The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) conducts and supports research, monitoring, assessment, and technical assistance for managing coastal ecosystems and society’s use of these ecosystems. NCCOS activities fit within a framework of five environmental stressors, including climate change, extreme natural events, pollution, invasive species, and land and resource use.
NCCOS highlights from fiscal year 2010 include:
- Texas Gets Help from NOAA in Responding to Harmful Algal Bloom Outbreak
A bloom of Dinophysis (a toxic algal species) in the western Gulf of Mexico prompted the Texas Department of State Health Services to temporarily close many areas to shellfish harvesting. Dinophysis produces toxins that can cause severe gastric distress in people who eat affected shellfish. The state was alerted to the presence of this bloom by researchers and volunteer monitors sponsored by NCCOS. NCCOS is also responsible for developing a harmful algal bloom forecast for the western Gulf. In September, this forecast was successfully transferred to NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services. Recent outbreaks of Dinophysis have prompted scientists to consider modifying the forecast to detect the species. Currently, the forecast provides advance warning for Karenia brevis, a more common toxic species in the Gulf known for its distinctive red blooms. In the last three years, Dinophysis blooms have appeared twice in the western Gulf of Mexico. NOAA is helping Texas to detect these outbreaks and to stay alert for outbreaks of the more common K. brevis, which has plagued the state for many years.
- Harmful Algal Bloom Monitors Provide Early Warning to Protect Oregon’s Recreational Clammers
Early warnings made by a pilot program to monitor harmful algal species and their toxins in Oregon proved correct last week when testing confirmed elevated domoic acid levels in razor clams, prompting the closure of popular state recreational clamming beaches from Bandon to Cannon Beach, roughly a 240 mile (386 kilometers) stretch of Oregon’s 363 miles (584 kilometers) of coast. Domoic acid is a neurotoxin produced by Pseudo-nitzschia, and can cause illness within minutes or hours after consuming animals with high enough concentrations in their tissues. The state’s departments of agriculture and fish and wildlife test shellfish for toxin accumulation, while NOAA-funded scientists from Oregon State University work with counterparts from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the University of Oregon to monitor the blooms and check for toxicity. Their work is funded through NOAA’s national Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Bloom, or MERHAB Program.
- Transfer Deal with International Organization Promotes Global Shellfish Safety
After more than a decade of informal collaboration, a team of NOAA scientists met with representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to initiate a formal agreement to provide an isotopic algal toxin detection method to countries with seafood safety concerns. Large-scale regional projects in Southeast Asia and Africa have proven highly successful and this agreement will facilitate the IAEA’s use of the toxin assay to simplify cumbersome analytical methods in shellfish testing currently employed around the world, thereby safeguarding consumers and promoting shellfish aquaculture. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working with NOAA to support this effort.
- NOS Helps New York Meet Renewable Energy Goals
In response to a request from New York, NOAA, together with the U.S. Department of the Interior, helped the state develop site selection criteria for wind farms in coastal and marine waters. Wind farms are a cornerstone of New York Governor David A. Paterson’s “45 by 15” program, which calls for the state to meet 45 percent of its electricity needs through improved efficiency and renewable sources by 2015. NCCOS, the NOAA Coastal Services Center, and the cooperative NOAA/Department of Interior Marine Protected Areas Center are providing expertise in coastal and marine spatial planning to help balance energy development with habitat preservation.
- Underwater Mountains among the World’s Most Common Ocean Habitats
A study completed in 2010 provides the first-ever comparison of oceanic and land habitat size, finding that seamounts—submerged volcanic peaks—rank as one of the largest habitats on Earth. More than 45,000 seamounts occur worldwide, with top estimates in the hundreds of thousands, yet fewer than 200 have ever been systematically explored. Seamounts are incredibly important because they support abundant fisheries and deep-sea coral populations. The common perception, even among scientists studying seamounts, is that they are rare. In reality, however, coral reefs, mangroves, and beach habitats are among the least common marine habitats, and beaches are the rarest among these three. NOAA scientists and partners from Texas A&M University were among those who contributed their expertise to a special issue of the journal Oceanography in March 2010.
- Majority of South Atlantic Bight Estuaries and Coastal Ocean are in Good Condition
Scientists concluded the first-ever, comprehensive assessment of ecological condition throughout both coastal ocean and estuarine waters of the U.S. South Atlantic bight. Overall, the bight appears to be in good ecological condition relative to the measured parameters. However, this assessment revealed that there are locations, particularly estuaries, which are under some degree of chemical or physical stress. As coastal development continues throughout the southeast U.S., estuarine and coastal ocean environments should be treated as a larger, connected ecosystem if we are to better understand and manage these important resources and the functions they support. Researchers assessed waters from Cape Henry, Virginia through the southern end of the Indian River Lagoon along the east coast of Florida.
- Scientists Offer Preliminary Calculation on How to Reverse the Lionfish Invasion
A June study suggests that approximately 27 percent of adult lionfish will have to be removed monthly for a year for the population of this invasive species to decrease. This represents a major fishing effort which may not be feasible in some areas, such as the expansive communities off the southeast U.S. coast, but which may be possible in areas where lionfish habitat is more circumscribed (around some Caribbean islands). Caribbean governments such as Turks and Caicos have already begun to encourage widespread fishing for lionfish by offering year-long tournaments with prizes for the most caught. This study, part of a collaboration between scientists from NCCOS, the Southeast Fisheries Science Center, and North Carolina State University, offers a preliminary target for such efforts.
- Scientists Find Vieques Marine Ecosystems in Similar Condition to Other Areas of the U.S. Caribbean
On June 4, NCCOS researchers announced that the marine environment of Vieques, Puerto Rico, appears to be less impacted by human activities than expected. Despite 62 years of U.S. Naval activities, including live bombing exercises around much of the island, contamination of coastal sediments and corals was generally low, and fish populations and coral reefs are in a condition similar to areas elsewhere in the region. The study will serve as a baseline to compare with future studies as land-use practices and resource conditions around Vieques change. This study was a collaboration between NCCOS and the Office of Response and Restoration.
- Dramatic Sea Level Rise Discovery Boosts Anthropogenic Cause Scenario
NCCOS-supported researchers have shown that sea-level rise, at least in North Carolina, is accelerating. Researchers found 20th century sea-level rise to be three times higher than the last 500 years. Additionally, the timing of this jump appears to occur between the years 1879 and 1915, a time of industrial progress that may provide a direct link to human-induced climate change. The rate of relative sea-level rise during the 20th century was 3.0 to 3.3 millimeters (0.12 inches) per year, a full two millimeters (0.08 inches) higher than the usual rate of one millimeter (0.04 inches) per year. Furthermore, the acceleration appears consistent with other studies from the Atlantic coast, though the magnitude of the acceleration in North Carolina is larger than at sites further north along the U.S. and Canadian Atlantic coast and may be indicative of a latitudinal trend related to the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet.