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Pathogens and Microbes

Pathogens and Microbes
Researchers conduct laboratory and field experiments to better understand microbial pollution. Photo Credit: Laura Webster

High levels of pathogens and microbes can lead to restrictions on shellfish harvesting, fish kills, and health problems. Swimming in pathogen-contaminated waters, or eating contaminated fish and shellfish can lead to gastrointestinal distress, and in severe cases can be fatal.

The Marine Policy Institute estimates that the health consequences of marine-borne pathogens in the US cost $900 million each year. Closed shellfish fisheries have cost $2.8M (Maine) to $18.4M (Massachusetts) in lost revenue for each event.

We can often identify the source of microbes in coastal waters and work with communities to assess the risk to humans and wildlife, and to evaluate reduction strategies. Common culprits are commercial animal feed lots, failed septic systems, and pets going to the bathroom in coastal parks.

In some areas, including the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays and parts of the Gulf of Mexico, we can forecast where and when pathogens are most likely to be found. Public health officials use our forecasts to target public safety messages and monitoring.