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US ocean service outlines new $15M research grants into harmful algal blooms

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One of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute's long-range autonomous underwater vehicles makes its way through algae-rich waters in Lake Erie to track the harmful algal blooms in 2019 as part of a research collaboration with NOAA. Photo Credit: Ben Yair Raanan, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

The largest governmental ocean science service in the U.S. is investing US$15.2 million into new research projects about the biological and financial impacts of algal blooms on coastal and Great Lakes waters, with the aim of improving the ability to monitor, forecast and manage the toxic harmful algal blooms.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, better known as NOAA, announced that a number of projects have already been funded to help combat the some US$100 million in annual damage caused by harmful algal blooms, which produce toxins that can damage ecosystems, disrupt food and drinking water supplies, and threaten human and animal health.

Most of the new funding, some US$12.4 million in the form of grants, will flow through NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS).

“Through NCCOS, NOAA continues to fund the latest scientific research to support managers and coastal communities across the country trying to cope with increasing and recurring toxic algae that continue to affect environmental and human health,” announced David Kidwell, a competitive research program director at NOAA.

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One of the new research projects will use the grants to explore bloom-fighting methods like clay dispersal, popular in China and Korea with the use of the benign mineral kaolinite. Researchers will be using field experiments to demonstrate how efficient the clay particles are at binding with target cells. Billed as a US$2.2 million project, the efforts would target Karenia brevis blooms in southwest Florida.

Another currently funded project already in the works will be US$1.5 million to improve the bloom detection capabilities of autonomous underwater vessels in Ohio and Louisiana, NOAA announced.

More autonomous vehicle funding is also set for the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory, Ocean Aero, and partners, who have been awarded US$1 million for a project to enable offshore harmful algal bloom (HAB) sampling using the autonomous surface vehicle Triton.

“This augmented sampling capability will offer more opportunities for early detection — before offshore HABs and toxins reach inshore areas where there is increased risk to human health and fisheries,” NOAA’s Integrated Ocean Observing System Office (IOOS) said in a statement.

Also in store is an optimized early warning program and web-based mapping system to mitigate the impact of HABs on shellfish in the Pacific Northwest. The project will look at rapid toxin screening protocols in seawater and determine threshold levels of shellfish-killing HABs that harm or kill bivalve shellfish, announced NCCOS.

“Projects funded this year cover most of the U.S. continental coast, including the Great Lakes, and Alaska,” Carl Gouldman, director of the U.S. IOOS office, said in a statement. “IOOS will continue to leverage local and national resources and expertise to identify innovative methods to address coastal hazards like HABs which pose a threat to lives and livelihoods everywhere,” he added.

IOOS is also allocating US$2.8 million for projects under the National Harmful Algal Bloom Observing Network, which uses high-level regional analysis of existing efforts to monitor and forecast HABS, identifying gaps in observational capabilities.

Eight IOOS regional associations will receive a combined US$1.5 million for two new and five continuing pilot programs to support the detection, forecasting, and monitoring of harmful algal blooms. Some of these projects include observation systems in California, the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Erie.

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