The Grays Harbor County Marine Resources Committee has developed a task to conduct water quality projects. The current focus is on Ocean Acidification and Harmful Algal Blooms. The collection points are all in Grays Harbor. 

NEW!! 2009 -2010 Oyster Seed Crisis Project –Final Report

Ocean Acidification:

Ocean acidification, generally described as the reduction of pH in marine waters, is the result of increased atmospheric CO2. Increased atmospheric CO2 pushes more CO2 into the ocean where it leads to decreases in pH. According NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, since the industrial revolution, oceanic pH levels (surface water) have dropped from 8.21 to 8.10. While surface waters have shown a decrease in pH, deeper waters tend to have the lowest values. So, when deep water is brought up to the surface, during upwelling, it can bring along significant decreases in pH. Reduction of pH, or increased acidification, can lead to detrimental impacts on many marine species, specifically those that rely on calcification to grow body structures. For bivalves, current research points to the larval stage as most vulnerable, where acidic waters can lead to the death of developing larvae. For native and commercial bivalve species this can lead to a reduction in the wild or hatchery production of shellfish. 

During 2009 monitoring at the Westport station we saw a strong trend with northerly winds creating upwelling events that pushed low pH, DO and temperature waters into the estuary. This was moderated by the time the water reached sampling stations in North (Lone Tree) and South (Brady’s) Grays Harbor. From the limited dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) numbers, we have yet to see corrosive or low pH waters in these commercial shellfish growing areas. We plan on collecting a complete series of samples in 2010, in hopes to provide a clearer picture of the current baseline values and the influence of coastal up-welled acidified waters on Grays Harbor oyster production.




Harmful Algae Blooms

Phytoplankton, also called microalgae, are single celled organisms that exist in nearly every body of water from puddles, lakes, rivers, to oceans. These tiny organisms have qualities of both plant and animal and their appearances vary greatly. There are 10’s of 1000s of different known species around the world. They are the oldest form of life on earth and are responsible for 50 percent of the earth’s oxygen production. Marine phytoplankton are the primary food source in the ocean and form the base of the food web for all marine life. Most phytoplankton are harmless. 

Some algae produce chemical compounds which can be toxic to other life forms in the food web. The reason for production of these compounds is as various as the species themselves; from competition to nutrient acquisition. Some harmful algae kill fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and sea birds through mechanical means as well. The most common term for the harmful algae, “red tide”, is a misnomer since they can be of various color and have little to due with tides. The accepted term by the scientific community is harmful algal blooms, or HABs.

HABs can cause a wide range of serious health issues in mammals and birds such as diarrhea, permanent short term memory loss, tumor production, paralysis, and sometimes death. This is often a result of eating fish or shellfish where the toxins have bioaccumulated in a filter feeding vector species. Harmful algal blooms have increased in frequency, spatial distribution, and magnitude around the world.

Still more potential toxins are being identified as more research is being done on the many various species. Harmful algae can be a great detriment to economies which rely heavily on aquaculture and tourism because of large scale fish kills and public health closures of the shellfisheries and public beaches.

The above information was provided by:

Anthony Odell
Olympic Region Harmful Algal Bloom
ORHAB Monitoring Coordinator
Olympic Natural Resources Center
University of Washington

Andy Suhrbier
Senior Biologist
Pacific Shellfish Institute