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Poisonous plankton blamed for abalone die-off

BODEGA BAY, Calif. (AP) -- Marine biologists have determined that a type of toxin-producing phytoplankton not usually seen in Northern California is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of red abalone, mussels, sea urchins and starfish along the Sonoma and Mendocino County coasts three years ago.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports (http://bit.ly/1ljLXzv ) that the discovery comes as blooms of toxic algae have multiplied in the state's coastal waters, threatening wildlife and increasing the risk of seafood-borne illnesses in humans.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife Senior Environmental scientist Laura Rogers-Bennett tells the Chronicle that the microorganism behind the 2011 abalone die-off, known as Gonyaulax spinifera, mostly benefits the Pacific Ocean food chain.

But Rogers-Bennett says that under certain conditions scientists are still working to understand, the plankton proliferate and start producing a toxin that can sicken people who consume contaminated shellfish.

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Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com

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