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The Anthropology of Pfiesteria

Michael Paolisso, Principal Investigator
Erve Chambers, Co-Principal Investigator

Shawn Maloney, Research Coordinator

During the summer of 1997, blooms of the dinoflagellate Pfiesteria piscicida in three tributaries along the lower Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay were associated with fish kills and possible human health problems.  The Pfiesteria blooms resulted in great scientific and public interest in the possible ecological and human health effects.  In an effort to complement ecological and health research on Pfiesteria, members of the Resource Management and Cultural Processes track initiated a study of the cultural understanding that stakeholders were using to understand and respond to the risks posed by this dinoflagellate.  This question was particularly important since there was such a strong media and public response to the possible health and ecological risks of Pfiesteria, which reached such a high level that popular media in the region referred to the response as “hysteria about Pfiesteria.”  The research completed under this project identified key cultural beliefs and values that farmers, environmentalists, watermen and scientists draw upon to frame their personal and professional understanding of the causes and consequences of Pfiesteria.

Funding for this project was provided by the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, University of Maryland, and the National Science Foundation.


University of Maryland | Department of Anthropology | 1111 Woods Hall | College Park, MD 20742