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Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research

James Morris looking at a beaker with lionfish eggs
An NCCOS researcher looks into a beaker containing lionfish eggs. Our research focuses on injured habitat restoration, shoreline response to climate change, invasive species spread, and toxic algae species’ characterization and detection.

We conduct research on the effects of coastal habitat change and restoration on living marine resources such as seagrasses, marshes, reefs, and fish. Major programs include:

  • Ecology of Harmful Algal Blooms
  • Marine Restoration and Spatial Planning
  • Ecological Responses to Climate Change

Ecology of Harmful Algal Blooms

We develop tools for detecting and mitigating the risks of harmful algal to human health and coastal economies and ecosystems. Our algal toxin test kits and other molecular-based tools enhance the HAB monitoring capabilities of public health officials, tribal and state marine resource managers, commercial and subsistence fishermen, aquaculture facilities, and academic research programs. We are improving seafood safety and food security within the US and internationally.

Key Actions and Accomplishments

  • Developed and commercialized an algal toxin test kit for domoic acid in razor clams at the request of the northwest Pacific tribes.
  • Developed new approaches for rapidly identifying the toxic algae that cause ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP). Trained 30 Asian scientists in sampling and detection of CFP causing species.
  • Developed assays for the toxic algae causing paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) in Alaska and trained Alaskan public health officials, shellfish growers, state and federal resources managers and academic scientists.
  • Characterized environmental and physiological tolerances of toxic species to predict HAB range extensions and toxicity changes as a result of climate change.
  • Determined the sensitivity of toxic species to changes in nutrient availability. This information is used by water district and resource managers to decide on timing and volume of freshwater releases into coastal ecosystems.

Marine Restoration and Spatial Planning

We provide research and management guidance to improve marine spatial planning, specializing in evaluating effectiveness of protected areas and in siting aquaculture and restoration projects. Our capabilities include scientific and deep-technical diving and ROV and underwater acoustics. We also have expertise in the delineation, recovery and restoration of injured habitats and support federal, state and local habitat protection and restoration, including Department of Justice litigation of habitat injuries in public trust waters.

Key Actions and Accomplishments

  • Modeled wave energy and its impact on marine habitat and shoreline erosion. The models are used to site ferry terminals, marinas, and restoration projects.
  • Created a program to track, predict impacts, and slow the spread of the invasive species in Atlantic waters, including lionfish, Asian tiger shrimp, and tunicates.
  • Identified high productivity areas in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary to inform design of research-only area to reduce fishing impacts on coral reef ecosystems.
  • Developed seagrass and coral injury recovery models for damage assessment and restoration that have been used to negotiate over $1 million in compensatory claims.
  • Provided a geospatial framework for coastal resource management, spill response, tidal energy and spill response in Kachemak Bay Alaska.
  • Developed best management practices (BMPs) and use of models to reduce impacts of aquaculture activities in the coastal ocean.

Ecological Responses to Climate Change

We develop information and tools to help communities understand how sea level rise and weather extremes will impact their shorelines and waterfront properties. We also offer guidance for effective shoreline management based on enhancing the stabilization capabilities of natural shorelines, and we assist coastal communities in adapting to changing shorelines. Our Alaska team works with coastal managers and Alaska communities to anticipate and adapt to a changing environment, balance multiple coastal uses, and sustainably manage coastal resources.

Key Actions and Accomplishments

  • Developed the salt marsh monitoring protocol for the National Estuarine Research Reserve’s biological monitoring program
  • Mapped shorelines and assessed their vulnerability to erosion from sea level rise and boat wakes for the Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program.
  • Evaluated effectiveness of living vs. engineered shorelines for stabilization.
  • Identified factors affecting rates of carbon sequestration in marsh habitats.
  • Quantified ecosystem changes and assessed variability in ocean acidification in nearshore subarctic Alaska habitats.

Rice Library

The Rice Library has maintained a lending collection on the Beaufort, North Carolina campus for over 100 years. The collection contains marine science research materials that cover biology, botany, chemistry, coastal management, conservation, ecology, fisheries, habitat restoration, population dynamics, and pollution. The library serves not only local NCCOS research programs, but also government and academic research programs worldwide.

Facility and Personnel

Leadership: B. William Gottholm, Director, 252-728-8746

Over 100 NOAA employees are housed in our Beaufort, North Carolina and Kasitsna Bay, Alaska campuses. NCCOS manages the campuses. We share space with NOAA Fisheries and the North Carolina Estuarine Research Reserve staff in Beaufort, and offer field-housing to visiting researchers and students in Kasitsna Bay.

In partnership with the University of Alaska, public schools, tribal organizations, and marine conservation groups the Kasitsna Bay Lab hosts scientific diver training and marine ecology and oceanography classes; marine science training for tribal environmental staff; field science camps for primary and secondary school students; and NOAA undergraduate and graduate student interns.