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All Mississippi beaches close as toxic algae bloom blankets state's coast

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 7/7/2019 Greg Hilburn

MONROE, La. – All of Mississippi's Gulf Coast beaches have been closed for swimming as the expanding bloom of toxic blue-green algae blankets the state's waters.

On Sunday, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality announced the closures of Pascagoula Beach West and Pascagoula Beach East, the final two state beaches that were open for swimming.

All of Mississippi's 21 beaches have now been closed.

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Mississippi's beaches are a popular spot for southern vacationers because of their close proximity.

A water contact advisory for a segment of the Jourdan River in Hancock County, Mississippi, has also been issued. 

Closures don't prevent the use of beaches for sun bathing or recreation, but people and pets shouldn't swim in the water. The agency also advises anyone exposed to wash with soap and water and to refrain from eating fish or any other seafood taken from affected areas.

The algal bloom, or rapid growth, is in part caused to the opening of the Bonnet Carre spillway in Louisiana, which introduced an excessive amount of freshwater to the coastline.

The blue-green algae is technically not an algae, but cyanobacteria, which is known to produce toxins. Exposure can cause rashes, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.

a man standing next to a river © Provided by USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Satellite Information Network, Inc.

At this point,  the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources has not detected toxins at harmful levels, but that can quickly change. Because of that, the agency is performing ongoing testing.

Even though harmful levels of cyanobacteria toxins have not been detected, state agencies are advising against consuming fish or other seafood from water where the bloom is present.

"We want to make sure we don't take that chance," Joe Spraggins, the agency's executive director, said June 26. "Any marine life from that area should not be eaten.

"We know it can be ingested by marine life. We advise you not to eat it even if it's cooked."

However, Spraggins repeated that the advisory against taking fish and seafood is limited to the impacted areas.

"The other areas, we don't think there's an issue," Spraggins said. "The other seafood in the Gulf should be perfectly fine and we have no reason to believe otherwise."

Mark Wright of Legends of the Lower Marsh fishing charters said he's been avoiding the algae since the bloom began and taking his clients fishing in cleaner, saltier water.

"We're still able to catch fish. We're able to take our clients and have a good time."

a body of water: A small patch of toxic blue-green algae can be seen floating on a tide line on the Mississippi coast. © Mark Wright/Special to Clarion Ledger A small patch of toxic blue-green algae can be seen floating on a tide line on the Mississippi coast. Follow Greg Hilburn on Twitter: @GregHilburn1. Contributing: Brian Bloom, Mississippi Clarion Ledger. 

This article originally appeared on Monroe News Star: All Mississippi beaches close as toxic algae bloom blankets state's coast

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