Harmful Algal Blooms kill fish, contaminate seafood and pollute our waters
Harmful algal bloom approaching a coastal community. The deep color some of the blooms produce is the reason these events are also known as “red tides”.
Marine and fresh waters teem with algae, much of it microscopic and harmless, which forms the base for our complex aquatic food webs. Some algae, though, produce potent toxins that can cause die-offs of marine animals like manatees and sicken or even kill us when we eat contaminated seafood or use tainted water. Other non-toxic algae produce high biomass that reduces water quality and damages critical marine habitat. Harmful algal blooms now impact every coastal region.
NOAA maintains an operational HAB forecasting system to help states and industry manage risks from harmful algal blooms that now impact every coastal region. NOAA routinely generates weekly HAB bulletins in the Gulf of Mexico and provides a weekly experimental forecast for western Lake Erie. In other regions, a cross program NOAA effort is advancing development of seasonal and weekly forecasts, new HAB sensors, and transitioning these systems into routine and reliable operations. NOAA investments in the Gulf of Maine HAB investments demonstrate this approach.
Real-time environmental data from IOOS has also proven critical for assessing HAB threats. In the Puget Sound, hourly ocean temperature and current data have helped scientists identify conditions that can trigger toxic algae outbreaks and make shellfish unsafe to eat supporting an alert to Puget Sound oyster growers. Integrating routine HAB cell and toxin abundance data into IOOS regional networks will enhance these alerts and our ability to predict movement of HAB events so decision makers can take targeted action, such as closing a beach to avoid illnesses caused by blooms of harmful algae.
Currently scientists must manually compile and convert various ocean and coastal data into the formats needed for each HAB forecast. Often HAB sensors are not available or data on cells and toxins cannot be included in a timely fashion. IOOS is working with partners to integrate this data so it is compatible and easily available from one place. This will make work more efficient for scientists, so they can spend less time managing data and more time improving models and forecasts.