By Joe Eaton

San Francisco Bay and the region’s other water bodies have an unfortunate legacy of human pollution. But we’re not the only culprits: beyond the mercury and PCBs, the Bay contains toxins produced by phytoplankton—photosynthesizing microorganisms classified as blue-green algae (also known as cyanobacteria), dinoflagellates, and diatoms. Under conditions still not well understood, these tiny organisms secrete chemicals that can enter aquatic food webs and impact human health. Funded by the San Francisco Estuary Institute’s Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality and the San Francisco Bay Nutrient Management Strategy, researchers are surveying the Bay for microcystin, from the freshwater cyanobacterium Microcystis, and domoic acid, from the marine diatom Pseudo-nitzschia, and trying to account for their presence in the Bay.

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Tracking Tiny Toxins

By Joe Eaton

San Francisco Bay and the region’s other water bodies have an unfortunate legacy of human pollution. But we’re not the only culprits: beyond the mercury and PCBs, the Bay contains toxins produced by phytoplankton—photosynthesizing microorganisms classified as blue-green algae (also known as cyanobacteria), dinoflagellates, and diatoms. Under conditions still not well understood, these tiny organisms secrete chemicals that can enter aquatic food webs and impact human health. Funded by the San Francisco Estuary Institute’s Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality and the San Francisco Bay Nutrient Management Strategy, researchers are surveying the Bay for microcystin, from the freshwater cyanobacterium Microcystis, and domoic acid, from the marine diatom Pseudo-nitzschia, and trying to account for their presence in the Bay.

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About the author

Joe Eaton writes about endangered and invasive species, climate and ecosystem science, environmental history, and water issues for ESTUARY. He is also "a semi-obsessive birder" whose pursuit of rarities has taken him to many of California's shores, wetlands, and sewage plants.