Public Release: 

Dipsticks for water testing, right whale future grim, marine law center established

Sea Grant News & Notes for week of August 20, 2002

National Sea Grant College Program

Drinking water may become even safer thanks to new testing methods that detect cyanobacteria toxins more easily. New York Sea Grant scientist Gregory Boyer is developing tools to measure anatoxin-a, a bioactive toxin produced by blue-green algae and found in freshwater lakes. His multi-step laboratory approach builds upon previous work in which Boyer successfully developed a method to detect another harmful toxin caused by red tides in the ocean. This method detected saxitoxin, the toxin responsible for causing paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP, in humans who consume shellfish exposed to the toxic algae.

In freshwater systems, harmful blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, can make either saxitoxin or anatoxin-a and threaten the health of drinking water supplies. Boyer has recently finished extensive testing for these toxins in Lake Champlain, Lake Ontario and other freshwater sources. Current methods of detecting anatoxin-a are time-consuming and expensive. Boyer's research will simplify the testing process by developing an antibody or "dipstick" style test to monitor for these toxins. "Our goal is to develop effective monitoring measures that can be employed by water quality managers, conservation agents and health officials to rapidly screen for the presence of cyanobacteria," said Boyer. Results should offer improved testing methods for drinking water and provide data on the cyanobacteria toxin occurrence and its effect on freshwater ecosystems.
CONTACT: Gregory Boyer, New York Sea Grant Research Scientist, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, (O) 315-470-6825, Email:

If conditions remain as they are today, the northern right whale will be extinct by the year 2202, say WHOI Sea Grant biologist Hal Caswell and his graduate student, Masami Fujiwara. But there is hope for the endangered creatures. According to their model, extinction can be prevented if two female deaths are prevented per year. Fujiwara says that, while the population grew slightly in the early 1980s, it has since dropped. "To avoid extinction, we need to find out what happened between 1980 and now that is causing the whales to die," he explains.

Only about 300 northern right whales remain, with most deaths caused by ship collisions and fishing gear entanglements. In their most recent study, Caswell and Fujiwara set out to examine the survival probability differences of each whale. They considered the differences between male and female whales, and classified them according to life stage (calf to mature adult).

Their model, based on the mark-recapture statistical method, was developed in part by Fujiwara with support from WHOI Sea Grant. It enabled the researchers to estimate survival, transition probabilities, sighting rates and the response of those variables to environmental factors. Results found that the survival probability of female northern right whales is declining.

In the future, Caswell and Fujiwara's model could be incorporated into management decisions. Fujiwara notes, however, that the population growth rate will require continued monitoring in order for that to happen, and that is not an easy task.
CONTACT: Hal Caswell, WHOI Sea Grant Researcher, Senior Scientist, WHOI Biology Department, (O) 508-289-2751, Email:

A new National Sea Grant Law Center at the University of Mississippi will focus on the dissemination of information about marine laws and policy and offer a coordinated center for legal research and analysis of coastal and ocean law. The center, operated with the Mississippi-Alabama Legal Program, competed among others nationwide to become the first of its kind. Besides research on coastal and ocean legal issues, its services include an Advisory Service, a quarterly publication, "The Sandbar," and website.

The center, at the request of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, is currently undertaking research and analysis of the multitude of laws affecting the nation's oceans. The National Sea Grant Law Center's work with the Commission is aimed at meeting a Congressional mandate, in the Oceans Act of 2000, that such information be collected. The resulting publication, "Governing the Oceans," is a compilation of the most relevant regulations and statutes that apply to U.S. oceans, coasts and the management of marine resources.

Through the Sea Grant Law Center, constituents have access to a much-needed central resource for marine laws and policies. The Center's Research Service offers a chance to submit an inquiry, join a listserv, access research results on various topics and discuss recent regulations, legal decisions, and statutes online. Using the law center's website ( ), interested people can also find information about research topics, publications and useful links.
CONTACT: Kristen Fletcher, Director, National Sea Grant Law Center, (O) 662-915-7775, Email:

SEA GRANT WEBSITE SPOTLIGHT: HAZNET --- is the National Sea Grant Coastal Hazards network homepage. HazNet provides information on Coastal Natural Hazards by providing science-based information to individuals, businesses, and local and state governments. The site shows how Sea Grant programs nationwide are working together to better understand coastal natural hazards and develop ways to reduce their impacts on lives, property, and coastal economies. One also will find illustrations of natural hazards, courtesy of the National Geographic Society, and links to materials for students and teachers of grades K-12.

"Changing Faces--Changing Places" is the theme of the 2002 National Extension Tourism conference. Participants will have the opportunity to learn about tourism by experiencing it in a major tourist destination in Michigan; exchange ideas; share teaching techniques and experiences; enhance the national extension network to help better understand tourism development issues, and strengthen extension's capacity to deliver tourism programs and technical assistance. Sponsored by the National Extension Tourism Design Team, North Central Regional Center for Rural Development and Michigan State University Extension. For a detailed agenda and registration information, visit the conference website at:

Sea Grant is a nationwide network of 30 university-based programs that works with coastal communities and is supported by NOAA. Sea Grant research and outreach programs promote better understanding, conservation, and use of America's coastal resources. For more information about Sea Grant visit the Sea Grant Media Center Website at: , which includes on-line keyword searchable database of academic experts in over 30 topical areas.


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