Western Exposure

Mass bird kills and MRSA at the beaches; is summer over yet?

By September 16, 2009March 19th, 2015No Comments

Volunteers discovered dozens of dead and ailing birds at two Washington beaches this week, the first mass bird kill of this size since 2007, reported Jonathan Martin in the Seattle Times.

After receiving reports from beach goers, volunteers from Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST), a University of Washington citizen science project, combed Washington and Oregon beaches and found at least 100 deceased birds at Kalaloch and La Push beaches. The predominant species affected appears to be the already declining white-wingedscoter and the surfscoter, a stocky seabird that looks not unlike a duck and passes through Washington during their twice annual migration.

Scientists believe the birds were poisoned by a toxic algae bloom, which can seep its way into shellfish, the birds’ primary food source. Extensive harmful algae blooms are often the result of excess nutrients in the water, which enter from a variety of both natural and human sources. However, coastal water pollution and increasing sea temperatures — the cause of the 2007 seabird die off — are believed to exacerbate the problem.

Washington’s beaches also made the news this week after scientists discovered the antibiotic-resistant strain of staph bacteria, called MRSA, at five public beaches along the coast. The finding came after 10 Washington beaches were tested by University of Washington researchers for staph bacteria, nine of which contained the more milder strains found in community settings. But the unearthing of a highly resistant strain at the beachs, normally only found at hospitals and health care facilities, has perplexed researchers. While the UW researchers are not attempting to discern how the bacteria got to the coast, the new study does suggest that marine water and sand may harbor the superbug. But everyone still wants to know: Where is the strain coming from?

— Natasha Walker

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