Algal Blooms Harmful To Health, Economy, And Summer Fun

2019-08-22T17:01:16+00:00 September 4, 2018|

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What It Was

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard hearing titled, “Harmful Algal Blooms: The Impact on Our Nation’s Waters.”

Why It Matters

Several areas of the U.S., including the Great Lakes, Alaska, and both coasts of Florida, are experiencing unsafe growth of harmful algae. This intense growth is called a bloom and can be detrimental to humans and wildlife. While algae naturally occurs in water, its growth can be increased by water temperature, sunlight, and nutrients that are either directly added to the water or that run off from the nearby land. This summer’s blooms are leading to problems that are national in scope, including illnesses from consuming tainted water and seafood, closures of recreational areas, and growing financial cost. Unfortunately, there aren’t yet good ways to prevent and mitigate harmful algal blooms (HABs).

Key Points

There are many types of algae categorized as harmful. Humans are affected by blooms that become airborne (e.g., red tide), which can irritate the respiratory tract, or when they eat seafood that has consumed the algae. The consumption of harmful algae by marine life is a problem for the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries.

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Dan Sullivan stated, “Harmful algal blooms have killed 15 and sickened hundreds of [Alaskans] and have also imposed serious financial consequences on our seafood industry across the country.” Witnesses from the Great Lakes and coastal regions agreed and noted that the problem is intensifying. They testified that no state is safe from HABs and described 2018’s beach closures, fish deaths, and human illnesses. Dr. Don Anderson (Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Director of the Coastal Ocean Institute) highlighted the financial burden of HABS, whose costs over the last few decades have exceeded $10-$20 billion.

Witnesses highlighted scientific and technological advancements for monitoring, alerting, understanding, and predicting the presence of HABs in fresh- and saltwater environments. Mr. Bryan Stubbs (Executive Director and President of the Board, Cleveland Water Alliance) told the committee about a sensing system in the Great Lakes measuring the nutrients that assist algae growth. Mr. Ivory Engstrom (Director of Special Projects, McLane Research Laboratories, Inc.) stressed the importance of federal funding for innovation and described the Environmental Sample Processor, developed by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, which can perform real-time genetic testing and allows for earlier warning.

Committee Ranking Member Bill Nelson (FL) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Tammy Baldwin (WI) stated toxic algal blooms have ruined summer recreation and tourism in their states this year, explaining people do not want to visit green water or breathe the airborne red tide.

Numerous pieces of legislation that would provide resources for HABs research have been introduced in both chambers, but only the Senate has made progress by passing the bipartisan Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2017 (S. 1057), which would reauthorize the 1998 law (P.L. 113-124) until 2023. The senators urged action by the House to pass a bill either as a companion or continuation of S. 1057 that would reauthorize funds to study, understand, and mitigate the intensifying HABs across the U.S.


“A key take-away message is that HABs, in their various forms, are a national problem that requires a comprehensive national research, monitoring, and mitigation strategy.” – Dr. Don Anderson, Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Director of the Coastal Ocean Institute

“If the U.S. is to boost its domestic aquaculture output while maintaining the highest standards of seafood safety, we must consider how tools can assist in enhancing protection efforts and HAB mitigation.” – Mr. Ivory Engstrom, Director of Special Projects, McLane Research Laboratories, Inc.

Find Out More

Watch the full hearing


Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership

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