Physical processes contributing to harmful algal blooms in Saldanha Bay, South Africa

  • TA Probyn
  • GC Pitcher
  • PMS Monteiro
  • AJ Boyd
  • G Nelson


The study synthesises current understanding of the predominant physical processes responsible for the seasonality of harmful algal blooms, notably Alexandrium catenella and Dinophysis spp., in the nearshore environment
of Saldanha Bay on the west coast of South Africa. Saldanha Bay is one of the few naturally sheltered areas on the South African coastline suitable for in situ shellfish farming and is the major site for the production
of black mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis in South Africa. Mussel farming started there in 1985 and the present level of production is some 2 700 tons per annum. Since 1994, disruption of harvesting as a result of the presence of harmful algal species has been a regular late-summer phenomenon. Toxic blooms that are ultimately advected into the bay develop on the continental shelf to the north between 32°S and St Helena Bay, a region characterized by favourable conditions for dinoflagellate growth and circulation patterns that facilitate build-up of intense
blooms during late summer. Offshore dinoflagellate populations are advected shorewards and polewards in response to relaxation of upwelling at the Namaqua cell to the north. Dinoflagellate blooms are advected south from the southern Namaqua shelf during upwelling relaxation. Under such conditions, the gyre south of Elands Bay moves offshore and a barotropic flow past Cape Columbine is established. Evidence suggests that the nearsurface component of the flow occurs as a sudden “flood” event. These dinoflagellate-containing shelf waters are in turn advected into Saldanha Bay when upwelling relaxes, when the density gradient between the bay and the shelf drives surface inflow and bottom water outflow. These flows are reversed with the resumption of upwelling
over the shelf, resulting in intrusion and entrainment of bottom water and surface outflow. Entrainment dictates that the bay acts as a net importer of bottom water and net exporter of surface waters over a synoptic cycle. This
system of exchange between Saldanha Bay and the shelf curtails the duration and severity of toxic episodes in the bay relative to the shelf.

Journal Identifiers

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