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Prevention, Control, and Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms

National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

NOAA HAB Operational Forecasting

Researchers Report Potential for a Moderate New England Red Tide in 2012

April 9, 2012
This image shows cysts of Alexandrium fundyense

Alexandrium fundyense produces a potent toxin that accumulates in shellfish. This toxin can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in human consumers. This image shows cysts of Alexandrium fundyense.

In April, scientists from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science-funded Prevention, Control, and Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms research project in the Gulf of Maine issued an outlook for moderate regional algal blooms in 2012. The species is a microscopic alga, Alexandrium fundyense, which blooms in New England waters every year.

This alga can cause toxic 'red tides' each spring and summer, potentially threatening the New England shellfish industry. Early warning helps state managers and the shellfish industry protect human health and minimize economic impacts. Direct and indirect costs of the severe 2005 Alexandrium bloom were estimated at nearly $50 million for Massachusetts and $23 million for Maine.

Scientists issued the forecast based on an Alexandrium cyst survey map (cysts are bottom-dwelling, dormant, resting cells that germinate under favorable oceanographic conditions) measured in fall 2011. The outlook is derived from computer model simulations using the cyst map as well as weather and oceanographic data from 2012 and past years.

The researchers believe the 2012 bloom could be moderate in geographic extent, similar to the levels experienced during 2006 and 2007. Scientists cannot make a precise forecast of where and when the bloom will end up because bloom transport depends on weather events that cannot be predicted months in advance. More precise weekly forecasts are provided to managers during a bloom event.

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Seasonal outlooks for the Gulf of Maine have been issued annually since 2008 and are part of a NOAA effort to develop a national Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Operational Forecasting System that will provide HAB forecasts, including public advisories. The Gulf of Maine is one of several regions for which HAB forecasts are being developed, utilizing multiple assets and capabilities across NOAA.

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