Response and Readiness for HAB Events

Every year many coastal states experience HABs that produce dangerous levels of natural toxins. This forces public health officials to close valuable commercial and recreational shellfish harvests and warn people away from popular bathing beaches. Toxic HABs are also a common threat to marine mammals, fish and seabirds—including endangered and threatened species—and often trigger costly rehabilitative actions and an outpouring of public concern. NCCOS maintains response capabilities that help state and local coastal public health and resource managers have ready access to critical data on the types of HAB species and toxins that are present during a HAB event. The managers can then make informed decisions that mitigate the impacts of HABs on humans, coastal economies, and the environment.

Measuring and Assessing HAB Toxins

Confirmation of algal toxins has historically been elusive due to the complexity of toxin composition and challenges to quantifying the very low levels of toxins that can be lethal to marine wildlife. Managers of coastal resources need accurate information and need it in time to make informed decisions involving shellfish harvest, life support for marine wildlife, beach closures, and remedial actions. NCCOS uses a two-tiered approach combining the power of bioassay screening with sensitive analytical methods to measure HAB toxins across a wide range of sample types with unambiguous detection at low levels. These data inform coastal managers about the impacts during HAB events so they can make informed decisions to reduce the impact to ecosystems and communities.

Analytical Reference Methods & Screening Bioassays

NCCOS scientists are developing and implementing detection tools to monitor HAB toxins, which is critical in mitigating their impacts. Diagnostic methods allow for the monitoring of coastal resources to provide an early warning of potential HAB impacts that could affect human health. This work is also crucial for use in further understanding the impacts HAB toxins may have on ecosystems.

Analytical Response Team

The NOAA Analytical Response Team was established to provide a formal framework through which coastal managers may request immediate coordinated assistance during harmful algal blooms and related health incidents. This team acts as one of the primary responders to HABs and associated mortality events, providing rapid and accurate identification of harmful algae and their associated toxins. This identification and analytical capability provides support for management agencies that can then make timely and informed decisions impacting stakeholders involved in coastal wildlife, human health, and commerce.

The Analytical Response Team is designed on the principles of a sense-and-respond unit. The team is composed of early event listeners, a multidisciplinary team of event assessors from diverse scientific backgrounds, and a team leader responsible for designing an event-specific solution. Key to the success of the team is that the response is based upon the unique expertise and experience of each individual rather than a pre-designed response, and that all team members work together on a daily basis in a mission based program. This approach represents a revolutionary design in business in which "business is an adaptive system for responding to unanticipated requests in unpredictable environments.”

Event Response Program

NCCOS research on HABs integrates and leverages contributions and technologies from multiple partners in order to maximize the return on its investment and strategically address the needs of its customers. These mutually beneficial partnerships span Federal and state agencies, NGOs, academia, industry and community science groups, and yield information products, tools, and technologies that are targeted and highly responsive to stakeholder priorities.