Listen up!!! Turns out the plankton partying along our coastline are NOT what we thought they were, and have now been identified as dinoflagellates Lingulodinium polyedra (F.Stein) and/or Gonyaulax polyedra (J.D.Dodge).
Initial reports coming in last night were that these guys could be super nasty - producing a horrid toxin which gave rise to Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) - and I posted a blog early this morning warning peeps about it cos it's pretty hectic stuff. But have just got word from those in the know that it looks like the toxins the newly identified plankton strain produces are NOT the mean PSP variety, but rather the milder yessotoxin.
Shew - crisis averted. So instead of this mini-bugger putting you in the hospital with nausea, vomiting and a host of other nasty symptoms (which could even culminate in death!), it's back to looking like it isn't gonna do anything to you at all. Apologies for any unnecessary panic caused by the earlier warnings of it being poisonous! Rather it can be down-graded to potentially poisonous.
Mentioned the yessotoxins a few days ago in a blog - the one's that seem to show symptoms in mice, but not humans. So provided you aren't a mouse you should be fine.
Still, because so little is still known about it, it makes sense to adhere to the warning not to eat shellfish. Better safe than sorry. Info around this whole red tide is forever changing as it's a totally new species for this area and little is known about it.
The info on the new species came to light late Monday arvo - after super-sleuth Dr Tommy Bornmann from SAEON wanted to double check the ID they had on the bloom. He wasn't satisfied that this was indeed P.reticulatum cos it isn't known for spectacular glow-in-the-dark displays. Lucky for us scientists like Tommy like to question everything.
So some plankton went by plane to Croatia to get sussed out by experts there. They got back to him with a revised identification. New kid on the block.
The scientists at DAFF (Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries) are also conducting more studies but at this stage seem in agreement with the new ID's. They've also done testing at the oyster farm in PE and so far haven't picked up signs of any toxicity, although there is a few days lag in the testing, so new results may come to light in the future.
Although this species looks almost identical in structure to the Protoceratium reticulatum, this one is a slightly more evil twin. Let's be honest, any plankton that has "Dodge" in it's species name should give you a hint he's up to mischief. But at least he isn't as nasty as initially feared. Unless you're a mouse.
Reports of fish deaths in the Sards area continue, with mussel crackers and blacktails appearing some of the worst affected. Remember the fish are dying cos of hypoxia, not directly from exposure or ingestion of the plankton (see this blog post for more details).
Plenty of peeps are concerned about whether it's safe to eat fish. Seems it is. Not likely that the toxin can make it's way up the food chain from shellfish to the fish themselves even if the fish eat them. But it would be pretty doff to eat any of the dead fish you pick up on the beach - purely cos they've been lying there in the sun and most likely are a bit vrot!
A serious concern is that cos it's a new species for the area, the cells of the plankton will form cysts on the sea floor which can re-emerge when the environmental conditions are right. So, looks the lil bastards are here to stay. Lurking in the shadows until conditions to come out and jol again look perfect again.
We really need a big storm with decent swell and pomping west to try shift these plankton poepals offshore and disperse them. Anyone with good connections in the Antarctic, please ask em to rustle up something down there for us and send it this way.
So here's what we know to date - safe to swim in the sea, safe to eat fish, better to avoid shellfish.
Thanks to Dr Shirley Parker-Nance (NMMU), Dr Tommy Bornman (SAEON) and Prof Peter Britz (Rhodes) for the info. Special thanks to Dr Bornmann who kept on digging til he found out what this critter was.