Focus On The Bay: Pfiesteria And The Chesapeake Bay Ecosystem -- Symposia At Annual Meeting To Examine Science Policy On Pfiesteria And The Bay

July 30, 1998

To lay the groundwork for future environmental policy governing Pfiesteria and the Chesapeake Bay, the Ecological Society of America and the American Institute of Biological Sciences will host the "Pfiesteria in Maryland" and "Chesapeake Bay Ecosystem" symposia at their joint annual meeting, held in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 2-6, 1998.

Pfiesteria piscicida is a toxic dinoflagellate--algae's animal counterpart. One of its forms is also the most likely cause of several menhaden fish kills in three Chesapeake Bay tributaries during the summer of 1997. Scientific uncertainty about Pfiesteria persists, making a retrospective analysis of the events of 1997, in the form of "Pfiesteria in Maryland," integral to Pfiesteria study, as well as to the study of science policy and scientific uncertainty, in general. This symposium will be held on Monday, August 3, from 8:00 a.m. to Noon in room 314 of the Baltimore Convention Center.

Scientists believe Pfiesteria, and other Pfiesteria-like dinoflagellates practically indistinguishable from Pfiesteria, to be symptomatic of coastal eutrophication--algal growth spurred by nutrient influx--and to be a world-wide problem. Other Pfiesteria outbreaks have affected coastal areas of North Carolina and Florida. Therefore, the study of Pfiesteria policy also requires an understanding of Chesapeake Bay ecosystem health and the role of eutrophication as presented in the symposium, "Chesapeake Bay Ecosystem." This symposium will be held on Tuesday, August 4, from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. in room 314 of the Baltimore Convention Center.

Pfiesteria first made its science policy mark as a human health fear. Wayne H. Bell, Vice President for External Relations at the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science and organizer of the "Pfiesteria in Maryland" symposium, notes that, "a University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University study of 27 affected individuals found symptoms that included acute skin burning, confusion, and short term memory loss." The inherent complexity of environmental policy-making became even more apparent when the seafood industry experienced a drop in sales brought on by the public's fear of contaminated fish.

During the rush of events in the summer of '97, decisions about Pfiesteria were made. Now, it's time to evaluate those decisions, to address the present and future uncertainty of Pfiesteria activity, and to work towards improved future science policy in this symposium.

Key actors representing the multiple perspectives necessary for environmental policy-making in the Chesapeake Bay Pfiesteria drama will participate. JoAnn Burkholder, of North Carolina State University, is the recognized authority on Pfiesteria and will provide its unfolding biological story. The challenge of monitoring for Pfiesteria and hypothesizing the when and where of its arrivals will be discussed by Robert Magnien, Director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Division. Tim Wheeler, of the Baltimore Sun, will elucidate the media's communication role in early reports to the public. Russell Brinsfield, of the Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Maryland College Park and Director of the Wye Research and Education Center on Maryland's Eastern Shore, will introduce preliminary concerns about the role of agricultural runoff in the development of Pfiesteria.

Informed environmental policy-making is the key to minimizing uncertainty about Pfiesteria. In the "Pfiesteria in Maryland" symposium, Bell hopes hard questions such as how scientists, state agency personnel, agricultural interests, members of the media, and citizens dealt with these uncertainties and how the uncertainties were overcome to produce significant new regulations, may contain important lessons for the development of future environmental policy.

In the closely related "Chesapeake Bay Ecosystem" symposium, to be held Tuesday, August 4, the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay will be addressed by Grace Brush, of the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Brush's sedimentary core study depicts dramatic food web and water quality changes. A gradual shift in human food reliance from fishing to agriculture gives a rough explanation for Brush's results. However, the actual detailed interaction of nutrients, algal growth, oxygen depletion, and large-scale ecosystem change is worth further exploration.

Introduction of non-indigenous species, alteration of fish and shrimp habitat, and inputs of nutrients are the other "Chesapeake Bay Ecosystem" symposium topics.

On non-indigenous species, Gregory M. Ruiz, of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, states, " is clear that [Non-Indigenous Species] invasions have fundamentally altered population, community, and ecosystem processes, and resulted in significant economic impacts, in the Chesapeake." Research to be presented by Anson H. Hines, of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, describes some of these Chesapeake Bay community changes, "Historically in Chesapeake Bay, juvenile and small fish and [shrimp] obtained highest abundances in submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), oyster reefs, and abundant woody debris. With loss of marshes, removal of woody debris, decline of SAV, and demise of oyster reefs, these organisms shifted to primarily shallow nearshore water."

In the future, Dr. Brush may expand her sedimentary core study to include historical information about Pfiesteria type organisms--shedding more light on the denizen troubling the Chesapeake Bay.

Annual Meeting Information

Members of the media and freelance writers are invited to attend the Ecological Society of America's 1998 Annual Meeting to be held in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 2-6, 1998. This year's meeting is being held in conjunction with The American Institute for Biological Sciences and eight other societies. The theme is "Ecological Exchanges Between Major Ecosystems" and some 3,200 scientists will be in attendance. The meeting will feature symposia, field trips, and numerous poster and paper presentations.

ESA Plenary Session (August 4, 1998)

Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt is scheduled to open this year's plenary. His speech is entitled "Restoring Watersheds and Ecosystems at the Turn of the Millennium." Rosina Bierbaum, Acting Associate Director for the Environment of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, will close with a speech on "Achieving a Sustainable Future: Challenges and Opportunities in Monitoring and Assessment of Our Nation's Ecosystems." William C. Baker, President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and William Matuszeski, Director of EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office will also speak at the plenary. There will be a press availability for all speakers after the plenary.

All-Society Opening Ceremonies (August 2, 1998)

Rita Colwell, the newly confirmed Director of the National Science Foundation, will present the keynote address. Her speech is entitled "Balancing the Biocomplexity of the Planet's Living Systems: A 21st Century Task for Science." Also speaking will be Donald Boesch, President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental and Estuarine Studies. His speech is entitled "Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Ecosystem: A Challenge for Science and Society."

More meeting information, including symposia schedules, abstracts, and field trips, is available on the ESA Homepage at

Newsroom Operation

Members of the press are exempt from registration fees and are free to attend all meeting sessions. A staffed press room, including copier, fax, computer, printer, telephone, and area for interviews, will be available. Please contact Gabriel Paal or Nadine Lymn for more information or to register.

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is a scientific, non-profit, 7,800-member organization founded in 1915. Through ESA reports, journals, membership research, and expert testimony to Congress, ESA seeks to promote the responsible application of ecological data and principles to the solution of environmental problems. ESA publishes four scientific, peer-reviewed journals: Ecology, Ecological Applications, Ecological Monographs, and Conservation Ecology. Information about the Society and its activities is published in the Society's bi-monthly newsletter, NewSource, and in the quarterly Bulletin.

Ecological Society of America

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