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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute will continue research to enhance state harmful algal bloom monitoring efforts under a $600,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Harmful algal bloom events along Florida’s west coast, also called red tides, cause respiratory distress when airborne toxins are inhaled by beachgoers, and illness when people eat tainted shellfish. Red tides often result in extensive fish kills, and may infrequently kill dolphins, manatees and other marine animals. The negative impacts of these red tides can threaten the economic livelihood of many Florida beach communities.

“This project will help Florida communities reduce the public health threat of toxic red tides and will further NOAA efforts to understand and predict harmful algal bloom events in the Gulf of Mexico,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “NOAA recognizes that no one entity can provide all the components of this observing system and relies on partnerships with leading Florida institutions to create scientifically sound information on harmful algal blooms that reinforce NOAA’s commitment to the environment.”

The grant is from the Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms program, managed by NOAA Ocean Service, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research, Coastal Ocean Program. It will provide crucial support for the extensive field-testing and validation needed before new methods can be incorporated into the state's monitoring program. This MERHAB award will produce field data that will strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of the NOAA HAB forecast bulletin for Florida and the Gulf of Mexico that becomes operational October 1.

Through MERHAB, NOAA’s Coastal Ocean Program is engaging key academic and state partners to develop harmful algae detection and tracking tools — vital components of a red tide observation system — that will benefit managers in Florida and other states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Including this grant, MERHAB has awarded $1.8 Million to FWRI for the first three years of this five-year research project. FWRI leads a team of scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory, the University of South Florida and the Florida Institute of Oceanography.

MERHAB researchers are developing, deploying and testing new red tide detection technologies such as genetic probes, which detect the presence of different red tide species at low background concentrations, and the “Breve Buster,” an optical detection device which has been adapted for use in an autonomous underwater glider used to investigate suspicious blooms. These technologies can also be used in sensor-packed drift vehicle that can remotely transmit ocean condition observations affecting blooms, then park on the seafloor until needed again. The MERHAB team has successfully integrated continuous, near real-time data from these multiple automated platforms into a networked harmful algal bloom observation system that is already benefiting Florida’s red tide response efforts.

"Detection of algal blooms that cause severe illness and possibly death in humans are one of the significant benefits from an integrated ocean observing system,” said Richard Spinrad, assistant administrator of the NOAA Ocean Service, which sponsored the research. “NOAA Ocean Service and its partners in state government and academia are producing new methods to detect harmful algal blooms, automating the process, and implementing the technologies into monitoring programs. Through research, NOAA is finding out more about what triggers blooms and transports their toxins, and is using these new abilities in early warning systems to help coastal managers.”

NOAA Ocean Service’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research, Coastal Ocean Program has awarded up to $30 million annually to academic, state, tribal and federal partners to assist NOAA in the study of our coastal oceans. Coastal Ocean Program research provides decision makers with reliable and timely scientific information. These research programs are critical to the NOAA mission of predicting environmental change, managing ocean resources and protecting life and property. NOAA-sponsored competitive research programs like MERHAB demonstrate NOAA's commitment to these basic responsibilities of science and service to the nation.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

On the Web:

NOAA Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms (MERHAB):

NOAA Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB):

New Underwater Vehicles and 'Gliders' Helping NCCOS Scientists Better Explore HABs: