kudela. “There’s been a lot of research and we’ve found out a lot of interesting things but we haven’t really gotten to the point until recently where we could actually start translating that into something useful for managers and for the public.”

When a HAB occurs, mussels and clams become infected with domoic acid and pass the harmful neurotoxin onto whatever, or whoever, eats them. The worst case of this poisoning for humans, and the event that drew attention to its study, occurred in Prince Edward Island in Canada when 100 people became sick after eating infected mussels and clams, resulting in seven deaths.

Since that event, scientific and public health diligence has kept anyone from getting sick within California, says Kudela, but the blooms can still pose a risk. “In California there has never been a confirmed case where a human has gotten sick enough to go to the hospital and that’s primarily because California has a really excellent monitoring program,” he says.

Much of that has to do with a six-month closure for recreational harvesting of mussels and clams and constant testing of commercial shellfish. But HABs can have major negative impacts beyond health concerns. A recent conservative assessment estimates that HABs occurring in marine waters alone have an average annual impact of $82 million dollars to local economies in the United States.

While HABs do occur naturally, Kudela says they appear to be happening more and more frequently over the last 10 years and moving to areas they weren’t seen before. “Before the year 2000 you could read the scientific papers and they all said domoic acid is simply not a problem in Southern California,” says Kudela.

But over the last decade, a shift has been occurring that has seen some of the largest and most toxic blooms around Santa Barbara and even further south. “Now it really seems like it’s spreading and coming up pretty strongly in Southern California,” says Kudela.

While HABs occur naturally, human activities appear to be contributing to the increase and movement of the blooms. Nutrient loadings and pollution from rivers (like the Pajaro River), alterations in the food web and water flow modifications have all been linked to the increased occurrence of some HABs.

In light of budget crises across the state, Kudela says he’s grateful for the opportunity the grant provides and says it brings attention to the importance of the issue.

“We’re really thrilled the Ocean Protection Council and Sea Grant have elected to fund this,” he says. “In the past, most of this research has been funded by the federal government. The State of California has really recognized that this is an issue and that this is something that we can actually make some headway on.”

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Heart Me Up

In defense of Valentine’s Day

 

“be(ing) of love (a little) more careful”—e.e. cummings

Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of February 12

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