Home > Explore News > NCCOS Funds $6.8M for New and Continuing Harmful Algal Bloom Research

NCCOS Funds $6.8M for New and Continuing Harmful Algal Bloom Research

Published on: 09/06/2018

NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) is pleased to announce support for 28 new and continuing harmful algal bloom (HAB) research awards in 2018. These awards, totaling $6.8M, fund projects around the Nation through the ECOHAB, MERHAB, and PCMHAB programs and involve over 85 scientists across 54 institutions around the United States.

“NCCOS is funding the latest scientific research to support environmental managers trying to cope with increasing and recurring toxic algae that continue to impact marine and human health and coastal economies,” said NCCOS Director Steve Thur, PhD. “Improved understanding of these coastal harmful algal bloom threats will lead to better predictions, mitigation and possibly solutions in impacted U.S. coastal regions.”

NCCOS HAB competitive research programs develop science-based solutions to address expanding HAB impacts that are affecting coastal resources and economies in every U.S. coastal region. HAB species and impacts vary regionally and NCCOS projects are advancing the understanding of bloom toxicity, applying new technologies to detect HABs and their toxins in the field, producing HAB forecasts, and exploring HAB prevention and control methods. Summaries of new and continued research projects by region are below. NCCOS projects are the result of a rigorous competitive peer-review process that ensures support for the highest quality science.

Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean

Karenia brevis, the Florida red tide alga that occurs throughout the Gulf, causes mortality of fish, turtles, marine mammals, and birds, neurotoxic shellfish poisoning (NSP), and respiratory irritation in beachgoers. Gambierdiscus species, which grow on coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, cause fish to become so toxic that human consumers become ill with ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP).  Newly funded research projects will help determine the processes that terminate red tides and help mitigate toxin effects in threatened Florida manatees. Continued research will help the State of Florida improve its already-rigorous NSP monitoring and management framework.  It will also fund the development of models for predicting CFP in reef-dwelling fish.

Lake Erie

The Great Lakes, and western Lake Erie in particular, are subject to cyanobacterial HABs, primarily Microcystis that can produce microcystins, liver toxins that can contaminate drinking water, harm wildlife, and prevent recreational use of water bodies.  Current Lake Erie HAB forecasts can predict Microcystis biomass, but the cells are not always toxic.  Newly funded and continuing research will take different approaches to predicting the actual toxicity of Microcystis blooms in Lake Erie in order to provide early warning and improve management of drinking water and recreational use.

New England

Along the New England coast blooms of Alexandrium produce neurotoxins that can accumulate in shellfish, causing Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) in human consumers.   To protect human health, sections of the coast must be closed to shellfish harvesting.  New research will investigate how microscopic animals control the growth and toxicity of Alexandrium.  Continuing research will use remote toxin sensors to determine how shellfish in the eastern Gulf of Maine become toxic.  The information from both studies will be incorporated into predictive models that forecast when and where Alexandrium blooms will occur in the Gulf of Maine helping state managers and the shellfish industry protect public health and minimize economic disruption.

Chesapeake and Delaware Bays

The Chesapeake and Delaware Bays are subject to a variety of HABs that can kill fish and shellfish. While they do not threaten human health, they can have severe impacts on fisheries and aquaculture. New funding will support research in Delaware Bay investigating the role of nitric oxide in promoting blooms of Heterosigma.  In the lower Chesapeake Bay a new study to better predict Margalefidinium (formerly Cochlodinium) and Alexandrium monilatum blooms and a continuing project on the toxicity and food web impacts of A. monilatum will help the shellfish industry minimize their impacts. A study of a naturally occurring compound that may control some toxic HABs will continue to test its effectiveness and environmental impacts.


Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP)-causing Pseudo-nitzschia is of particular concern along the California coast. New research will improve modeling efforts to predict Pseudo-nitzschia blooms off Southern California and support environmental management efforts. A continuing project to understand the controlling factors of Pseudo-nitzschia toxin production and bloom formation will also help to improve early warning models.  Another continuing project is providing a strategy to add monitoring of multiple marine and freshwater HAB toxins (microcystins, ASP-, DSP-, PSP-causing) occurring simultaneously in shellfish and other organisms in estuaries, an emerging ecosystem and public health problem.

Pacific Northwest and Alaska

Both PSP and ASP are problems in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, impacting commercial, recreational and tribal subsistence shellfish harvesting.  A continuing project is transitioning an early warning system for Pseudo-nitzschia for Oregon and Washington ocean beaches, and another project aims to uncover the mechanisms behind wintertime occurrences of PSP- toxicity in geoduck clam fisheries in Southeast Alaska. Predictive modeling and HAB monitoring provide managers with an early warning of when and where toxic blooms will affect shellfish harvests providing better public health protection and safeguarding coastal economies.

National Projects

Dinophysis, the HAB causing Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP) has suddenly appeared in multiple areas in the U.S. in the last ten years.  Continuing research supports a cross regional study to find common factors that have led to the sudden appearance of this emerging HAB and to improve monitoring.  Another continuing project is testing methods of measuring DSP toxins in shellfish in order to protect human health.


Full list of new awards here.

For more information, contact Elizabeth.Turner@noaa.gov.

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