Environment / Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have discovered a hazardous toxin in the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.

Ciguatoxin is a toxin produced by coral reef algae, affecting sea life and fish consumed by humans. Such exposed sea life can cause ciguatera fish poisoning among human consumers, leading to neurological and gastrointestinal problems. Scientists recently took samples from at-risk Hawaiian monk seals to contribute to a NOAA study on toxin analyses.

Scientist Charles Littnan says that ciguatoxin exposure is common among the monk seal population. According to the study, this toxin will threaten the nearly extinct species of only 1,160, which already suffers from both environmental and human factors. “This study is an important first step, Littnan says. “However, we still need to understand more clearly how widespread exposure is; and, more importantly, what role [if any] it may be playing in the decline of he species.

The NOAA is also performing further investigations into ciguatoxin exposure in other Hawaii marine animals. In addition, through August 31st, the NOAA Fisheries Service is inviting public comment on a proposal for 16 new critical habitat areas throughout Hawaii that would protect seal reproduction, offspring rearing, foraging and resting territories.

NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries regional administrator, Michael Tosatto says, “It’s imperative we ensure they have safe areas where they can rest and take care of their young.”

Visit [fpir.noaa.gov] for info.