Algal blooms in the Chesapeake Bay are more intense this year and spreading farther up into the York River, according to local reports. These blooms are dominated by Alexandrium monilatum, which is an algae species known to be toxic to other marine life. While no direct correlation has been established, there have also been some reports of a few dead fish, oysters, and crabs in the surrounding areas.

"This is new and important information," Wolfgang Vogelbein, Professor from William & Mary Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), said in a news release, "as we have never appreciated that Alexandrium extends so far into the mainstem of the Bay or so far up the York River."

In order to better understand local blooms and their impacts, VIMS researchers have started using new tools and techniques. This includes the use of a high-tech instrument called Dataflow. This tool is able to monitor water quality over large areas. Paired with Dataflow, researchers use aerial and satellite images collected from over-flights.

Over-flights are conducted by a NASA Langley airplane equipped with electromagnetic sensors and cameras. Researchers also use data collected by NASA satellites.

From this, researchers are able to use microscopic analyses and DNA tests to identify harmful types of algae that may pose a threat to other species.

"A single cell can produce multiple toxins," Juliette Smith, a VIMS professor, explained. "In addition, the same toxin can be produced by multiple species. For instance, saxitoxins, which cause paralytic shellfish poisoning, can be produced by both dinoflagellates and cyanobacteria."

VIMS researcher are using these methods to further test the degree to which toxins from algal blooms may be moving up the food web, and what impact they have on marine life and possibly human life as well. 

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