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.
Shellfish that ingest harmful algae become poisonous to humans and poisoned shellfish may result in the closure of fisheries.
In December 2010, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) signed an agreement to use a NOAA-developed technology that harnesses isotopes to assure algal toxins are below regulatory limits. Blooms of certain algae can release toxins detrimental to fisheries, human health, and international trade. The agreement formalizes a decade of collaboration with NOAA for regional studies in Asian, African, and Latin American member states. The NOAA technology, in the final stages of adoption as an official method for regulatory testing, simplifies the current method that requires injecting shellfish fluids into mice and timing how long it takes for them to die. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working with NOAA to support this effort.
California sea lion pup.
A pair of young rescued sea lions helped researchers determine that fetal exposure to a toxin called domoic acid may result in epileptic seizures later in the marine mammals’ lives. The pups were rescued over a year ago on a California beach, and following observation, became residents of the Kansas City Zoo. When the pair exhibited signs of epilepsy, zoo staff contacted NOAA for guidance. NOAA research and response data indicated that the sea lions had been exposed to the toxin in utero (domoic acid comes from a naturally occurring algae off the West Coast). The findings reveal there may be months of lag time between an animal’s exposure to a toxin and any signs of illness – a risk of which conservation managers should be aware.
NOAA Mussel Watch scientists brings up a trawl full of Gulf Coast oysters for contamination testing.
Throughout May 2010, scientists from NOS’s Mussel Watch program traveled the entire coast of the Gulf of Mexico collecting oysters, sediments, and water holding critical data on the condition of the sites before Deepwater Horizon oil reached them. In November 2010, those scientists again fanned out to visit the same locations to gather samples once the last of the surface oil had washed ashore. The two months’ samples are being compared to determine whether there have been measurable increases in oil-related compounds as a result of the spill. The results will help efforts of restoration experts in returning the Gulf to its pre-spill condition. This work for the Office of Response and Restoration is made possible through NOS’s collaboration with the National Marine Fisheries Service, Mote Marine Laboratory, Louisiana State University, and TDI-Brooks International, Inc.
Atlantic croaker are an economically important species of fish, with millions of pounds caught for food and bait in the United States every year.
Atlantic croaker, one of the most abundant fish in the Gulf of Mexico, are starting to exhibit changes that appear to be related to the massive summer “dead zone.” A NOAA-sponsored study found croakers exposed to low oxygen for as few as 10 weeks underwent hormonal alterations that transformed some of their female reproductive tissue into male tissue. Compounding this bad news, the male tissue was incapable of fertilizing eggs, and hatching rates of successful pairings were a tenth of normal. All of these factors are quite capable of causing a population crash in one of the Gulf’s top 10 important recreational fisheries. Because croaker are closely related to several species of fish in the Gulf of Mexico, scientists say there are many fish susceptible to crashing if the conditions are right for a large drop in croakers.
A report released in fiscal year 2011 by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science links protected areas in the main Hawaiian Islands with greater fish abundance, size, and diversity, as well as higher coral species richness. These findings illustrate the effectiveness of the closures. The report, Monitoring Hawaii’s Marine Protected Areas: Examining Spatial and Temporal Trends Using a Seascape Approach, compares four Marine Life Conservation Districts with surrounding unprotected areas. Findings are based on benthic habitat maps and coral ecosystem monitoring studies conducted between 2002 and 2004 at Pupukea, Kealakekua Bay, Honolua Bay, and Hanauma Bay.