Contact: Ben Sherman
NOAA News Releases 2005
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today it is providing $540,000 to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to support continuing harmful algal bloom research. The grant comes as scientists and coastal managers aim to better understand the causes and impacts of harmful algal blooms in New England waters. New England is currently recovering from the largest bloom since 1972 of Alexandrium Fundeyense, a microscopic algae commonly known as red tide.

“As the immediate bloom impacts recede, it is vitally important that the scientific community has the resources to continue its harmful algal bloom research,” said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “These funds will support a significant follow-up cruise this fall when scientists will seek to determine how widespread the Alexandrium cysts have spread, and whether or not they are harbingers of future blooms. Our goal is to be able to forecast these blooms so that coastal managers can implement plans that will mitigate the impacts on the public and the economy.”

“Southern New England just experienced a massive harmful algal bloom, or red tide, that was the worst in the region for at least 30 years,” said Woods Hole’s Donald M. Anderson, Ph.D., lead investigator in the response effort. “Throughout the outbreak, a NOAA-WHOI partnership allowed our scientists to obtain data that was of great value to state and federal officials and managers. These new funds from NOAA will help us process and analyze the tremendous amount of data that was collected during the outbreak, and allow us to map out the 'footprint' that the bloom left behind in the form of dormant cysts that can initiate new blooms next year, much like the seeds of terrestrial plants do.”

The funding is the fourth NOAA grant to WHOI this year. NOAA has awarded $570,600 in FY2005 to support the ongoing New England monitoring and research effort.

“Massachusetts is very grateful to NOAA for the leadership and assistance they provided during the red tide outbreak,” said Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey. “We will continue to do everything possible to provide relief for the victims of red tide and find ways to monitor and prevent subsequent outbreaks. This grant will enable our scientists to do just that, and it is to NOAA’s immense credit that they are taking such a progressive approach to the issue of funding both disaster relief and prevention efforts.”

Red tide blooms create potent neurotoxins that accumulate in filter-feeding shellfish and other parts of the marine food web. Shellfish contaminated with this red tide toxin, if eaten in enough quantity, can cause illness or death – a poisoning syndrome called paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP.

“The toxic cells that caused this bloom were more numerous and spread farther south than ever before,“ said Anderson. “We are concerned that the species may have colonized new areas and extended its range of impact. By mapping the cyst distribution and then modeling and observing the development of the bloom next spring, we can provide information to state managers that can guide their monitoring and regulatory decisions.”

Blooms of Alexandrium Fundyense occur periodically in the Gulf of Maine, but rarely at the density and geographic extent seen this year. The harmful algal bloom spread into Massachusetts Bay last month and forced the closure of shellfish beds as far south as Buzzards Bay, Nantucket Island, and Martha’s Vineyard. As water temperatures warm, state coastal managers have continually tested shellfish beds for toxin levels and have, over the past few weeks, begun to once again allow shellfish harvesting in certain locations.

The Food and Drug Administration requested closure of federal waters, which remains in place. NOAA officials emphasize that commercially available seafood is safe to eat, and that residents and visitors to the region should follow the guidelines offered by local officials.

The Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System, one of the regional components of the emerging United States Integrated Ocean Observing System, has also been a crucial component in monitoring the HAB spread. Through its observation posts it is able to track water temperature, currents and other environmental factors that can contribute to a red tide bloom and spread.

“The integration of observing system data with computer models during a harmful algal bloom points to the growing importance of ocean observing systems,” notes Richard Spinrad, assistant administrator of NOAA’s Ocean Service that is overseeing the NOAA response to the current bloom. “Economic impacts of HAB events can be devastating to local regions, and hopefully we will, in the near future, be able to forecast them in advance and take steps to mitigate their impacts.”

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through research to better understand weather and climate-related events and to manage wisely the nation's coastal and marine resources.

On the Web:


National Ocean Service:

NOS Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research:

NOAA New England Red Tide Information Center:

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution:

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Red Tides in New England: