Experts from NOAA joined a group of eighty scientists, managers, and industry representatives from California, Oregon, and Washington at the first West Coast Regional Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Summit in Portland, Oregon, February 10-12.
Over 50 percent of unusual marine mammal deaths are due to harmful algal blooms.
At the meeting, the representatives endorsed a regional harmful algal bloom (HAB) monitoring, alert and response network and forecasting system.
The creation of this system is a major component of a plan developed by the West Coast Governors’ Agreement (WCGA) on Ocean Health, a regional collaboration to protect and manage ocean and coastal resources along the entire West Coast.
Seizing on the opportunities of new and emerging technologies, this system will provide advanced early warning of HABs, minimize fishery closures, protect the economy of coastal communities, mitigate the impacts to marine life, and continue to protect public health. The next step will be to incorporate outcomes from the workshop into a plan for implementing this monitoring and forecasting system.
At the Summit, attendees also assessed the causes of HABs and mapped out research and management actions necessary to lessen the impacts of this threat to water quality, living resources, and coastal communities.
The group also sought to reach consensus on the present state-of-knowledge and prioritized the information needed by decision makers to lessen the impacts of HAB events on humans and critical marine resources.
This is a close-up view of pseudo-nitzschia, an organism that produces domoic acid which can accumulate in shellfish. This acid causes illness or death in animals or humans that consume the shellfish.
HABs, commonly referred to as 'red tides,' occur when algae—simple ocean plants that live in the sea—grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. The human illnesses caused by HABs, though rare, can be debilitating or even fatal.
HABs have had significant impacts on the California, Oregon, and Washington coastal communities for decades. Blooms close beaches to recreational razor clam harvesting, make Dungeness crabs too toxic to eat, close mussel and oyster beds to recreational and commercial harvesting, and cause the death of marine mammals and pelicans. These problems are widespread and often extend beyond state boundaries.
In 2002-2003, toxic algae caused razor clam and Dungeness crab fishery closures in Washington resulting in $10-12 million in lost revenue, and a razor clam fishery closure at Clatsop Beach, Oregon, cost the local communities $4.8 million.
Toxic algae have also led to more than 14,000 sick or dead seals, sea lions, sea otters, dolphins, birds, and gray whales along the California shoreline and other parts of the West Coast over the last decade.
These effects have not only resulted in economic losses, but also in an erosion of community identity, community recreation, and a traditional way of living for native coastal cultures.
The results of the Summit were presented at a public session on February 12. This follow-on meeting provided Summit representatives a chance to share with the public plans for mitigating the impacts of HABs on the West Coast through a united effort across state boundaries.
The meeting built upon more than 10 years of NOAA support for HAB research and management on the West Coast.