Major Accomplishments of 2010
The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) supports competitively-funded, regional, multiyear, multidisciplinary ecosystem research, modeling, and information delivery activities to improve predictions and management decisions in the coastal ocean and Great Lakes. In 2010 NCCOS advanced understanding and developed tools for management in three major research areas: hypoxia, deep light-dependent coral reefs, and harmful algal blooms.
NCCOS Leads National Efforts to Provide the Scientific Basis for Management of Coastal Hypoxia
The release and publication of the NOAA-led and NCCOS-staff supported Scientific Assessment of Hypoxia in U.S. Coastal Waters and special journal issue publication Ecological Impacts of Hypoxia on Living Resources represents the culmination of a multi-year effort to assess the scientific foundation for managing coastal hypoxia.
The interagency Scientific Assessment of Hypoxia in U.S. Coastal Waters, released by the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, assesses current advances in federal hypoxia and watershed research and provides recommendations for future research and interagency coordination. Complimenting this assessment was a special issue publication in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology on the impacts of hypoxia to living resources.
The special issues highlighted previously unknown impacts and addressed an important knowledge gap in the science and management of hypoxia. NCCOS, which implements the national hypoxia research programs under the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act, has devoted a considerable portion of its research portfolio to advancing the scientific understanding of hypoxia.
Highlighting these efforts were announcements by NCCOS-supported scientists that indicated the predicted and measured size of the large hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. These findings, coupled with the release of the two national assessments, have directly informed and guided efforts of the interagency Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force, which is charged with the development of strategies to mitigate hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.
Research on Thriving “Middle Light” Reefs Offers Hope to Shallow Degraded Reefs
Scientists funded by NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) have found extensive and biologically diverse “mesophotic” coral ecosystems off of La Parguera, Puerto Rico and the island of Maui in Hawaii.
“Mesophotic” coral ecosystems – ‘meso’ for middle and ‘photic’ for light – occur at depths between 30-150 meters (about 100-490 feet) and are the deepest of the light-dependent coral reefs. Too deep for exploration with traditional scuba gear, these reefs have until recently remained largely a mystery because of the cost and technical difficulty of reaching them. Through two competitively awarded research programs, a major international workshop and a dedicated theme in an issue of the journal Coral Reefs.
NCCOS has furthered the understanding of little known mesophotic coral ecosystems and the role they play in tropical and sub-tropical regions. In Puerto Rico, where the overall health of shallow coral reefs and the abundance of reef fish are in decline, scientists are finding fish species at mesophotic depths that were once common inhabitants of shallow reefs such as groupers, snappers, and reef sharks.
These findings have increased the hope of local resource managers that these coral reefs may help “restore” shallower ecosystems, as well as identified a clear need to extend protections to mesophotic coral ecosystems.
Progress in Safeguarding Coastal Resources and Public Health in Every U.S. Coastal Region Impacted by Toxic Harmful Algal Blooms
NCCOS achieved significant milestones in its long-term strategic research and development investments to develop detection, predictive modeling, and data integration capabilities needed to issue early warnings to impacted communities and move these advancements into sustained operations.
In the Gulf of Mexico, NCCOS helped to transition to the NOAA Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) an operational forecast system for Texas, completing the planned expansion of the NOAA Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Forecast system to better mitigate impacts from Red Tide.
Also last year, researchers and volunteer monitors sponsored by NCCOS alerted Texas coastal managers of a bloom that can cause severe gastric distress in people who eat shellfish which prompted the state to temporarily close many shellfish harvesting areas.
In the Gulf of Maine, NCCOS and external partners released a seasonal forecast and regular updates on HAB abundance and estimated toxin levels helping state managers plan for the upcoming shellfish season. A novel cross-line office partnership leveraged the use of the NOAA Weather Radio to distribute warnings from shellfish managers to the public, reaching even the most remote Maine coastal communities.
In the Chesapeake Bay, NCCOS and state partners connected existing state monitoring with a new predictive modeling platform to produce forecasts for sea nettles, HABs and pathogens and is now being considered for inclusion into the NOAA National Weather Service transition to operation system, a first for an ecological forecast application.
In Oregon, an NCCOS-sponsored integrated near and offshore HAB monitoring effort provided an early warning of elevated toxin levels helping the state manage the impacts to Oregon’s recreational shellfishery. The pilot is generating critical, previously missing data needed to advance NCCOS goals of establishing a West coast-wide HAB monitoring and forecasting system for incorporation into the National system.