New NOAA Program Awards $1 Million to Prevent and Control Harmful Algal Blooms Impacting Atlantic Coastal Communities

August 18, 2010

Scientists working on methods to prevent and control harmful algal blooms impacting coastal communities along the Atlantic coast have been awarded more than $1 million for the first year of an anticipated $2 million, multi-year NOAA research grant. This funding supports three projects under the newly initiated Prevention, Control and Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms program.

Many types of algae are present in Atlantic waters. While most are non-threatening, some are harmful to the marine environment, coastal economies and can even cause serious human illnesses. Advances in monitoring and forecasting give an early warning of impending blooms but impacted communities and businesses have requested new methods to combat harmful algal species and their costly impacts. The three newly announced projects tackle this challenge by developing methods to prevent harmful blooms from forming and to control or reduce existing blooms or bloom impacts. NOAA’s new program will transition the best of these methods into new coastal resource management strategies.

One of the three projects, to be led by Don Anderson, Ph.D., of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, will test a strategy to reduce or possibly eliminate toxic blooms of the New England alga Alexandrium fundyense in estuaries and bays. This strategy is of great interest in the region as Alexandrium blooms now routinely force closures of economically important shellfisheries. Researchers will study whether smothering the organisms’ dormant seed-like cysts with thin layers of bottom sediment will reduce the number of newly hatched cells that can get into the water column and initiate a bloom. This approach could be successful in limiting the size of the blooms and shortening the duration of toxicity. Repeated treatments over time may also ultimately prevent the formation of blooms.

Two additional projects will focus on strategies to prevent or control blooms of other harmful algal species in the Mid-Atlantic region. One team, led by Kathryn Coyne, Ph.D., of the University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean and Environment, will investigate whether a promising chemical isolated from a naturally occurring bacterium can be used to selectively kill cells or inhibit toxin production of Karlodinium veneficum, Prorocentrum minimum and other common harmful algal species that kill hatchery shellfish, produce large fish kills and lead to seagrass die-offs in mid-Atlantic coastal waters. Investigations may lead to a natural product that gives managers a direct way to control or eliminate harmful algal blooms.

Another team, led by Allen Place, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, will test the efficiency of using suspended clays to remove toxic blooms of Microcystis aeruginosa from the water. The team of researchers will also assess whether this technique will have an impact on submerged aquatic vegetation, clams and fish.

“Great strides have been made toward understanding why blooms occur as well as improvements in predicting their occurrence and in monitoring,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin. “We are now able to envision situations where we can limit or control blooms, thereby limiting their impacts on human health and Bay resources. We are very excited to be part of this initial research, and to work with NOAA and our other partners to help make this vision a reality.”

This program is authorized by the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998 and 2004. PCMHAB is designed to encourage the development of promising technologies and strategies to end-users to protect fisheries, coastal resources and public health.

“Harmful algal blooms pose a real and significant threat to humans, animals and the coastal environment,” said Russell Callender, acting director of NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, the office that fulfills NOAA responsibilities under the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act. “The new PCMHAB program adds an important focus on developing proactive management solutions so that one day we may even be able to stop some blooms before they start.”

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