Today we’re going to talk about phytoplankton, those tiny yet fascinating photosynthetic organisms that are totally screwing with your west coast Thanksgiving. The start of Dungeness crab season, which in California, Oregon, and Washington usually begins in November, has been indefinitely postponed until either the crabs go vegan and stop eating phytoplankton (not likely) or the algae that they’re feeding on become less toxic.
This Dungeness disaster is a result of what’s known as a harmful algal bloom (HAB). The abundance of algae is influenced by a variety of factors, but primarily it comes down to nutrient availability and temperature. In the case of the former, humans have been introducing a large amount of nutrients, such as phosphorous and nitrogen, into the ocean ever since we decided our lawns look nice when they’re green. However, we’ve also been causing an increase in sea surface temperatures over the past century with increased CO2 emissions. Sure, El Niño and the Blob (great band name btw) have been helping us out in this regard, but it’s mostly us. Algae love warm areas with high nutrient availability, something that we’ve been oh so generous in providing them over the past few decades. The problem is that sometimes when algae “bloom”, they also emit toxins into the water that are harmful for marine animals and humans alike.
Scientists have plenty of evidence supporting the notion that HAB frequencies have increased within the last twenty years, so what we’re seeing in California is not necessarily a new phenomenon. Instead, the postponement of the Dungeness crab fishery is yet another example of the harmful impacts associated with rising sea surface temperatures. So, if one of you’re thanksgiving guests asks why you’re not serving any crab at this year’s Thanksgiving, feel free to tell Steve to sit the hell down and stop heating his house to 85 every evening, he’s killing the crabs.
Enjoy the Podcast!