SAMMAMISH, Wash. — A photograph displayed in Jacki and John Williford’s home commemorates a camping trip that would go down in family history.
The most memorable event from that outing in 2011 involved the mussels John and his two children collected from a dock near Sequim Bay State Park on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The family took them back to their campsite and steamed them in white wine with garlic and oregano.
“It was really good. Like the best mussels in the whole wide world,” remembers their son Jaycee, now 7. “And they were huge.”
But his little sister’s memories of that day aren’t quite as fond.
“They had poison in them.” says 4-year-old Jessica as her parents look on. “They drinked the poisoned water.”
The mussels the Willifords ate around the campfire that night were indeed poisoned. But it was a natural type of poison. The shellfish had sucked up a toxin produced by a certain type of algae called dinophysis.
Dinophysis has been found around the world and documented in Northwest waters for decades. But scientists think it’s becoming more toxic as ocean conditions change, in part due to climate change.