Reducing Ocean and Coastal Health Risks

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We rely on our oceans and coasts for resources — from food to modes of transportation and places to recreate. When these areas are unhealthy, it has a negative impact on our own health, as well as the health of our economy. And, just as the health of our ocean and coasts can impact our health, we impact the health of these areas.

During the 2009 fiscal year, NOS worked to protect the health of all Americans as well as marine life and the economics that depend on healthy ocean and coastal marine resources. Highlights from 2009 include:

  • Releasing the first-ever comprehensive report of the level of flame retardant chemicals found in U.S. coastal waters, including the Great Lakes. In recent years, these chemicals, known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), have generated international concern due to their global distribution and associated adverse environmental and human health effects. In this study, NOS scientists determined the level of PBDEs by evaluating mussels, oysters, and sediments at a national scale. The scientists determined that PBDEs are found throughout the U.S. coastal zone, with elevated levels near urban and industrial centers.
  • Launching the second experimental harmful algal bloom forecast bulletin to give notification to 40 drinking water utility supervisors of potential Microcystis blooms in Lake Erie. Microcytis produces a toxin that can have negative health effects. The bulletin provides public health and local decision makers with information about predicted blooms on a weekly basis. This bulletin is the first forecast system available for harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes.
  • Providing funding to support an accurate forecast for the size of the 2009 Gulf of Maine harmful algal bloom, which can cause illness, and even death, in people who eat tainted seafood. NOS-supported scientists also produced weekly forecasts to provide updates on probable bloom locations and magnitude. These advanced warnings represent the most advanced harmful algal bloom seasonal forecasts in the world. Annual advisories and weekly forecasts help resource and public health managers and the seafood industry protect human health and minimize economic impacts.
  • Coordinating the development of an NOS-wide Caribbean strategy for international engagement on environmental issues in the region. NOS examined current and past NOS activities in the wider Caribbean and developed goals and objectives to address threats to coastal and marine environmental quality in the region. The strategy contains nine project ideas to focus and prioritize efforts in the region and guide program implementation for the next five years.
  • Discovering, working in partnership with researchers from North Carolina State University (NCSU), a naturally occurring compound from a Caribbean sponge, Agelas conifer, which reduces fouling of marine vessels while exhibiting low toxicity to humans and marine species. NCSU scientists have developed synthetic derivatives from the compound that companies hope to commercially manufacture, and NOS scientists are working with several U.S. Department of Defense offices to use the derivatives in marine paints in the future. These new derivatives could replace harmful copper chemicals in marine paint formulas and save money with improved maneuverability and energy efficiency of vessels.
  • Conducting research that shows that the level of human development activities in a watershed has a direct impact on the health of America's tidal creeks and may potentially threaten public health. A conceptual model demonstrates that tidal creeks are sensitive indicators of coastal development impacts on coastal ecosystems for the southeastern U.S. and thus are “sentinels” of coastal ecosystem impairment. The model can help forecast changes in nearshore coastal ecosystems under varying development scenarios.
  • Assisting colleagues from the Third Institute of Oceanography of the State Oceanic Administration of China and Xiamen University in developing a draft strategic action plan for watershed management in the Xiamen Bay-Jiulong River Basin. Major actions identified in the plan include i) creating a regional, basin-wide management control unit and coordination mechanism for watershed management and conservation; ii) perfecting relevant laws and regulations; iii) building capacity for environmental management; and iv) improving education and public involvement for environmental protection.