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Stony Brook researchers to study toxic algae

Stony Brook University researchers have been awarded an emergency $18,700 grant to document a new outbreak of toxic algae in the Great South Bay that might threaten efforts to revive the clam population there.

The money, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will pay for monitoring of a persistent bloom of Cochlodinium polykrikiodes. The algae, which streaks waters a rusty red, has been linked to deaths of farmed fish and aquaculture but its impact on local marine life is not yet clear.

Cochlodinium is not harmful to humans, and no large-scale fish kills have been reported since it first bloomed here on the East End in 2004. Still, scientists say lab experiments show it can kill fish and shellfish unable to swim away to clearer waters.

The algae’s appearance in the Great South Bay last month marks the first time it has been found this far west on Long Island, said Chris Gobler, an associate professor at Stony Brook.

“We’re seeing these really dense patches around the outfall of the Connetquot River, the Sayville/Islip area, even out to Patchogue,” Gobler said. “It’s been pretty extensive.”

This particular bloom was found by divers doing survey work for the Nature Conservancy, which has been trying to restore decimated clam populations at a 13,400-acre preserve in waters off West Sayville. Staffers with the advocacy group had hoped Tropical Storm Irene would sweep the Cochlodinium out to sea, but it has persisted.

“It looks like if you left a bucket of nails out in the rain — like rusty water,” said Carl LoBue, a senior marine scientist with the group.

The NOAA grant will pay for weekly research cruises to track the bloom’s size, extent and toxicity, and for a late-fall survey of clam mortality once the bloom subsides as waters cool.

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