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NOAA awards grant to advance harmful algal bloom warnings to protect public and animal health in coastal California

This article originally appeared on the NOAA website.

Scientists researching harmful algal bloom “hot spots” off southern and central California have been awarded $821,673 for the first year of an anticipated 5-year $4,076,929 project to investigate methods that could provide early warning detection of the toxic blooms, also known as red tides.

The research is being conducted in partnership with two U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System partners — the Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System and the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System. The teams will combine the detection and monitoring of the toxic blooms with ocean models that can forecast ocean conditions, potentially leading to bloom predictions.

The project will boost the capabilities of California management agencies to safeguard living resources, public health, and economies. As Gregg Langlois, senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Public Health notes, “Improving our understanding of the environmental conditions that are conducive to a toxic bloom would help focus our sampling effort so we can alert the public to dangerous toxin levels in seafood.”

Some species of red tides produce a toxin that when eaten can lead to potentially fatal human illness. The toxins can also cause illness and death in marine mammals and birds. This project will allow scientists to detect and measure levels of some toxic cells in water samples, providing officials with an early warning of increased likelihood of toxic shellfish. The research will also address the question of whether nutrient pollution from the land is enhancing toxic algal blooms.

Research will be carried out at the University of California Santa Cruz, the University of Southern California, Moss Landing Marine Laboratory, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, University of California Los Angeles, and NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

“This new effort will help us address a critical gap in past research, namely understanding the conditions leading to toxic blooms before they become a problem,” said Raphael M. Kudela, professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz and project lead. “We are particularly excited because the project combines expertise from research and state public health managers in California with the developing national observing network established by NOAA.”

The study was funded through a national competition of the Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB) Program run by NOAA’s National Ocean Service/National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

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