Dr. Cynthia Heil talks about Maine's red tides

Posted:  Tuesday, July 25, 2017 - 2:00pm
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Dr. Cynthia Heil joined Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences as a senior research scientist in November 2010 following a noteworthy academic and professional path that has taken her as far afield as Australia to study the effects of harmful algae on marine life and coastal efficacy and the ramifications of toxin accumulation in the shellfish we take from the sea.

Sound complicated? It is, but Dr Heil in her presentation, “Maine Red Tides: The Good, the Bad, and the Toxic," did an excellent job of outlining the dangers of ignoring and denying detrimental changes to the Gulf of Maine while addressing the membership of the Boothbay Region Garden Club at its July meeting.

Dr. Heil, a self described fourth generation Southport summer kid, now, lucky for us all, makes her home here on the peninsula and continues to do research into the negative impact of red tides, which are now known as HAB (harmful algae blooms). After copious and inaccurate note taking of highly technical information, and a minor carpal tunnel flare-up from writing too fast, suffice it to say that the upshot of Dr Heil's presentation, as I see it, is that HAB represents some pretty bad actors both in the sea, and in our fresh water resources, that require our attention.HAB is destructive to marine life, is harmful to humans through ingestion and even inhalation, and can lead to economic losses for the fishing industry when, for example, tons of shellfish are recalled because brain damaging toxins are found to be present in the fish.

Through global tracking of red tides, the monitoring of nutrient runoff and how it impacts marine life, and the continuing research effort to understand and mitigate the effects of toxins in our waters, Dr. Heil and her Bigelow colleagues are working very hard to keep our marine food supply safe and our coastal waters healthy.

What we need to know. Shellfish purchased from our local retail outlets is safe to eat. DMR (Department of Marine Resources) and Bigelow constantly monitor our water quality by testing for toxins and reporting what bodies of water are unsafe for shellfishing.Individuals who want to fish or harvest shellfish on their own need to check the DMR site http://www.maine.gov/dmr/shellfish-sanitation-management/ for area closures before consuming shellfish taken from local waters. For more information on Dr Heil and programs offered through Bigelow Labs check out www.bigelow.org.

BRGC is committed to the protection and conservation of our natural resources and is happy to promote programs that educate us all on being responsible caretakers of our environment. For more information on events and activities offered the garden club, check the BRGC website at http://www.boothbayregiongardenclub.org/. BRGC is affiliated with NGC (National Garden Clubs Inc.) and is a member of the GCFM (Garden Club Federation of Maine).