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Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research

NCCOS scientists draw up a sample from a simulated salt-marsh ecosystem that has been exposed to an herbicide to study how its chemistry changes and where it travels, as well as how it effects on marsh plants, animals, and microorganisms.

We answer questions about the impacts of environmental stress and change on the function ecosystems and health of coastal resources and people. Major research programs include:

  • Harmful Algal Bloom Research and Analytical Response
  • Pollution and Land Use Impacts on Coastal Waters and Resources
  • Coastal Ecology and Regional Ecosystem Assessments
  • Ecological Response to Climate Change

Harmful Algal Bloom Research and Analytical Response

Leadership: Dr. John Ramsdell 843-762-8510

We use advanced technology to study complex problems, developing novel approaches to reduce impacts of harmful algal blooms (HABs) on marine animal health, human health, and quality of the coastal environment. Through our research, technology transfer and delivery of information, we respond to an array of issues caused by harmful algae and marine biotoxins.

Key actions and accomplishments:
  • Developed methods to identify algal toxins in multiple species of marine animals and established an Analytical Response Team that applied these methods while investigating 200+ HAB events.
  • Established the Phytoplankton Monitoring Network as an education and outreach program using schools, NGOs and volunteer groups. This citizen science network spans 14 coastal states/territories and over 200 volunteer sites, monitoring for HAB species and ground-truthing satellite detection of blooms.
  • Developed and validated the first autonomous algal species and toxin sensor for an underwater sampling device.
  • Demonstrated how a single poisoning event can progress to permanent neurological disease (e.g. epilepsy), lead to atypical aggressive behaviors and is more likely to affect animals during fetal life.
  • Wrote two 10-year U.S. National Plans for Marine Biotoxins and Harmful Algae.

Pollution and Land Use Impacts on Coastal Waters and Resources

Leadership: Dr. Mike Fulton 843-762-8576

Development activities alter land use and landscape ecology, often increasing delivery of chemical and microbial pollutants into coastal waters and affecting the environment and people. Pollution events (e.g oil spills) can also produce short and long-term environmental impacts. We use combined measures of contaminant concentrations, their toxicity to organisms, and conditions of living resources to develop statistical and spatial models for resource managers. Our science and tools allow managers to predict impacts from coastal development and pollution events and test strategies that can mitigate impacts on coastal ecosystem health and quality of life.

Key actions and accomplishments:

  • Assessed chemical contaminant risks in sediments that led to the development of sediment quality guidelines to manage coastal zone dredging, industrial discharges and non-point source pollution runoff.
  • Established mesocosm facility for experiments on organisms under simulated field condition, inclusive of studies on the effects of oil and dispersants in salt marsh systems.
  • Developed analytical methods to determine the occurrence and distribution of legacy chemicals and those of emerging concern, such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products.
  • Identified and modeled land-based sources of pathogens and their impacts on the health of humans, fish, and shellfish.
  • Developed a pilot Environmental Surveillance Network with State, Federal and Academic partners as an early warning system for unusual mortality events.

Coastal Ecology and Regional Ecosystem Assessments

Leadership: Dr. Jeff Hyland 843-762-8652

We survey benthic communities and habitat characteristics to determine how environmental conditions change with time, and assess the social, economic and biological effects of human activities on coastal ecosystems. These local to large regional scale integrated assessments are vital to coastal management decisions and we usually partner with Federal, state, and local managers and researchers.

Key actions and accomplishments:

  • Established baseline characterizations of ecological resources and potential stressor impacts throughout U.S. estuarine and coastal ocean waters, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries and National Estuarine Research Reserves.
  • Produce the National Coastal Condition Report - the Nation's report card on the quality and condition of US Coastal Waters – in partnership with EPA.
  • Developed diagnostic indicators for assessing and predicting biological consequences of chemical contamination and eutrophication.
  • Established a research program with EPA and state agencies to evaluate the environmental health of South Carolina estuaries in support of biennial National Coastal Condition Reports.
  • Developed an Integrated Ecosystem Assessment for Chesapeake Bay, addressing the state of “fishable” waters and how they might be affected by climate change and coastal development.

Ecological Response to Climate Change (Cooperative Oxford Laboratory)

Leadership: Dr. Bob Wood, Director, 410-226-5196

We are charged with defining the cause and effect relationships between ecosystem stressors and the health of coastal resources, and with creating products, models, and advice that will inform public policies and coastal management decisions at local, state, and national levels.

Learn more about the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory.

Facility and Personnel

Leadership: Paul Comar, Acting Director - 843-762-8558

From campuses in both Charleston, SC, and Oxford, Maryland, our 100 staff engage across NCCOS, NOAA and with federal and state agencies and other research institutes regionally, nationally and internationally to address the variety of coastal environmental issues.

The CCEHBR Charleston Laboratory is 45,000 sq.ft. that includes chemistry, toxicology, molecular, microbiology, and ecology laboratories. We have separate facilities for culture of coral species as well as challenge laboratories to simulate and assess impacts climate and stress changes. There is a similar building for the challenge of fish and invertebrates to chemical contaminants and a greenhouse-enclosed, salt marsh mesocosm with tidal influence to assess the effects of contaminants under conditions simulating a southeastern US estuarine habitat.

The Cooperative Oxford Laboratory (in Oxford, MD) addresses NOAA's mission as a collaborative research facility with on-site partners: MD Department of Natural Resources, the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office, and the US Coast Guard. From our 13,000 sq.ft. laboratory with newly constructed labs for fish and shellfish pathogen exposure, modeling and assessment, and molecular and microbiology and via intensive partnerships in the region, we plan and conduct research and predictive modeling for coastal management applications, with particular emphasis in the Chesapeake Bay.