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Junior Scientists Learn about Harmful Algal Blooms

Northwest Fisheries Science Center Harmful Algal Bloom Program

National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research

Explore: Harmful Algal Blooms

podcast What are Harmful Algal Blooms? Diving Deeper (audio podcast)

 

Young Scientists Tackle Harmful Algal Blooms

The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science supports research leading to the understanding of harmful algal blooms. Some of this research was recently taught at a science camp in Washington.

Over the summer, 20 budding biologists, ranging from ages five to 14, joined NOAA Fisheries scientists for a week-long camp to learn about harmful algal blooms.

Campers from the Makah Tribe in Washington had a great time learning about harmful algal blooms from NOAA scientists.

Campers from the Makah Tribe in Washington had a great time learning about harmful algal blooms from NOAA scientists.

The junior scientists are members of the Makah Tribe, who call the outer Washington coast home. For the Makah Tribe and other Pacific Northwest tribes, shellfish are an important subsistence food. However, harmful algal blooms can produce toxins that contaminate shellfish. Humans who eat contaminated shellfish can develop a severe and sometimes fatal illness called paralytic shellfish poisoning.

To help campers learn to identify harmful algal blooms and understand the toxins they produce, scientists provided talks, took students out to collect shellfish and plankton samples in the field, and led arts and crafts activities.

“I did not know phytoplankton were plants,” said one of the third grade campers.”I just thought they were floaty things or a cartoon.”

Students collecting mussels

Harmful algal blooms can produce toxins that make shellfish like mussels poisonous to eat.  These campers are collecting mussels to test them for their toxin level.

To learn about response to blooms and how to prevent illness, campers participated in a simulated outbreak of human illness. Children also learned safe laboratory procedures – all while decked out in white lab coats, goggles, and gloves.

After a week of camp, the Makah children could identify harmful algal blooms and were able to teach parents and family members about the toxins that impact waters off the coast of Washington.

“What a great opportunity this was for the future leaders of our tribe to learn how to use scientific equipment by some of the top leaders in this field. The Makah children after a week were able to identify harmful algal blooms and most importantly, share this information with their parents and educate them on what is impacting our waters,” said Vince Cooke, Sr. Environmental Division Manager for the Makah Tribe.

NOAA is working to provide tools to prevent, control, or mitigate the occurrence of harmful algal blooms and their impacts. For example, the Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR) funded the research leading to the understanding of toxic blooms taught at the Makah Tribe science camp.  From projects leading to more accurate and efficient tools for detecting cells and toxins, to early warning of toxic blooms, CSCOR-supported research is benefiting society. 

In addition, the Oceans and Human Health Initiative, the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences, the NOAA Ecology and Oceanography of HABs (ECOHAB) program, and the NOAA Hollings Scholars program contributed support to this project. Experiences such as the junior scientist camp are another step towards educating communities about mitigating negative environmental impacts while also helping to build interest and excitement in science careers for young people.

 “I do not see this as an ending, I see this as a beginning for our children and our tribe,” said Edie Howe, Makah Tribe Elder.