Although the Junta de Andalucia and its health ministry have limited themselves to vague comments about “some sort of micro algae dinoflagellate” (something the Ecologists find suspicious and are claiming there may be a cover up) Vera townhall has let slip that the specific genus is Ostreopsis. We still don’t know what type of Ostreopsis we’re dealing with.
It’s similar to the Junta saying we’re affected by primates; Vera townhall have now come forwards and said that actually we’re dealing with gorillas. OK, but what sort of gorilla, lowland or mountain?
Now, since this stuff was first identified last Tuesday you would have thought that the Junta would know by now exactly what we are dealing with, especially given the expertise at Almeria University in dealing with maria algae, but if they do know, they’re not saying. Nor have they (yet) released the results of the daily water samples and marine samples they claim to be taking from the beaches. Although they have said they hope to have a report by Monday, although they refused to say if they would be releasing it to the public.
— Héctor Lousa (@HectorLousa) June 26, 2015
Why is this important?
Well, first off, because if this stuff is blooming in our waters, depending on the type, if it gets into the food chain (ie a fish eats it, then the fish is caught and put on a plate) that fish could be poisonous and kill someone. The French take the possibility seriously enough to have set a national warning system that is on the lookout for these sudden bloom, in order to close beaches and prevent fishing in the areas.
— Davide Di Cioccio (@davidedicioccio) January 15, 2015
The US National Institute of Health says in a publication entitled Health impact of unicellular algae of the Ostreopsis genus blooms in the Mediterranean Sea: experience of the French Mediterranean coast surveillance network from 2006 to 2009 (incidentally, not as exciting a read as it sounds):
Ostreopsis ovata and Ostreopsis siamensis are tropical unicellular algae that have been found recently in the Mediterranean. Both of these dinoflagellates produce palytoxin (PTX)-like toxins that are powerful vasoconstrictors in mammals. Since 2003, Ostreopsis blooms in Italy and Spain have been accompanied by reports of respiratory problems and skin/mucosa irritation in persons in contact with toxic microalgal cells (epiphytes, plankton, or sea spray) or associated toxins.
In France, a surveillance network has been set up to monitor water conditions and to protect swimmers from contamination due to Ostreopsis.
Between 2006 and 2009, a total of nine blooms were observed on the French Mediterranean coast including five that led to manifestations in divers, swimmers, and shoreline inhabitants. A total of 47 patients presented symptoms of involving benign or mild skin, mucosal, and/or respiratory irritation that regressed spontaneously without treatment within 12-72 h (4-12 h with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). During the study period, five beaches were temporarily closed.
In the Mediterranean, Ostreopsis blooms induce skin and respiratory disorders when human beings are exposed to saltwater with a high concentration of algal cells. However, palytoxin dosages carried out on the food chain (urchins, mussels) indicate that this risk of toxins accumulation in seafood must be taken into account and that the surveillance network should be upgraded accordingly.
The same US Institute warns in another report specifically looking at the accumulation of such algae in the human food chain that:
Dinoflagellates of the genus Ostreopsis are known to cause (often fatal) food poisoning in tropical coastal areas following the accumulation of palytoxin (PLTX) and/or its analogues (PLTX group) in crabs, sea urchins or fish. Ostreopsis spp. occurrence is presently increasing in the northern to north western Mediterranean Sea (Italy, Spain, Greece and France), probably in response to climate change. In France, Ostreopsis. cf. ovata has been associated with toxic events during summer 2006, at Morgiret, off the coast of Marseille, and a specific monitoring has been designed and implemented since 2007. Results from 2008 and 2009 showed that there is a real danger of human poisoning, as these demonstrated bioaccumulation of the PLTX group (PLTX and ovatoxin-a) in both filter-feeding bivalve molluscs (mussels) and herbivorous echinoderms (sea urchins). (emphasis mine). [Ovatoxin-a and palytoxin accumulation in seafood in relation to Ostreopsis cf. ovata blooms on the French Mediterranean coast.]
Here is an interview with Luisa Mangialajo of Sophia Antipolis University, Nice where she talks about these blooms in the Med.
In short, Ostreopsis is an toxic invasive species that is making its way West along the Med and has now reached us. Catalonia has had a number of incidents, including a number of mortalities from this algae, and has updated its protocols accordingly. So far, the number of incidents in Andalucia appear to have been low although the algae has been detected in these waters at least since 2001.
There’s plenty more information out there on Ostreopsis, but what seems clear is that the Junta de Andalucia is unused to dealing with such an event, and my concern now is that they haven’t contacted authorities elsewhere in Spain to see how best to deal with such an outbreak. Why must we be the guinea pigs yet again?