Harmful algal blooms of the Southern Benguela current: A review and appraisal of monitoring from 1989 to 1997

  • GC Pitcher
  • D Calder


The Benguela upwelling system is subjected to blooms of harmful and toxic algae, the incidence and consequences of which are documented here. Red tides are common and usually attributed to members of the Dinophyceae, most of which are non-toxic. The incidence of these blooms varies spatially, with most blooms confined to the area west of Cape Agulhas. Cape Point forms the natural divide for species that dominate blooms of the west coast of South Africa as opposed to those that dominate the South Coast. Blooms occur most commonly from
January to May, during the latter half of the upwelling season. Each red tide is associated with synoptic weather patterns, which dictate the onshore and offshore movement of dinoflagellate-dominated frontal blooms. There is also interannual variation, thought to be related to weather pattern changes. The harmful effects of highbiomass, non-toxic blooms include die-offs resulting from anoxia or hypoxia. Other effects of high biomass
blooms include those that may cause mechanical or physical damage or those that may alter the foodweb. Recently, a bloom of the very small pelagophyte, Aureococcus anophagefferens, referred to as brown tide, in Saldanha Bay and Langebaan Lagoon resulted in growth arrest in both oysters and mussels. Toxic species cause mass mortalities of fish, shellfish, marine mammals, seabirds and other animals. Human illness is caused by contaminated seafood when toxic phytoplankton are filtered from the water by shellfish that accumulate toxins to levels that
are potentially lethal to humans and other consumers. Of these shellfish poisoning syndromes, Paralytic (PSP) and Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP) are common in the Benguela. Confirmed cases of PSP have been
attributed to the dinoflagellate Alexandrium catenella. Although shellfish are usually only marginally affected, in extreme cases of poisoning, mussel mortalities have been observed, and in most instances these have been attributed to blooms of A. catenella. Sardine Sardinops sagax mortalities in St Helena Bay have also been attributed to the ingestion of this PSP-producing dinoflagellate. Monitoring has revealed the presence of Dinophysis acuminata, D. fortii, D. hastata, D. tripos and D. rotundata, all of which have been reported to cause DSP. The dinoflagellate Gymnodiniun cf. mikimotoi, has been implicated in a type of Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning and human skin and respiratory irritations have been attributed to aerosol toxins produced by this species.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1814-2338
print ISSN: 1814-232X