IGCP 681 - History of Toxic Phytoplankton in Patagonia

Brief outline of the project

Microalgae, named phytoplankton, are the base of the food web in the ocean, and are responsible for converting carbon dioxide to oxygen via photosynthesis. There is a group of phytoplankton known as harmful algae (HAB’s) causing damage to human health, wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture production.

The coasts of Patagonia are key areas to investigate their blooms, since are located in one of the most pristine ecosystems in the world. Towards the west side, aquaculture is the economic activity that exerts the greatest environmental pressure.

However, in 2016 the microalgae Pseudochattonella cf. verruculosa killed nearly 12% of the Chilean salmon production causing the worst fish and shellfish mass mortality ever recorded. Along this region present and past continental freshwater contribution varied temporally playing a significant role in modulating ocean productivity. Such environmental variability could influence occurrence of HAB’s which paleoecology at millennial timescale in Patagonia has not been investigated.

The aim of our study is to reconstruct phytoplankton (microalgae) distribution and composition over the last 1000 years in sediments from western Patagonia. The results of this project could contribute to preserve and protect natural heritage from Patagonia, and to predict HAB’s response on assessing future aquaculture feasibility for the region.

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