Reducing Ocean & Coastal Health Risks

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What happens in our oceans and on our coasts can have a direct impact on our health. Blooms of toxic algae, more frequent occurrences of bacteria and disease in waters, and increased chemical and nutrient pollution are putting hundreds of millions of people in danger. NOS is working to protect the health of all Americans as well as marine life and the economies that depend on healthy ocean and coastal marine resources. Highlights from fiscal year 2008 include:

  • Funding research that predicted that the 2008 hypoxic zone, or 'dead zone,' in the northern Gulf of Mexico would be the largest on record. Later research found that the actual size of this low-oxygen zone was slightly smaller than predicted, but was still the second-largest dead zone on record. The Gulf of Mexico dead zone threatens commercial and recreational fisheries. Predictions of the dead zone's size help determine relationships between hypoxia and nutrient pollution and provide the scientific foundation for management efforts.
  • Hosting a workshop to address land-based sources of pollution in China's Xiamen Bay and Juilong River. These important ecosystems are impacted by pollutant loading from excessive application of agricultural nutrients and pesticides, sedimentation and soil erosion, and domestic waste-disposal practices. The workshop focused on developing a plan of action to address these problems.
  • Testing the incorporation of surface currents data into the Harmful Algal Bloom Forecasting System (HAB-FS). HAB-FS partners are working with the NOAA Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) Program to receive the currents data. Including currents data in the forecasting system is one step toward improving prediction of HABs. Better prediction of HABs has a direct bearing on the tourism industry, public health and safety, fishing and aquaculture industries, and the management of threatened and endangered species.
  • Providing specialized assistance to coastal managers and other stakeholders to enhance the effectiveness of local management and planning to address land-based sources of pollution that threaten coral reef ecosystems. Efforts included hosting a workshop on managing island watersheds in Guam and establishing pilot projects in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to improve water quality and reduce sediment runoff near coral reefs.
  • Funding the first-ever prediction of a larger-than-normal harmful algal bloom in the Gulf of Maine in the summer of 2008. The prediction allowed shellfish farmers and fishermen to shift the timing of their harvests and state resource and public health managers to make better decisions regarding closures of shellfish beds. These efforts helped reduce economic losses from the bloom and prevented people from eating contaminated shellfish and getting sick.
  • Approving, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Programs for South Carolina and Florida. Congress established this program in 1990 to encourage better coordination between state coastal zone managers and water-quality experts to reduce polluted runoff in the coastal zone. Twenty-one of the 34 coastal states and territories now have fully approved Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Programs.
  • Investigating environmental contaminants in and around the National Reserve Fleet in Suisun Bay, California. More than 70 vessels make up the fleet, which is maintained by the United States Maritime Administration for national defense or emergency purposes. NOAA is working with all involved stakeholders to evaluate potential environmental concerns, including heavy metals and antifouling agents in paint that is peeling off of the vessels.