September 25th, 2006 08:08 EST
Research Targets Public Health and Economic Impacts of Harmful Algal Blooms
A new report, Harmful Algal Research and Response: A Human Dimensions Strategy, proposes a detailed implementation plan for the research necessary to reduce the public health, sociocultural and economic impacts of harmful algal blooms, or HABS. The report was the result of a workshop coordinated by the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and provides guidance for implementation of the President's Ocean Action Plan.
Harmful algal blooms are proliferations of microscopic algae that harm the environment and humans by producing toxins that accumulate in shellfish and fish, pollute drinking and swimming water, and contaminate coastal air. Increases in the number, frequency and type of harmful algal blooms have become a critical issue in near shore marine waters and freshwater environments globally. Direct economic impacts of HABS in the United States average $75 million annually, including impacts on public health costs, commercial fishing closures, recreation and tourism losses, and in management and monitoring costs.
"A major goal of the President's Ocean Action Plan is to develop ocean and coastal research priorities. This report provides a coordinated national commitment to harmful algal bloom research, research that is a significant part of the NOAA mission to enhance our understanding of ecosystems and with the impact of human populations on them," said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.
Specific research needs identified in the report include assessing the socio-cultural and economic impacts of harmful algal blooms; developing outreach strategies that reduce public exposure; identifying susceptible populations; enhancing interagency and stakeholder coordination; and identifying strategies to reduce the impacts of algal toxins in recreational and drinking waters. The report serves as a framework for research on the human dimensions of coastal ecosystems, research that will promote resilience of coastal communities to other hazards such as pollution and hurricanes.
Human dimensions research provides a research strategy that expands on the public health and socioeconomic impacts critically needed to reduce environmental and human impacts of harmful algal blooms. The report is available on the NOAA Web site.
The human health impacts of harmful algal blooms are profound. Exposure to certain toxins by inhaling sea spray, consuming contaminated fish or shellfish, or swimming in contaminated waters can cause rashes, respiratory distress, other illnesses and death in susceptible individuals.
Closure of beaches and fisheries can result in significant lost revenue for coastal and linked economies dependent on seafood harvest or tourism. Sociocultural impacts include disruption of subsistence activities, loss of community identity tied to coastal resource use, and disruption of social relationships and cultural practices.
The report was developed by NOAA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in association with researchers from Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, University of Texas at San Antonio, Yuxi Teachers College (China), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, East Carolina University, Bowdoin College, Mote Marine Laboratory, the University of New Hampshire, Cornell University, University of Maryland, Central Washington University, and the Chesapeake Research Consortium.
In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. Starting with the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. The agency is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.
Relevant Web Sites
Harmful Algal Research and Response: A Human Dimensions Strategy (PDF)
NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science
NOAA Ocean Service
Ben Sherman, NOAA Ocean Service, (301) 713-3066
(Photos courtesy of Juli Dyble, NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab.)