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Australian Research Network for Algal Toxins




October, 2003 Newsletter 


General news

Just a reminder that all of the ARNAT newsletters can be found on the ARNAT web-site at www.aims.gov.au/arnat  If you go to the downloads section, it is easy to find the section containing the newsletters.


Web-site highlight

No web-site highlight this month 


Bloom news

Algae closes all lakes Blue-green menace here to stay: 
learn to live with it, says expert
By Rosslyn Beeby, Research, conservation and science reporter, and 
Stacey Lucas Canberra Times, Tuesday, 21 October, 2003

Algal blooms which closed all of Canberra's lakes yesterday will be a continuing problem, particularly for Lake Burley Griffin, and the city must learn to cope with it, a freshwater expert said. Chief executive of the Canberra-based Cooperative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology, Professor Gary Jones, said algal blooms were "absolutely normal" in urban lakes and could be controlled but not eradicated. Lake Burley Griffin, which is the city's recreational centrepiece, was at "higher risk" than other lakes and reservoirs because it was basically "part of an urban drainage system", he said. All of Canberra's urban lakes were closed yesterday and all activities on the lakes prohibited after results of preliminary tests of water samples from Lake Burley Griffin which revealed traces of a cool-season strain of blue-green algae known as tychonema.

The closures come as Canberra's lake-based sportspeople gear up for their new seasons, and a big-ticket event - the Masters Games - is only two weeks away. In a joint statement issued after 5pm yesterday, the National Capital Authority and Environment ACT said all urban lakes including Lake Burley Griffin, Lake Ginninderra and Lake Tuggeranong were closed to public access while further tests were conducted. Additional tests, including toxicity tests, will be conducted over the next two to three days. Warning signs have been posted advising the public not to use the lakes. The RSPCA has warned dog owners walking near Lake Burley Griffin to keep dogs on a lead at all times and to ensure they do not drink from the lake.

The Environmental Protection Agency has urged all Canberrans to avoid entering the water until the full extent of the algae is determined. Contact with high concentrations of blue-green algae can cause nausea, vomiting, rashes and diarrhoea. The closure follows a report in 'The Canberra Times' on Monday of two dogs becoming violently ill after playing among reeds and drinking water from Lake Burley Griffin on a family walk in Yarralumla. A vet who treated the dogs said the symptoms, which included elevated heart rate, dilated pupils, convulsions and collapse, were consistent with algal poisoning. The executive director of Environment ACT, Dr Maxine Cooper, said tests were conducted as soon as the agency was notified of the incident.

She said water in Lake Burley Griffin was monitored weekly but tests last week had indicated the water was clear. However, a CSIRO scientist who was testing equipment for an educational program in Lake Burley Griffin on Friday afternoon said conditions were "obviously suitable" to support an algal bloom. Brad Sherman, a research scientist with CSIRO Aquatic Systems Modelling, said that the condition of the water was "consistent with the conditions that would lead to development of a toxic algal bloom".

The closure of Canberra's lakes has disrupted training for major sporting events. The AIS Rowing Program has a full calendar of events this week, with a national camp starting on Wednesday and the launch of its new boat shed on Friday. "It will look a little strange if we are launching this new development and are not able to use the lake, or if we can't host a camp because of water quality," program co-ordinator Dean Oakman said. There was a substantial amount of money invested in the camp - for example air fares - which could be lost. Mr Oakman said a new scholarship program had started only three weeks ago and it would be "fairly annoying" if athletes could not train. During previous closures they had been able to either use Lake Tuggeranong, if it was still open, or get an exemption to use parts of the lake.


Lake still hazardous 
Just when you thought it was safe to return to the water ...

Canberra Times, Saturday, 25 October 2003

It should have been a routine Sunday-morning walk along the shoreline of Lake Burley Griffin for news photographer John Feder and his partner Nadine Clode. They had driven to Yarralumla to exercise their two dogs, Lily and Pretty Boy Floyd, at a shoreline location that had become a favoured spot over the past month. Shortly before 7am, the dogs were happily running along the shore and splashing among the reeds at the lake's edge. But just minutes after they came out of the water Lily, the younger dog, a six-month-old Australian shepherd pup, unexpectedly began whining as if in pain, and staggering and convulsing. "It happened so quickly. There weren't any gradual warning signs. One minute they were fine and then the little dog was convulsing and was practically unconscious," said Feder. He and Ms Clode had left their mobile phones at home and it took 10 frantic minutes to get the violently ill dogs into the car to drive them home and ring for a vet. After five phone calls, they finally located one and Feder spent an anxious 10 minutes waiting with the almost comatose dogs for the duty vet to arrive at the Weston Creek Veterinary Hospital.

The vet who treated the dogs said the symptoms, which included dilated pupils, elevated heart rate, severely inflamed eyes and convulsions, were consistent with algal poisoning. Lily's stomach was pumped and Pretty Boy Floyd was given an injection to make him vomit. Neither had eaten anything and the only stomach contents were water. Environment ACT was notified of the incident and three water samples were taken later on Sunday morning from the area where the dogs became ill. These subsequently revealed the presence of a toxic cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, know as tychonema.

Late on Monday afternoon, the National Capital Authority and Environment ACT issued a joint statement closing all of Canberra's lakes until further notice. The ban was partially lifted on Wednesday, reopening the lakes to surface recreational use such as boating and rowing but authorities are currently advising people not to swim in the lakes and to keep dogs away from the water. The ACT government has also increased the frequency of water-quality tests for all Canberra lakes and is now testing the water from along the shorelines and in the middle of the lakes every second day. Previously, tests were conducted weekly. Both the ACT government and the National Capital Authority have not ruled out the possibility that tychonema could still be present in the lakes. "Little is known about tychonema because it hasn't been much of a problem and so people haven't been looking at it," said CSIRO aquatic systems expert Brad Sherman. "It's not a new strain but it's been reclassified in the scientific literature because it's a bacteria rather than an algae. It's been found in northern [hemisphere] temperate lakes and it can be quite lethal in high concentrations." There are unconfirmed reports that a test dose killed laboratory mice within eight minutes, he said.

Australia holds the world record for the largest toxic-algal bloom - a 1000km stretch along the Darling and Barwon rivers in NSW. Toxic blue-green algae, known collectively as cyanobacteria, flourish in still, calm conditions and are usually symptomatic of water-management problems. Most blooms occur in warmer months when sunlight and warmer water temperatures cause rapid proliferation, but tychonema is relatively new to our waters as a cool-season strain. It was previously detected in Lake Ginninderra two years ago when two young bull terriers died after swimming and drinking water from the lake. ACT Senior Veterinarian Dr Will Andrew confirmed that tychonema had caused their deaths. "It is a cool-season blue-green algae which is hard to identify but which has probably been in Canberra's lakes for some time. It goes undetected during the winter months and tends to get broken up in windy weather and blown in toward the shoreline, he said. "In the right concentrations, it has rapid consequences and a dog that has come into contact with a high dose can be in real trouble within 10-15 minutes."

Sherman, who has recently been conducting water testing on Lake Burley Griffin as part of a CSIRO research project, says tychonema is likely to be a regular problem for Canberra's lakes. On Thursday afternoon, he was preparing to take a group of science teachers out on Lake Burley Griffin to demonstrate how water tests could detect the likely presence of algal blooms. Standing at the Black Mountain boat ramp, he could detect the characteristic musty smell that signals the presence of toxic cyanobacteria, including tychonema. "That smell, like newly dug earth, is a sure sign that it's out there but you can get that smell even when there are low concentrations, so it doesn't mean the lake is sick and dying," he said. He suggests the musty smell could be publicised as a common warning sign that it may be unsafe for people to allow their dogs to enter or drink from the lakes. The cyanobacteria concentration usually occurs after windy weather, when it is blown into alcoves and sheltered areas along the shoreline. "So it could be as simple as telling people not to walk their dogs in downwind areas of the lakes," he said.

Sherman has advised government and regional water authorities on algal blooms in large dams. Lake Burley Griffin was constructed as part of Canberra's stormwater-drainage system. It encounters similar environmental issues to those that affect other dams. "It will be interesting to observe the effects on inflow of stormwater after the bushfires because you could get water laden with sediments which in turn will form a narrow, discrete layer which will assist the formation of blooms," he said. "Because of the nature of the lake, it's always going to be a problem and the best solution is to tell people how it happens and how they can deal with it. The city may also have to look at upgrading treatment of stormwater entering the lake." Tests conducted for Environment ACT earlier this week have revealed the presence of another high-risk blue-green algae, known as phormidium, in low concentrations. "It can be dangerous but only in high concentrations. The levels detected are quite low and don't present much of a problem," said the National Capital Authority's principal engineer, Mr George Lasek.

Phormidium is a species of blue-green algae which commonly forms mats in shallow lakes and reservoirs. It was recently detected as the cause of unpleasant odours and taste in the water supply on South Australia's Yorke Peninsula, which is fed by the Paskeville Reservoir. ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Paul Dugdale said phormidium was "not of concern to dogs or people" in the concentrations detected by the tests. Tychonema was "a limited problem" and residents should be reassured that it was manageable.

Dr Dugdale believes Lily and Pretty Boy Floyd became ill - and almost died - because the tychonema bacteria had lodged in their fur while they were swimming in the lake and they "ingested it when grooming or licking their coats". But Feder says he didn't see the dogs lick their coats in the minutes after they left the water and collapsed in obvious pain and distress. "I'd just like some straight answers," he said.


Expert calls for ACT lakes review
Canberra Times, Friday, 31 October 2003
By Rosslyn Beeby, Research, Conservation and Science Reporter

A leading ACT urban water expert has called for a review of the management of Canberra's lakes after their recent public closure because of toxic blue-green algae. Research fellow with the Cooperative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology Ian Lawrence said a comprehensive review was needed to assess the impact of increasing nutrient and sediment levels in the lakes. This would help to give a clearer picture of the trend and frequency of algal blooms.

"We need to review and analyse all data collected over the years to assess trends over time in the loads of organic nutrients and the eutrophication of the lakes," he said. Mr Lawrence, who designed Canberra's unique urban wetlands system for treating stormwater run-off, said a thorough review of all research data collected on the city's lakes in past years would help to establish new and more appropriate management guidelines.

"We need to remember that these are ageing lakes," he said. "The algae that occur are ubiquitous and occur naturally but, over the years, emergent vegetation has created localised zones that are favourable for these algae to become more established. We also now have improved identification of algal species which means we are detecting new types in the lakes and we need to know more about how and why they become established. "There are a range of management options that can be taken and these need to be the subject of careful and informed analysis and discussion." Mr Lawrence's comments follow an announcement yesterday by Environment ACT that Lake Tuggeranong would be reopened for swimming after tests conducted over the past two weeks.

All Canberra's lakes were closed to public use after two dogs became violently ill after drinking and playing in shallow water on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin. Tests taken from the site where the dogs became ill confirmed the presence of tychonema, a cool climate strain of toxic blue-green algae. ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Paul Dugdale said Lake Ginninderra would remain closed to swimming, but surface recreational activities such as boating and swimming were now permitted. "There is still a high level of risk associated with Lake Ginninderra and tests have detected the continuing presence of blue-green algae," he said. Dr Dugdale said tests showed that Lake Tuggeranong was "completely clean", but he warned that residents should still not allow their dogs to drink or enter the water. "It is a risk that comes and goes and which depends on the weather. Testing will continue and we will continue to advise the public on any risk associated with recreational use of the lakes," he said.

However, the director of the Environment Protection Authority, Elizabeth Fowler, said Lake Ginninderra remained closed "as a matter of precaution" and the test results "were nothing to worry about". She said she did not know the type of blue-green algae that was still present in the lake. CSIRO water systems expert Dr Brad Sherman said "research-grade analysis" of water samples from the lakes would be necessary to determine the full extent of the risk to public safety. "Some of these blooms can be caused by extremely small amounts of nutrients and would go unreported with standard commercial testing procedures," he said.

Mr Lawrence said the current problems affecting Canberra's lakes were symptomatic of emerging water issues facing cities throughout Australia. "Water and its use has become a topic of national interest, and there are going to be some tough decisions ahead for governments on managing water," he said.


Whale die off suspected to be due to domoic acid

Poison in microscopic algae may have killed as many as 21 large whales that were found floating off the New England coast in July 2003. Domoic acid, a natural toxin that had never been known to kill marine mammals in the Atlantic Ocean, was found in samples taken from some of the dead humpbacks and other whales. More tests are under way to confirm the suspicion that the whales died after eating plankton or fish containing the poison. Researchers working with the National Marine Fisheries Service disclosed the preliminary findings Wednesday at a meeting of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission in Newport, R.I. Although scientists immediately suspected food poisoning as a culprit, finding domoic acid was a surprise. The toxin has killed sea lions and other animals off the West Coast, but had never been connected to marine mammal deaths on the East Coast.

The findings also underscore the risk to humans from harmful algal blooms that can poison the ocean food chain. Scientists first identified domoic acid in 1988, when 4 Canadians died and many more were sickened from eating Prince Edward Island mussels that had filtered the toxic plankton out of the water. Some of those who survived suffered permanent memory loss. "It attacks the brain," said Mark Wells, an associate professor at the University of Maine's School of Marine Sciences. "It causes nerve cells to fire continuously and die."

Officials in Canada and Maine now monitor for domoic acid and other waterborne toxins, and there have been no more fatal poisonings of people. Domoic acid has never been found in dangerous levels along the Maine coast, where it could taint clams or mussels, said Amy Fitzpatrick of the Maine Department of Resources. The dead whales were found about 200 miles southeast of Portland, Maine, USA, and do not suggest any increased threat along the coast, she said. Federal and state officials also said the findings do not necessarily mean that domoic acid was a factor in the deaths of at least 9 whales and dozens of seals that were found along the Maine coast in September and early October, 2003. Samples from some of those animals are still being tested for domoic acid as well as other potential culprits. Although both clusters of marine mammal deaths were highly unusual, they may well be unrelated, said Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for the National Marine Fisheries Service's Northeast Science Center. "I would resist linking this particular event to the (dead animals found) in Maine," she said. Domoic acid is not related to the toxin in red tide, a more common and notorious algal bloom that forced the state to ban mussel and clam harvesting this fall. Eating shellfish severely contaminated by the red tide toxin can cause paralysis and death. Parts of the Maine coast remain off-limits to mussel harvesting and clam digging, although the contamination levels are gradually dropping and some parts of the coast have been reopened.

Toxic red tide algae were blamed for a similar cluster of whale deaths in 1987 off Cape Cod, and quickly became the prime suspect when the whales were found around Georges Bank in July, 2003. Most of the whales were humpbacks, which feed on plankton as well as small fish. There also was a fin whale and a pilot whale. They showed no signs of a viral infection or injury. Samples of tissue and waste products taken from the whales have not tested positive for significant exposure to the toxin in red tide. The finding of domoic acid, however, suggests it was a more unusual form of food poisoning.

Reports of harmful or toxic algal blooms have increased around the world in recent years. In 2002, for example, almost 100 whales and dolphins beached in southern California, apparently because of domoic acid poisoning. Some have linked the algal blooms to such factors as global warming, increased pollution and ship traffic that carries organisms around the globe. David Townsend, director of the University of Maine's School of Marine Sciences, said pollution may be a factor in some cases of algal blooms. But the organism producing domoic acid lives in pristine waters, scientists said. Townsend said the more significant reason for the increasing reports is that scientists have only recently begun studying the toxins. "The more you look, the more you see," he said. Domoic acid, for example, was identified only after the deaths in Canada in 1988. It likely existed for millions of years, however, and has since been found around the world, Wells said.

The findings reported on Wednesday were significant because scientists had never before documented domoic acid killing whales in the North Atlantic, Wells said. But, he said, that doesn't mean it never happened. "There are all sorts of unexplained marine mammal deaths," he said. "It's possible these toxic events have been happening."


Waikato widens warning on poisonous shellfish
New Zealand Herald, 1 October, 2003

Shellfish from the Waikato coast are laced with potentially fatal toxins and should not be harvested, a health official warned yesterday. The limits of an existing health warning on the coast from south Taranaki to the Kaipara Harbour have been extended to include Raglan harbour. Waikato District Health Board health protection officer David Cumming said shellfish samples taken at Raglan last week showed toxin levels high enough to trigger a public alert. Tests showed a toxin which causes paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) at levels of 101 micrograms per 100 grams of flesh. The limit is 80 micrograms. Affected species include kina, mussels, scallops, catseyes or pupu, toheroa, pipi, tuatua, oysters and cockles. Officials have warned that cooking does not remove the toxin. Paua, crab and crayfish can still be eaten if the gut has been completely removed before cooking. Warning signs are being put up at boat ramps and shellfish accesses along the coast. The last such warning on Waikato's west coast was lifted in January 2001. It was issued in June 2000 and was caused by the same algae. The algae earlier this year forced a warning, still in place, on the North Island's east coast between Whareongaonga (North of Mahia Peninsula) and East Cape. Mr Cumming said regular monitoring of toxin levels at Raglan and Kawhia would continue.

Algal toxin publications found in October 2003

  1. Alfonso M, Duran R, Campos F, Perez-Vences D, Faro LRF, Arias B (2003) Mechanisms underlying domoic acid-induced dopamine release from striatum: An in vivo microdialysis study. Neurochemical Research 28(10), 1487-1493.
  2. Aranda-Rodriguez R, Kubwabo C, Benoit FM (2003) Extraction of 15 microcystins and nodularin using immunoaffinity columns. Toxicon 42(6), 587-599.
  3. Brett MM (2003) Food poisoning associated with biotoxins in fish and shellfish. Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases 16(5), 461-465.
  4. Cembella AD (2003) Chemical ecology of eukaryotic microalgae in marine ecosystems. Phycologia 42(4),420-447.
  5. Fastner J, Heinze R, Humpage AR, Mischke U, Eaglesham GK, Chorus I (2003) Cylindrospermopsin occurrence in two German lakes and preliminary assessment of toxicity and toxin production of Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii (Cyanobacteria) isolates Toxicon 42(3), 313-321.
  6. Grovel O, Pouchus YF, Verbist J-F (2003) Accumulation of gliotoxin, a cytotoxic mycotoxin from Aspergillus fumigatus, in blue mussel (Mytilus edulis). Toxicon 42(3), 297-300.
  7. Hong HZ, Lam PKS, Hsieh DPH (2003) Interactions of paralytic shellfish toxins with xenobiotic-metabolizing and antioxidant enzymes in rodents. Toxicon 42(4), 425-431.
  8. Klopper S, Scharek R, Gerdts G (2003) Diarrhetic shellfish toxicity in relation to the abundance of Dinophysis spp. in the German Bight near Helgoland. Marine Ecology-Progress Series 259, 93-102.
  9. Legrand C, Rengefors K, Fistarol GO, Graneli E (2003) Allelopathy in phytoplankton - biochemical, ecological and evolutionary aspects. Phycologia 42(4), 406-419.
  10. Magalhaes VF, Marinho MM, Domingos P, Oliveira AC, Costa SM, Azevedo LO, Azevedo SMFO (2003) Microcystins (cyanobacteria hepatotoxins) bioaccumulation in fish and crustaceans from Sepetiba Bay (Brasil, RJ). Toxicon 42(3), 289-295.
  11. Milutinovic A, Zivin M, Zorc-Pleskovic R, Sedmak B, Suput D (2003) Nephrotoxic effects of chronic administration of microcystins -LR and -YR A. Toxicon 42(3), 281-288.
  12. Namikoshi M, Murakami T, Watanabe MF, Oda T, Yamada J, Tsujimura S, Nagai H, Oishi S (2003) Simultaneous production of homoanatoxin-a, anatoxin-a, and a new non-toxic 4-hydroxyhomoanatoxin-a by the cyanobacterium Raphidiopsis mediterranea Skuja. Toxicon 42(5), 533-538.
  13. Poletti R, Milandri A, Pompei M (2003) Algal biotoxins of marine origin: New indications from the European Union. Veterinary Research Communications 27(Suppl 1), 173-182.
  14. Pottier I, Hamilton B, Jones A, Lewis RJ, Vernoux JP (2003) Identification of slow and fast-acting toxins in a highly ciguatoxic barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) by HPLC/MS and radiolabelled ligand binding. Toxicon 42(6), 663-672.
  15. Ramirez-Munguia N, Vera G, Tapia R (2003) Epilepsy, neurodegeneration, and extracellular glutamate in the hippocampus of awake and anesthetized rats treated with okadaic acid. Neurochemical Research 28(10), 1517-1524.
  16. Sellner KG, Doucette GJ, Kirkpatrick GJ (2003) Harmful algal blooms: causes, impacts and detection. J Ind Microbiol Biotech 30(7), 383-406.
  17. Sevcik C, Noriega J, D'Suze G (2003) Identification of Enterobacter bacteria as saxitoxin producers in cattle's rumen and surface water from Venezuelan Savannahs. Toxicon 42(4), 359-366.
  18. Watanabe MF, Tsujimura S, Oishi S, Niki T, Namikoshi M (2003) Isolation and identification of homoanatoxin-a from a toxic strain of the cyanobacterium Raphidiopsis mediterranea Skuja isolated from Lake Biwa, Japan. Phycologia 42(4), 364-369.
  19. Yan T, Zhou MJ, Tan ZJ, Li J, Yu RC, Wang YF (2003) A survey for paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) in Vancouver Harbour. Marine Environmental Research 57(1-2), 137-143.




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Page last updated - December 18, 2008

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