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What can we do about harmful algal blooms?

A NOAA scientist collects water samples in Lake Erie.

A NOAA scientist collects water samples in Lake Erie. Collecting and analyzing water samples during the harmful algal bloom season plays a key role in NOAA’s efforts to forecast and monitor algal blooms as they develop and change (Credit: NOAA).

Unfortunately, there is no way to stop a HAB once it starts. Scientists are researching ways to control HABs, like using tiny bubbles to aerate the water and dissolve the algae; using chemicals or bacteria to halt the algal growth; and binding the algae with clay, causing it to sink and collect excess nutrients.

Scientists can also detect and forecast the location of HABs to warn communities of these events. For example, NOAA’s Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring System provides information to local authorities to help them decide whether to close beaches to protect public health. There are different HAB forecasting systems for different regions. These rely on imagery from satellites, field observations, mathematical models, public health reports, and buoys. The forecasts can cover anywhere from a couple of weeks to months at a time.

A buoy in western Lake Erie for harmful algal bloom monitoring and research (Credit: NOAA).

A buoy in western Lake Erie for harmful algal bloom monitoring and research (Credit: NOAA).

What can we do to prevent harmful algal blooms?

Because HABs are caused by different kinds of pollution, we can all take actions to prevent them. We can make positive choices in and around our homes, with our pets, in transportation, and in lawn maintenance. Here are some things you can do to prevent HABs:

  • Choose phosphate-free soaps and detergents: These chemicals, which promote algal growth, can be swept into waterways with your wastewater, as they are not always effectively removed during treatment.

  • Use water efficiently: Devices like low-flow showerheads can reduce the volume of wastewater discharged to home septic systems and sewage treatment plants. More water flowing into our waterways can wash large amounts of chemicals that cause algal growth.

  • Pick up after your pet: Pet waste, like agricultural manure, contains high levels of nitrogen. Nitrogen also promotes algal growth.

  • Wash your car in commercial car washes or on lawns: Commercial car washes are required to properly dispose of wastewater. Lawns or other permeable surfaces around your home prevent soaps and wastewater from draining directly into stormwater systems and waterways where it can cause HABs.

  • Use fertilizer responsibly: Fertilizers contain nitrogen and phosphorus, the nutrients that support HAB growth. Applying too much can contribute to HABs.

  • Landscape with native plants: Native plants are better adapted to local conditions, often requiring less water and fertilizer than introduced plant species.

  • Don't overwater gardens and yards: Excess water can drain fertilizers and other pollutants into stormwater systems and waterways.

10 ways to help our ocean inforgraphics

Here are some simple things you can do to help our ocean. These tips will not only help you prevent the pollution that leads to harmful algal blooms, but can also help prevent marine debris, oil spills, and other types of pollution (Credit: NOAA). View and print this infographic and see the description below.

Infographic Description

10 Ways to Help Our Ocean

Around Home

  • Conserve Water
    Use less water so excess runoff and wastewater will not flow into the ocean.

  • Reduce Pollutants
    Choose nontoxic chemicals and dispose of herbicides, pesticides, and cleaning products properly.

  • Reduce Waste
    Cut down on what you throw away.

Around Town

  • Shop Wisely
    Choose sustainable seafood. Buy less plastic and bring a reusable bag.

  • Reduce Vehicle Pollution
    Use fuel efficient vehicles, carpool or ride a bike.

  • Use Less Energy
    Choose energy efficient light bulbs and don't overset your thermostat.

On the Water

  • Fish Responsibly
    Follow "catch and release" practices and keep more fish alive.

  • Practice Safe Boating
    Anchor in sandy areas far from coral and sea grasses. Adhere to "no wake" zones.

  • Respect Habitat
    Healthy habitat and survival go hand in hand. Treat with care.

Anytime, Anywhere

  • Volunteer
    Volunteer for cleanups at the beach and in your community. You can get involved in protecting your watershed too!