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October 11, 2006

Contact: Ben Sherman, NOAA Public Affairs
(301) 713-3066 ext. 178


NOAA Awards WHOI $7.5 Million Over Five Years to Extend Harmful Algal Bloom Models & Forecasts to New Areas of the Gulf of Maine

NOAA has awarded the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) $1,377,826 for the first year of funding of a $7.5 million, five-year grant, to extend harmful algal bloom observation and modeling programs to new areas of the Gulf of Maine. The research aims to help managers, regulators and the shellfish industry fully utilize and effectively manage both nearshore and offshore shellfish resources.

The grant, from the Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB) program, managed by NOAA Ocean Service’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research, will support research, conducted by scientists from WHOI and seven other universities and agencies, to establish a comprehensive regional-scale understanding of red tide (Alexandrium fundyense) dynamics, transport, and associated shellfish toxicity. The new research effort extends past studies in the Gulf of Maine and builds on data collected during the historic 2005 red tide, which led to closure of both nearshore shellfish beds and offshore beds in federal and state waters out to Georges Bank. The toxicity extended for the first time to the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

"Shellfish resources in the Gulf of Maine are an extremely important component of the regional economy. Large areas have been permanently closed and other areas temporarily closed to shellfish harvesting. This new observation, modeling, and prediction program is critical for equipping managers with tools needed to exploit these resources despite the repeated threat of Alexandrium fundyense in the region, " said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "NOAA's partnership with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will help provide a more thorough understanding than is currently available."

The Gulf of Maine and its adjacent southern New England shelf is a vast region with extensive shellfish resources, large portions of which are frequently contaminated with paralytic shellfish poisoning toxins produced by the dinoflagellate Alexandriumfundyense. Locally, this harmful algal bloom phenomenon is often called the "red tide." Offshore shellfish resources with estimated annual values of more than $50 million have been closed due to these toxins since 1990. The 2005 outbreak caused millions of dollars in economic damage, but due to monitoring programs and cooperation among federal, state, and local officials, scientists, and shellfish harvesters, no cases of illness from contaminated shellfish were reported.

"We don't understand the linkages between bloom dynamics and toxicity in waters near shore versus the offshore, nor do we know how toxicity is delivered to the shellfish in those offshore waters," said lead WHOI investigator Don Anderson. "As a result of the 2005 bloom and the closures in waters offshore and on the Cape and Islands, we realized we needed to expand efforts and develop a full, regional-scale understanding of Alexandriumfundyense. An additional challenge is the need to expand modeling and forecasting capabilities to include the entire region, and to transition these tools to operational and management use."

NOAA supports research to understand how, when, and why blooms occur through its Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algae Blooms (ECOHAB) program in order to develop better methods of detecting and predicting blooms, and to find ways to reduce or prevent impacts on humans, coastal economies, and ecosystems.

In fiscal year 2006, the NOAA Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research provided approximately $10 million in competitive grants to institutions of higher education, state, local, and tribal governments, and other non-profit research institutions to advance the understanding of major national coastal management issues. NOAA-sponsored competitive research programs, such as ECOHAB, demonstrate NOAA's commitment to its historic responsibilities of science and service to the nation for the past 35 years.

In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewadship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems, NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

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