The Southern California coast harbors some of the world’s highest concentrations of toxic algae dangerous to wildlife and people who eat local seafood, according to a USC study released Tuesday.

Episodic outbreaks of algae-produced toxins make headlines every few years when stricken marine animals wash ashore between Santa Barbara and San Diego. The USC research reveals the growing scale of the problem over the last 15 years, according to the university.

The researchers say their findings can help protect human health and environment by improving methods to monitor and manage harmful algal blooms.

The findings are a “smoking gun” linking domoic acid produced by some types of algae to deaths of marine birds and mammals, according to David Caron, a biologist at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and postdoctoral researcher Jayme Smith, the study’s main authors.

“We are seeing an increase in harmful algal blooms and an increase in severity,” Caron said. “The Southern California coast really is a hot spot, and our study also shows that the concentrations of particulate domoic acid measured in the region are some of the highest — if not the highest — ever reported.”

The findings appear in Harmful Algae and copies are available via newsroom@elsevier.com.

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