‘Toxic Puzzle’ pieces together research to understand algae blooms

Free movie, panel discussion at Thrasher-Horne addresses cyanobacteria in local waterways


ORANGE PARK – A special showing of “Toxic Puzzle,” a film about blue-green algae and its effects on health, will be shown Thursday at the Thrasher-Horne Center on the Orange Park campus of St. Johns River State.

Studies of the blue-green algae or cyanobacteria are still in the preliminary stages of how it affects human life, and “Toxic Puzzle” shows a link to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“So, the film is called ‘Toxic Puzzle’ and it’s a scientific documentary about cyanobacteria and why it matters to Clay County is [the] algae are the same culprit of algae blooms plaguing the St. Johns,” St. John’s River Keeper’s Kelly Thompson said. “What this film is doing is trying to show how scientists are working to understand the science behind the bacteria and how it affects humans, especially in regards to neurodegenerative diseases.”

Thompson said the connection between cyanobacteria, Alzheimer’s and dementia was made during University of Miami’s research on local bottlenose dolphins that swim in water with a high content of algae blooms. There were cases where dolphins were developing neurodegenerative diseases more significantly than previously thought. Scientists now are questioning why

The biggest culprit is likely to be cyanobacteria, Thompson said.

“This toxin research is still preliminary, though, and a lot of research needs to be done to see just how significant this potential correlation and link is,” she said.

Thompson said moviegoers should expect a provocative movie-going experience.

“The movie is a serious look at what the algae could be doing to our brains and it’s quite provocative because of that,” Thompson said.

Following the movie showing, a panel consisting of Lisa Rinaman, a St. Johns River Keeper and other scientists will answer questions from the audience.

“We don’t just want to show the film and have everyone go home scared of the water around them,” Thompson said. “We want this film to raise questions and we [the panel of experts] want to see those questions answered.”

Thompson said the algae has been in Clay County water for years, but only recently has scientists learned of its effects. Because the algae thrive in warm water, it often appears in the middle of the summer. The first cyanobacteria bloom was reported on April 10, which is months earlier than usual.

“That raises our concerns because that’s so much earlier than we anticipate,” Thompson said. “We had a mild winter and there’s been a lot of rain and heat since then so that, among other elements, are what we attribute to the [blooms] starting so early.”

If you’re interested in seeing “Toxic Puzzle,” you can register at the St. Johns River Keeper website. The movie starts at 7 p.m. and is free.


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