JACKSON CO., Miss. (WLOX) - When will Mississippi's beaches reopen?
That’s the question on the minds of many as scientists work to find out more about the dangers of the recent algae bloom in the Mississippi Sound. Experts have said the bloom is due to the low salinity in the Sound as freshwater flows from the Bonnet Carre’ Spillway.
Dr. Joe Griffitt, interim director of USM School of Ocean Science and Engineering, said it’s the toxins algae can produce in freshwater that makes it harmful to humans. But with the mix of the freshwater and saltwater in the Sound, the toxin levels of the algae aren’t fully known yet.
“They don’t always produce these toxins," said Griffitt. "It’s a poorly understood process that tells us when these toxins are being produced, when they’re being released and what they do. So, we don’t know if they are producing it. We don’t know that they’re not.”
Right now, scientists from Mississippi’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and Department of Environmental Quality are testing water samples to get that answer.
Researchers at Dauphin Island Sea Lab said it’s not likely there’s much of a danger.
“There’s a very very low chance of any human health effects associated with being in the water,” said Dr. Alison Robertson.
Dr. Robertson said the beach closures are most likely precautionary and out of an abundance of caution until more is known.
As far as when people can take a dip in the Coast’s waters once again, Dr. Griffitt said the closing of the spillway will help somewhat to raise the salinity and kill off the algae, but it could take some time for freshwater to move out of the Sound.
He says a tropical storm would bring changes in the Gulf.
“There’s always the storm at the end of this week that they’re talking about coming in that may move some of the saltwater up into the Mississippi Sound, and it’ll have the same sort of effect of raising the salinity and hopefully lowering the ability for these cyanobacteria to survive," said Griffitt.
DMR has said initial toxin analyses of the algae bloom have revealed very low levels, but say the blooms are dynamic and could change. For more information on blue-green algae, visit here.